VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands
Ok boomer, these are the moments that marked a generation. For this list, we'll be looking at the cultural and political moments, events and trends that shaped the Baby Boomer generation, focusing on the US. The exact age range of various generations are debated, but we'll be following the Pew Research definition, which identifies baby boomers as individuals born between 1946 and 1964. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we'll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Defining Moments for Baby Boomers.
These are the moments that marked a generation. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Defining Moments for Baby Boomers.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the cultural and political moments, events and trends that shaped the Baby Boomer generation, focusing on the US. The exact age range of various generations are debated, but we’ll be following the Pew Research definition, which identifies baby boomers as individuals born between 1946 and 1964.
#10: The Rise of Television (1946-)
To some extent, every generation has been marked by one major piece of consumer technology or another. Television was invented well before the birth of the first boomer, but it wasn’t until after the end of WWII that TVs really began to make their way into the average American home. The television was a sign of everything America was promising its citizens, AND a means to communicate these ideals. It was a time of plenty and entertainment. “Howdy Doody” debuted in 1947; “I Love Lucy” followed in 1953. Much like the internet today, TV was Baby Boomers’ window on the world, and shaped their earliest experiences.
#9: The Army-McCarthy Hearings (1954)
For the youngest Boomers, the Army-McCarthy Hearings left a lasting impression. It was one of the first major political conflicts to be televised, and entire families watched with rapt attention. At the time, the Second Red Scare was in full swing, thanks to the Cold War and Senator McCarthy’s anticommunist crusade. But when McCarthy accused the Army of harboring communists, the Army fired right back with accusations of blackmail. The subsequent investigation brought us lawyer Joseph Welch’s iconic line “Have you no sense of decency?”, and marked the beginning of the end for McCarthy’s controversial politics. Immortalized as "McCarthyism", they remain a byword today for political persecution without real evidence.
#8: The Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)
The conflict between the US and Soviet Union colored the childhoods of the Baby Boomers in more ways than just domestic politics. Following the CIA’s failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, and the deployment of American nukes in Turkey and Italy, the Soviet Union began to place nuclear missiles in Cuba. The threat was imminent and overt, giving people good reason to fear a large-scale nuclear war, to an extent never experienced before, nor since. The U.S. established a naval blockade, and eventually, an agreement was reached and the standoff de-escalated. Imagine, as a child, watching Kennedy address the nation, and seeing your parents’ faces flood with fear of impending nuclear disaster. That’s a moment that definitely stays with you.
#7: The Watergate Scandal (1972-74)
Nowadays, political controversy is a central part of our daily news. But once upon a time, people actually had a lot of faith in the democratic process and their elected officials. In the early 1970s however, the political landscape was forever changed by this watershed moment. On June 17th, 1972, thieves were arrested in the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Complex, attempting to tap phones and steal documents. Much to the nation’s shock, the trail led back to President Richard Nixon. Though Nixon tried to cover it up, he was eventually left with no choice but to resign when his guilt became clear. For Boomers, it was a reason to look at politics and government with a lot more skepticism.
#6: Beatlemania (1960s)
Yes, many of the experiences that define a generation are negative - but not all of them! The Baby Boomers lived through one of the most exciting and quite frankly overwhelming chapters in music history. In 1964, the Beatles came to the United States and performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show”; their set was viewed by an estimated 73 million Americans. From that moment until their disbandment in 1970, the group would consistently dominate the U.S. charts, an omnipresent foursome of living pop culture icons and music idols for a generation of listeners. The band inspired legions of obsessive Baby Boomer fans, many of whom would continue to cherish their music for the rest of their lives.
#5: The Vietnam War (1955-73)
Spanning two decades, the Vietnam War was and remains one of the darkest chapters in American history. The protracted and bloody conflict ravaged Vietnam and took the lives of millions. It’s estimated that 58,000 Americans were killed in action - soldiers sent to fight on foreign soil for a cause that far too few understood or agreed with. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers returned home physically wounded, psychologically damaged, or both. The war divided the US, sparking a massive protest movement. In 1973, two years before the conflict officially ended, American forces finally pulled out, ending the country’s involvement. In many ways, Vietnam was a war largely fought by the eldest Baby Boomers, both overseas, and at home through anti-war efforts.
#4: The First Moon Landing (1969)
As we said in our first entry, the Baby Boomer generation is one intertwined with TV; and this was arguably the most landmark TV moment in broadcast history. On July 20, 1969, the crew of Apollo 11 landed on the Moon! On July 21st, Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on its surface. The space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was an extension of the Cold War, and this felt like a major technological and cultural victory for America. By this point in time, the youngest boomers were about 5 years old, meaning that most of the generation watched the televised event, marvelling at Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind”.
#3: The Assassination of President Kennedy (1963)
It was JFK who, in 1961, promised to land man on the Moon before the end of the decade. His promise was fulfilled, but sadly he didn’t live to see it. As dark a description as it is, the 1960s was a decade defined by high profile assassinations. In 1965, Malcolm X was killed. In 1968, it was Martin Luther King Jr.. Just a few months later, presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was fatally shot in Los Angeles. Before any of those shocking assassinations however, the nation was rocked by the death of President John F. Kennedy on November 22nd, 1963. A nation mourned, and many a Baby Boomer remembers exactly where they were when they heard the news.
#2: Woodstock (1969)
It’s the stuff of music legend. Sure, there are now big musical festivals held annually all across the world, but even though Woodstock has been surpassed in total attendance, nothing will ever come close to its enduring cultural legacy. There has simply never been another music festival like it - before or after. Those Boomers lucky enough to have been alive at the time and attend speak of it with unparalleled reverence verging on religious experience. The thing is… Woodstock was more than music, drugs and free love; it was a cultural statement, a living embodiment of the counterculture. Its message of “peace and love” was in direct opposition to the violence and hate occurring simultaneously in Vietnam.
#1: The Passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Baby Boomers were born into a time of dramatic but hard-won change. In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the “colored section” of an Alabama bus to a white passenger. Her action was one of the numerous seeds planted that would blossom and grow into the American Civil Rights Movement. There are many specific events from this period that Baby Boomers will never forget, but perhaps the most seminal moment was the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - outlawing “discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” in workplaces, schools, public spaces and buildings. It wasn’t the end of the fight for equality, but it was a major victory that forever changed America.