Cover image for Balsamic dreams : a short but self-important history of the baby boomer generation
Balsamic dreams : a short but self-important history of the baby boomer generation
Queenan, Joe.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Henry Holt and Co., 2001.
Physical Description:
211 pages ; 25 cm
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Item Holds
HN57 .Q44 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The author of the bestselling Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon takes aim at the boomer generation in a hilarious work of social commentary.

It's become fashionable to vilify baby boomers. Professional iconoclast and baby boomer Joe Queenan, however, takes a somewhat more benign position: Yes, the baby boomers are venal, self-obsessed egomaniacs blighted by an insalubrious interest in things like the provenance of their neighbors' balsamic vinegar. But this does not make them the "worst generation" -- it just makes them the most annoying.

In Balsamic Dreams , Queenan chronicles the evolution of his generation and critiques its current condition in chapters such as:

--J'Accuse: a bold indictment of the boomers' greatest transgressions, past and present
--Ten Days That Rocked the World: in which Queenan identifies the precise moments things went awry (#1: the release of Carole King's Tapestry )
--Careful, the Staff Might Hear You: an examination of the unspoken, nefarious alliance between baby boomers and Generation X
--American History: The B-Sides: an alternative version of the Republic as played out with baby boomers in the starring roles

A measured (if a tad cranky) assessment of a generation whose greatest sin lies in confusing lifestyle for life and pop culture for culture, Balsamic Dreams is fresh, funny, and irresistible.

Author Notes

Joe Queenan was born November 3, 1950. The author of five previous books, Joe Queenan is a contributing editor at GQ and writes a column, "Good Fences," for The New York Times. He lives in Tarrytown, New York.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Queenan has written for publications as diverse as Spy, TV Guide, GQ, Chief Executive, and Forbes. His derisive wit has earned him a well-deserved reputation as an acerbic iconoclast. Last year, though, he tried to soften his image with My Goodness: A Cynic's Short-Lived Search for Sainthood, but it was easy for readers to come away skeptical. Now, in the same vein, he attempts to atone for "ridiculing toothless seniors, hapless trailer trash, [and] lunkhead slackers" by taking on his fellow "baby boomers." Queenan suggests that his own generation consists of "the most obnoxious people in the history of the human race." He lists the "essential habits, values, neuroses, prejudices, blind spots, fashion notions and idiosyncrasies that make Baby Boomers so thoroughly unbearable." He hilariously skewers well-deserving targets, but it is also guaranteed that at some point he will heap scorn on one thing or another each of us may hold dear. Clearly, readers will have to decide on their own how seriously to take Queenan's rant. --David Rouse

Publisher's Weekly Review

What distinguishes the baby boomers? According to film and social critic Queenan (Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon) in this witty, sardonic and heartfelt paen to his fellow aging boomers, they weren't the first generation to sell out "but they were the first generation to sell out and then insist that they hadn't." Deftly distilling the impact of a wide range of events in popular culture, he cites April 21, 1971, as one of "ten days that rocked the world" for boomers, with the release of Carol King's album Tapestry. Meanwhile, recent films such as What Lies Beneath and The Haunting appeal to boomers, he observes, with the message, "Just because you're dead doesn't mean you can't get your life organized." And, he asks, won't someone "admit that La Vita e Bella is Holocaust-denying crap?" Queenan occasionally belabors his humorous conceits (e.g., he ranks baby boomers as the 267th best generation, "right behind the Carthaginians in 220 B.C."). Yet he can also cut to the quick: "We abandoned the poor, the downtrodden and the oppressed [for] postdoctoral work in American Studies.... We made millionaires out of nitwits like Deepak Chopra and Tom Clancy while geniuses starved." (June) Forecasts: Queenan's broad, well-defined audience will eat up this cultural criticism lite. With a 12-city author tour and national print ad campaign timed for Father's Day, this self-proclaimed sellout will sell big. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

