Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Boomers Got Tattoos — Or Did They?

The history of tattooing spans countries, cultures and generations. The early days of tattoos in the U.S. echoed the new country’s military beginnings, as tattoos were predominantly inked on male soldiers and sailors, who sported patriotic themes or regimental insignia. This same practice was reawakened during the Civil War, when tattoo artists would travel, even from Union to Confederate camps, to practice their art.

The Victorian Era saw acceptance of tattoos grow from the strata of the military and lower income classes to higher echelons of society. A New York newspaper at the time reported that as many as three quarters of the women of high society were tattooed for decoration, mostly with butterflies and flowers.

Like most trends in the U.S., the popularity of tattoos started on the East and West Coasts and moved inward, but times were changing. By the 1920s, tattoos and tattoo artists were equated with the excesses of the Jazz Age, and it fell out of fashion in the general population as part of the sweep of the Prohibition Movement. Tattoos on women were thought to be a sign of promiscuity. This forced some heavily tattooed women into working circus and strip-tease acts. Nonetheless, the practice continued. When Social Security was introduced in the 1930s, a minor trend appeared of getting your newly-issued Social Security number tattooed on your body so that you would remember it!

In the 1940s, many men still sought out tattoo artists. However, as the possibility of the U.S. entering World War II loomed large, the military would not accept individuals with images of naked women or pin-ups, popular tats of the day. Consequently, there was a surge in tattoo business nationwide as men had their tattoos “dressed” with nurses’ uniforms, bikinis or even Native American garb. During the War, it was mainly sailors — like the early days of the U.S. military — who received tattoos. And like the time of the American Revolution and Civil War, their tats were most often patriotic images or regimental insignia.

By the time the War had ended and the first boomers were born, tattoos were once again losing their status in society. Prisoners gave each other tattoos, often to reflect group affiliation, and thus a person observed with a visible tattoo was thought of as either a felon or under-educated. This rebellious reputation made tattoos more attractive for motorcycle clubs and Beatniks, though their chosen imagery differed greatly. Motorcycle club members often had a club logo tattoo in the 1950s, while the Beatniks preferred imagery that suggested Eastern mysticism.

In 1961, a hepatitis outbreak in New York City was traced to a tattoo studio in Coney Island. Consequently, a New York City law banned all tattoo establishments, and most of the country followed suit. (New York City didn’t repeal the law until 1997.) More underground than it had been in decades, tattoo artists worked illicitly. As rock ‘n roll established itself as the voice of the younger generation, some rock stars sported tattoos as a sign of their rebellious nature. Members of the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, in particular, sported visible tattoos.

In Mister Boomer’s circle of family and friends, tattoos were a rarity. He only knew two people — both men — with tattoos. The first was his uncle, a veteran of World War II, who had his army division insignia tattooed on his arm. The other was a manager at the first retail job Mister Boomer worked. The man’s tattoo pictured snakes slithering down an anchor — he had recently left the Navy.

In Mister Boomer’s area, it was commonly said during the 1960s and ’70s that any tattoos or markings should be covered up for job interviews. It was not going to be easy to enter Corporate America if you had a visible tattoo. Thus the alienation between financial classes, heightened by level of education, could also increase over physical appearance. Many long-haired boomers will attest to this same form of discrimination. Consequently, tattooed boomers tended to work in factories, record stores or places where they would not be seen by the general public lest someone be offended.

Now it is said that the number of tattoo studios in the U.S. has doubled since the 1990s. Many corporations still frown on their workers showing tattoos, and tattoo concealer sales have grown to serve this market. At the same time, tattoo removal services have also grown exponentially. According to a 2006 study by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, nearly a quarter of Americans between 18 and 50 have at least one tattoo.

These days it’s hard to turn practically anywhere without seeing people of both genders sporting tattoos. Male and female stars on all types of TV shows, movie stars and sports stars proudly display their tats. More establishments are relaxing their ban on tattoos in the workplace as the popularity seems yet to have reached its peak. Who knows where this will lead? Mister Boomer can’t help but wonder if the Boomer Generation didn’t set the stage for the level of freedom this current generation has to express themselves with their bodies.

