The "Me" generation is a term referring to the baby boomer generation in the United States and the self-involved qualities that some people associate with it. The 1970s were dubbed the "Me decade" by writer Tom Wolfe; Christopher Lasch was another writer who commented on the rise of a culture of narcissism among the younger generation of that era. The phrase caught on with the general public, at a time when "self-realization" and "self-fulfillment" were becoming cultural aspirations to which young people supposedly ascribed higher importance than social responsibility.
The cultural change in the United States during the 1970s that was experienced by the baby boomers is complex. The 1960s are remembered as a time of political protests, radical experimentation with new cultural experiences (the Sexual Revolution, happenings, mainstream awareness of Eastern religions). The Civil Rights Movement gave rebellious young people serious goals to work towards. Cultural experimentation was justified as being directed toward spiritual or intellectual enlightenment. The mid to late 1970s, in contrast, were a time of increased economic crisis and disillusionment with idealistic politics among the young, particularly after the resignation of Richard Nixon and the end of the Vietnam War. Unapologetic hedonism became acceptable among the young.
The new introspectiveness announced the demise of an established set of traditional faiths centred on work and the postponement of gratification, and the emergence of a consumption-oriented lifestyle ethic centred on lived experience and the immediacy of daily lifestyle choices.
The development of a youth culture focusing so heavily on self-fulfillment was also perhaps a reaction against the traits that characterized the older generation, which had grown up during the Great Depression. That generation had learned values associated with self-sacrifice. The deprivations of the Depression had taught that generation to work hard, save money and not spend it, and to cherish family and community ties. Loyalty to institutions, traditional religious faiths, and other common bonds were what that generation considered to be the cultural foundations of their country. Baby boomers gradually abandoned those values in large numbers, a development that was entrenched during the 1970s.
Health and exercise fads, New Age spirituality such as Scientology and hot tub parties, self-help programs such as EST (Erhard Seminars Training), and the growth of the self-help book industry became identified with the baby boomers during 1970s. Human potential, emotional honesty, "finding yourself", and new therapies became hallmarks of the culture. The marketing of lifestyle products, eagerly consumed by baby boomers with disposable income during the 1970s, became an inescapable part of the culture. Revlon's marketing staff did research into young women's cultural values during the 1970s, and the research revealed that young women were striving to compete with men in the workplace and to express themselves as independent individuals. Revlon launched the "lifestyle" perfume Charlie, with marketing aimed at glamorizing the values of the new 1970s woman, and it became the world's best-selling perfume.
The introspection of the baby boomers and their focus on self-fulfillment has been examined in a serious light in pop culture. Films such as An Unmarried Woman (1978), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), Ordinary People (1980) and The Big Chill (1983) brought the inner struggles of baby boomers to a wide audience. The self-absorbed side of 1970s life was given a sharp and sometimes poignant satirization in Manhattan (1979). More acerbic lampooning came in Shampoo (1975) and Private Benjamin (1980). The Me generation has also been satirized in retrospect, as the generation called "Generation X" reached adulthood, for example, in Parenthood (1989). Forrest Gump (1994) summed up the decade with Gump's cross-country jogging quest for meaning during the 1970s, complete with a tracksuit, which was worn as much as a fashion statement as an athletic necessity during the era.
The satirization of the Me generation's "me first" attitude perhaps reached its peak with the television sitcom Seinfeld, which does not include conscious moral development for its baby boomer characters, but rather the opposite. Its plots do not have teaching lessons for its audience and its creators explicitly held the position that it was a "show about nothing".
Persistence of the label
The term "Me generation" has persisted over the decades and is connected to the baby boomers generation. Some writers, however, have also named the Millennials "the Me Generation" or "Generation Me", while Elspeth Reeve in The Atlantic noted that narcissism is a symptom of youth in most generations. The 1970s were also an era of rising unemployment among the young, continuing erosion of faith in conventional social institutions, and political and ideological aimlessness for many. This was the environment that precipitated gravitation toward Punk rock among America's disaffected young people. By 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected President, a growing number of America's baby boomers had also begun turning toward conservative political and cultural priorities.
As Eastern religions and rituals such as yoga grew during the 1970s, at least one writer observed a New Age corruption of the popular understanding of "realization" taught by Neo-Vedantic practitioners, away from spiritual realization and towards "self-realization". The leading edge of the baby boomers, who were counter-culture "hippies" and political activists during the 1960s, have been referred to sympathetically as the "Now generation", in contrast to the Me generation.
- OK boomer
- The "Me" Decade and the Third Great Awakening
- The Culture of Narcissism
- Generation Jones
- Us Festival
- Henderson, Amy (15 October 2014). "When It Comes To the Baby Boomers, It Is Still All About "Me"". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
- "Tom Wolfe on the 'Me' Decade in America -- New York Magazine".
- Land, Gary (1991). The Essentials of United States History: America Since 1941, Emergence as a World Power. Research & Education Association. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-87891-717-4.
- Binkley, Sam (2007). Getting Loose: Lifestyle Consumption in The 1970s. Duke University Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-8223-3989-2.
- Patterson, James T. (1997). Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974. Oxford University Press. pp. 315, 328–9. ISBN 978-0-19-511797-4.
- Mccleary, John Bassett (22 May 2013). "Hippie Dictionary: A Cultural Encyclopedia of the 1960s and 1970s". Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony – via Google Books.
- Moskowitz, Eva S. (1 January 2001). In Therapy We Trust: America's Obsession with Self-fulfillment. JHU Press. p. 219 – via Internet Archive.
me generation 1970s.
- Cant, M. C.,and J. W. Strydom, C. J. Jooste (2009). Marketing Management. Juta and Company. p. 192. ISBN 978-0-7021-7188-8.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Dalton, Mary M. & Laura R. Linder (2005). The Sitcom Reader: America Viewed And Skewed. SUNY Press. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-7914-6570-7.
- Jennie Bristow (2015). Baby Boomers and Generational Conflict. Macmillan Publishers.
- "Are Millennials really the 'Me' generation?".
- Reeve, Elspeth. "Every Every Every Generation Has Been the Me Me Me Generation".
- De Michelis, Elizabeth (2005). A History of Modern Yoga: Patañjali and Western Esotericism. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-8264-8772-8.
- McCleary, John Bassett & Joan Jeffers McCleary (2004). The Hippie Dictionary: A Cultural Encyclopedia (And Phraseicon) of the 1960s and 1970s. Random House Digital Inc. p. 337. ISBN 978-1-58008-547-2.