At least when he knocks baby boomers, Queenan (Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon) has the decency to be funny. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1 J'Accuse ------------------------ Throughout history, generations imbued with a messianic complex have inspired a wide range of powerful emotions. The Jacobins who decapitated Louis XVI inspired dread. The insurgents led by George Washington inspired admiration. The twentysomething barbarians who accompanied Genghis Khan on his pitiless campaigns through Central Asia and Eastern Europe inspired despair, the young Germans who put Hitler's name in lights inspired horror, the fresh-faced Frenchmen and Frenchwomen who built the cathedrals of Chartres and Amiens and Beauvais inspired awe. Baby Boomers fall into a somewhat different category. As convinced of their uniqueness as the Bolsheviks, as persuaded of their genius as the Victorians, as self-absorbed as the Romantics, as prosperous as the ancient Romans, the Baby Boomers, despite a very good start (the Freedom Riders, Woodstock, Four Dead in Ohio, driving Nixon from office, Jon Voigt in Midnight Cowboy), have never put many points on the historical scoreboard. Feared and admired in their youth, today they inspire little more than irritation. Not outright revulsion, not apoplectic fury, but simple, unadorned garden-variety irritation. With a bit of contempt thrown in on the side. The single most damning, and obvious, criticism that can be leveled at Baby Boomers is, of course, that they promised they wouldn't sell out and become fiercely materialistic like their parents, and then they did. They further complicated matters by mulishly spending their entire adult lives trying to persuade themselves and everybody else that they had not in fact sold out, that they had merely matured and grown wiser, that their values had undergone some sort of benign intellectual mutation. This only made things worse, because they had now compounded the sin of avarice with the sin of deceit. Besides, it was useless to deny their monstrous cupidity; banks keep records of this sort of thing. They had not been the first generation to sell out, but they were the first generation to sell out and then insist that they hadn't. Here was their central tragedy, the poisoned well from which all their unhappiness flowed. They were conflicted. They were flummoxed. Their center would not hold, because they were no longer centered. They could not process the information that their guilt was misplaced, that no one in the United States of America would ever blame anyone for devoting every single moment of his life to the pursuit of filthy lucre -- as long as he didn't try pretending that he hadn't. The heartbreak of the Baby Boomer generation lay in the fact that they could not fully enjoy the wealth they had moved heaven and earth to acquire because they felt tainted by their ravenous greed. Baby Boomers would have turned out so much saner and happier if they had ripped a page from the Founding Fathers' playbook and said, "Yes, I chopped down that cherry tree. And then I securitized it into four equal tranches, with the first two splices reverting to the underwriter. You got a problem with that?" Clearly, this refusal to own up to their own acquisitiveness is not the Baby Boomers' only broken promise. They said they wouldn't become crass and vulgar. But they are. They said they would never become horrid conformists. But they are. They said they would not be ruthless materialists. But then they embraced a complete Lifestyle Über Alles philosophy, carping and caviling at dinner parties over which local bakery sold the best sourdough boules, which kayak shop offered the most attractive warranties, which brand of grappa was most culturally authentic. It was a generation that once prided itself on questioning authority. Now its only questions were referred to authorities like Williams-Sonoma: "Is l'aceto di Modena superior to l'aceto di Reggio? Is Calasparra or arborio rice more desirable in preparing paella a la Valencia?" Their utopian visions of peace, love and understanding had been replaced by balsamic dreams. In the end, Baby Boomers didn't deliver on any of their promises. Instead, they were a case study in false advertising. They professed to go with the flow, but it was actually the cash flow, and they most certainly did not teach their children well, as they were too busy videotaping them. Instead, they took a dive. They retreated into the deepest recesses of their surprisingly tiny inner lives. They became fakes, hypocrites, cop-outs and, in many cases, out-and-out dorks. And the worst thing was: Most of them didn't realize it. Certainly not Mr. Dog Guy. One day last summer I was sitting on the veranda of my elegant, well-appointed house overlooking the Hudson River when