While Mister Boomer doesn’t have any tattoos and doesn’t know tattooed boomers himself, he did run into one man in his daily work commute last summer who had a series of tattoos on both his arms and legs. The man appeared to be of boomer age and was dressed in shorts, so he may have been retired or worked as a corporate messenger since he was observed carrying large envelopes each time Mister Boomer encountered him on the train platform. The interesting thing about his tattoos to Mister Boomer, though — and what made him think the man was a boomer himself — was that virtually all of his tattoos were cartoon characters from our boomer days. The man had Mighty Mouse, Heckel and Jeckel, Huckleberry Hound, Popeye, Felix the Cat, Yogi Bear and Bullwinkle and Rocky inked on his arms and legs! While Mister Boomer isn’t of the mindset to ever get a tattoo of any type, this was one display he could appreciate. How is that for a rebellious boomer?

Did you know any fellow boomers who got tattoos back in the day, boomers? Have you jumped on the tattoo bandwagon yourself in subsequent years? Do your children have tattoos?

posted by Mister B in Getting Older,Pop Culture History and have No Comments

Boomers Saw Great Movies Win Oscars

It’s time for the Academy Awards once again. This year’s crop of nominated films is an eclectic bunch consisting of historical drama, fantasy, forbidden love and a large dose of social commentary. Much the same can be said of the Academy Awards of fifty years ago. The awards ceremony in 1968 honored the stellar films and performances from movies released in 1967. While movies then and now reflect the times, the 40th annual Academy Awards, scheduled for Monday, April 8, 1968, were postponed for two days due to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4.

The nominees for Best Picture were:
Bonnie and Clyde
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
In Cold Blood
In the Heat of the Night
The Graduate

The irony of the situation was that two of the films — now ground-breaking classics — dealt with racial prejudice and were made just three years after the enacting of Civil Rights legislation. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner told the story of a white woman bringing her African-American fiancé home to meet her parents. This year’s nominee, Get Out, tells a similar story. While both were billed as comedy/dramas, both deal with the same subject fifty years apart.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner starred Sydney Poitier, who was the first African-American Oscar winner in 1964 (for his performance in Lilies of the Field). The movie was directed by Stanley Kramer, and starred (in addition to Poitier), Spencer Tracy (in his last film role), Katharine Hepburn and her daughter, Katharine Houghton, as Poitier’s love interest. The film was released just six months after the historic Loving V. Virginia decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that ruled that the states that banned marriage between individuals of different races was a constitutional violation of the 14th Amendment. Up to that point, interracial marriage remained illegal in 17 states.

Likewise, In the Heat of the Night took the issue of racial prejudice head-on. Sydney Poitier starred in this picture (in two nominated films in the same year!) with Rod Steiger. Poitier played the role of a Philadelphia police detective, who, while waiting for a train in Mississippi, is mistakenly arrested for the murder of a wealthy Chicago businessman. During his interrogation, Poitier reveals to Police Chief Rod Steiger that he is a detective. When Steiger calls his captain for verification, the Philadelphia captain tells Steiger that Poitier is his best detective, and suggests he keep him there to assist in the murder investigation. The town and Police Chief fiercely distrust strangers, and the tension between the characters is what one might expect from a Southern town in that time. But Poitier demands respect when at one point he utters the now-famous phrase, “They call me Mister Tibbs!” By the end of the film, Steiger’s character has grown to respect Poitier’s abilities in solving the case.

A glance through the nominees in the acting, cinematography and costuming categories show the depth of talent displayed in the movies released in 1967. Other than the Best Picture nominees, there was Best Supporting Actor George Kennedy for Cool Hand Luke; Art Direction and costuming awards went to John Truscott for Camelot, plus Set Direction along with Edward Carrere and John Brown; Best Original Musical Score went to Elmer Bernstein for Thoroughly Modern Millie and the Best Directing Oscar went to Mike Nichols for The Graduate.

Mister Boomer must confess that he only saw two of the films nominated in various categories at the movies fifty years ago: In the Heat of the Night and Cool Hand Luke. As near as Mister B can recall, he saw them at a drive-in with his dad, sister and brother. When his mother had her women’s card night, his dad took the kids to the drive-in to get them out of the house. Mister B saw many of the classic movies of the ’60s this way. As a young teen, Cool Hand Luke in particular made quite an impression on Mister B; he logs it as one of his all-time favorite movies.

At various times in subsequent years, Mister Boomer has seen all of the films on TV that were nominated in the most popular categories fifty years ago. He recalls watching Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Bonnie and Clyde, Camelot and The Graduate in particular. This year there are nine films nominated for Best Picture; in 1968, there were six. Then as now, they are filled with memorable lines of dialogue from quotable scripts, unforgettable scenes and performances, and musical classics that are valued today and will be fifty years from now.

Did you go to the movies to see any of the best pictures featured at the 1968 Academy Awards, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Film & Movies and have No Comments

Boomers Watched Scary Weekend Late-Night TV Programs

At the beginning of the Baby Boom, television broadcasting expanded to make boomers the first TV generation. By 1955, half of all U.S. homes owned a TV, so the next issue for broadcasters was to fill the programming day. From the early days of four-hour prime time broadcasting (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.), the burgeoning networks had grown the broadcast day to twenty hours, signing off the air at 2 a.m.

The dilemma broadcasters faced was what to put on the air after 11 p.m. on weekends, when most people (and all good Baby Boom children!) were already in bed. While the networks experimented with late-night programming during the week (i.e., Broadway Open House in 1950, The Tonight Show in 1952), it wasn’t as lucrative to them in terms of advertiser sponsorship. For the most part, late-night broadcasting was left up to locally-owned stations. The cheapest way for them to fill the time was by airing old movies.

As the 1950s became the 1960s, many stations were airing syndicated segments of movies from the horror genre on weekends in the time between midnight and 2 a.m. Some had a voiceover actor to introduce the film, then disappear until there was a commercial break or the film ended — whichever came first since it was difficult to sell late-night ad space. Most had a local host or hostess who was often dressed as a ghoul, vampire or monster themselves to introduce the movie of the night. While the hosts may have been adept at slapstick and schlock with a distinct feeling of improvised scripting, the movies were from Hollywood — often B movies but also top-rated films like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. Various regional favorite hosts emerged (such as Vampira on the West Coast).

Their success drew copy cats from other regions, to the point that several used the same titles for their programs even though each region generated their own content on either end of the movie being aired. Some of these program titles included Nightmare Theater, Creature Features, Chiller Theater and the most famous of them all, Shock Theater. Shock Theater became synonymous with the genre, so much so that the title is now considered a generic name for programs airing late-night movies from classic horror films of the 1930s and ’40s to the sci-fi and Japanese monster movies of the ’50s and ’60s.

Shock Theater began as a syndicated package of Universal/Screen Gems classics. The originally syndicated package ran from 1957 to ’59. There was a version of the movie package under the umbrella title of Shock! airing until the 1980s. Mister Boomer and his siblings were in bed long before the shows came on, though his father was a late-night TV watcher/sleeper. Mister B, a light sleeper, would wake up when the TV broadcast ended and white noise filtered into his bedroom down the hall. He’d turn off the TV and shut the light, then head back to bed.

Mister Boomer saw his classic horror films mostly at Saturday matinees at the movies, but later enjoyed them on TV during daytime or nighttime broadcasts. He was well-versed in everything from Abbott and Costello Meets the Mummy to creepy Vincent Price movies like House of Wax. There is one time, however, that Mister B recalls seeing Shock Theater. He believes he was in the third grade when a classmate held a sleepover with Mister B and a couple of his friends. After the boy’s parents went to bed and the house was dark, the group made their way to the TV to watch Shock Theater. Mister Boomer was frightened that the boy’s parents would get up and be angry with them, but that did not happen. Mister Boomer would view a Shock Theater program.

Mister B remembers that the movie that night was Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). It didn’t matter that the film was in black & white (as was the capability of the TV set); the movie scared the bejeebus out of him. There was no other movie that gave him more nightmares than that one episode of Shock Theater, watched in the dark in a strange home in the middle of the night.

Did you watch Shock Theater or weekend late-night scary movies in the 1950s and ’60s, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Film & Movies,Pop Culture History,TV and have No Comments

Boomers Got Penicillin Shots

It’s cold and flu season once again, and according to the Center for Disease Control this is a particularly bad season for the flu. When boomers got a bad cold or the flu, our parents took us to the family doctor who, after a cursory exam, would administer a penicillin injection. The next day, or certainly within two days, we’d be right as rain and back in school. Around the 1970s and into the ’80s, the use of penicillin — given both orally as a pill or as an injection — started to wane. Penicillin use is far from the norm today.