a Jeep Grand Cherokee drifted past with a twee Alaskan malamute trotting about twenty yards behind. As the Jeep inched up the street at about five miles an hour, the dog meekly scurried along in its wake, occasionally soiling people's lawns. The dog and the vehicle soon disappeared around a bend in the road, but five minutes later they were back for the return leg of their little jaunt. When the dog attempted to do his business on my wife's beloved flower bed, I made it my business to scare him away with a stick. The dog clambered off and that was that. Over the course of the next three weeks, I observed the Jeep and the dog making their rounds early in the morning and late in the evening. The driver, about forty-five, was not from the neighborhood. Neither was the dog. The dog usually had the good sense to stay away from my lawn, but he invariably managed to take a dump somewhere else. The two quickly became a kind of local legend. Everyone felt sorry for a pet unlucky enough to have an owner who was too lazy to get out of his car and actually walk the poor mutt. Everyone wondered what kind of a creep would own a beautiful dog like that and not only refuse to walk it, but refuse to clean up after it, and who would then compound that offense by driving to someone else's neighborhood and encouraging his dog to defecate all over strangers' properties. My neighbors proclaimed him a creep, a lowlife, a swine, not to mention a very thoughtless and insensitive human being. All this he was. But he was more, much more. I had often seen Dog Guy yammering away on his understatedly elegant cell phone in his fully loaded vehicle while multitasking his debonair trophy dog -- and I knew exactly who he was. He was a consummate Baby Boomer, the kind of person who was too busy to get out of his car and walk his dog because his time was too valuable. Without a doubt, Dog Guy had conducted a costs-benefits analysis and decided that he would lose more money climbing down from the car and walking the dog than if he stayed inside on the phone talking to his broker, his personal trainer, his mistress. Eventually, Dog Guy and Dog stopped coming around. Lusting after fresh conquests, they had no doubt invaded another unsuspecting village. Or perhaps hired a live-in bilingual dog-sitter -- yes, at roughly the same time, I had seen an ad seeking the services of just such a person on the bulletin board of my local laundromat. Yet the memory of those three weeks lingers to this day, for in the capricious behavior of this individual I first recognized an important truth: that before the Baby Boomer Era, this sort of nationwide sociopathic behavior had never existed. It is true that throughout our history, there had always been uncouth people who thought they were better than everybody else, people who had decided at an early age that the rules did not apply to them. But they were invariably rich people, so it was possible to attribute most of their baronial incivility to decades of inbreeding. Moreover, they were never terribly numerous and rarely came into direct contact with ordinary citizens. This is what makes the Baby Boomers different: They're stupefyingly self-centered, unbelievably rude, obnoxious beyond belief, and they're everywhere. Until the rise of Baby Boomers, America only had to deal with a few thousand geographically spaced people who acted like pigs. Now it has millions of them. This is the downside of prosperity. The adventures of Dog Guy, underscoring not only the failings of my generation but also my own shortcomings as a human being, finally moved me to take a stand. How did I intend to do this? After studious reflection, I decided to draw up a formal indictment of my generation. It seemed that someone should try to get all of our crimes down on paper so that future generations could use it as evidence against us and also learn from our mistakes. In this sense I was preparing an amicus curiae brief for our children and the children of our children, mindful of Cokie Roberts's astute observation that we are all our mothers' daughters. And, by extension, our fathers' sons. And our grandparents' grandchildren. And so on and so forth. Copyright (c) 2001 Joe Queenan Excerpted from Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self-Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation by Joe Queenan All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prologuep. 1
1 J'Accusep. 10
2 High Misdemeanorsp. 34
3 The Disclaimer Chapterp. 52
4 Ten Days That Rocked the Worldp. 65
5 The Man Ain't Got No Culturep. 85
6 What a Fool Believesp. 108
7 Careful, the Staff Might Hear Youp. 121
8 Play That Funky Music, White Boyp. 134
9 American History: The B-Sidesp. 149
10 Good Lovin' Gone Badp. 166
11 Aging Disgracefullyp. 175
12 Stop Me If You've Heard This Onep. 196
Acknowledgmentsp. 203