The Mayo Clinic says penicillin was never the right course of treatment for colds and the flu. The reason is the drug is useful for bacterial infections, but is not effective for viral infections like colds and the flu. This would have been known from the start, so family doctors in the 1950s and ’60s would have had this knowledge. Then the whole antibiotic-resistance evolution enters the picture. Today’s bugs are much more resistant to the antibiotics that were regularly distributed during our boomer years. But what goes on here? Every boomer Mister Boomer knows recalls getting better very quickly when given a penicillin shot in their school years, though most of us hated the experience. Surely it can’t be a placebo effect for an entire generation, can it?

Penicillin was first discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928. The use of the drug was vital during World War II to fight infections in the wounded, but mass production proved a daunting task. The great need during the War spurred development and its use in the military became widespread — for a narrow range of bacterial infections — around 1942. After WWII, Australia became the first country to make penicillin available to the general public. The U.S. followed suit in 1945. The drug also was used to treat syphilis and gonorrhea and is credited with widely reducing the spread of STDs in the post-war 1950s.

Yet for boomers, it was a shot in the arm, from a doctor who was usually an older man, who asked your parents if the child before him was allergic to penicillin. Since an injection could cause slight pain and discomfort for a couple of days, Mister Boomer usually offered up his left arm for the intra-muscular injection. Inevitably, that evening, Brother Boomer would find an excuse to somehow bump or hit the “shot arm.” Cries of “Mom, he hit my shot arm,” could be heard from Mister Boomer or his sister. After a drag on her cigarette, his mother would tell the older brother to leave his brother or sister’s “shot arm” alone. Often the next day, it was back to school. Did penicillin do its job?

Mister Boomer has a theory about the disconnect between the effectiveness of penicillin on colds and flu, and what we experienced as near-miracle recovery times with what was thought of as Modern Age treatments. His theory is two-fold; first, penicillin was effective on certain infections such as strep throat, so what was thought to be a cold or flu may have been a different type of bacterial infection altogether that the penicillin could attack. Second, it was an age of paternalism in the medical world. Doctors didn’t tell patients all that much since he — the doctor was almost always male — could be trusted to know more than his patients. There were very few Marcus Welbys out there. Some were downright condescending. Under this portion of Mister B’s theory, these egotistical medical professionals said they were administering penicillin because the general public had heard of and knew about the drug. Old man doc may have had any number of other drugs in his syringe.

Today we are in a world of bacteria that is increasingly resistant to the antibiotics that were common in our boomer years, so the development of new treatments is an ongoing process. In our boomer years, a shot in the arm was an unpleasant experience, but usually did the trick.

Do you remember getting penicillin shots for colds and flu, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History and have No Comments

Mister Boomer Tips His Hat to Elon Musk & SpaceX

When carmaker and space entrepreneur Elon Musk was born in 1971, the Space Race was long over; the U.S. was declared the underdog victor when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon in July of 1969. Interest in manned missions to space peaked around that time, but support for continuing manned space exploration was bolstered by the introduction of the first Space Shuttle in 1976. Appropriately christened “Enterprise,” it was named after the boomer-favorite spaceship on the TV show, Star Trek. For the first time, boomers could see a spaceship that could fly into orbit and land back on Earth, ready for another flight.

Deep budget cuts to the Space Program and a public that no longer stopped whatever they were doing to watch rocket launches — like we did during the 1960s — made it difficult to maintain an ambitious program to “boldly go where no one has gone before.” When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after take-off in January 1986, it became evident that progress from here on out was going to be slow and deliberate.

The International Space Station missions (1998 to present) kept our toes in the water, but many boomers, like Mister Boomer, longed for the thrill of big missions where brave men and women zipped across the universe the way we had seen in the TV shows and movies of our youth. Fast forward to February 6, 2018, when Elon Musk’s SpaceX team launched the Heavy Falcon rocket from the same Cape Canaveral launchpad that had propelled NASA astronauts to the moon, rekindling the hopes and imaginations of the Boomer Generation who sat on the edge of their seats while watching the space launches, from the earliest manned Mercury missions that began in 1961 to landing on the moon, as President Kennedy had challenged, “before the end of the decade.” People had camped out for two days to watch the Heavy Falcon launch along the same highway where boomers and their families had watched the Apollo launches. This SpaceX three-booster system doubles the liftoff capacity of what current rockets can muster, expanding the payload possibilities for future missions.

To, as our sixties lingo would put it, blow our minds even more, the three Heavy Falcon booster rockets were not designed to fall off into the ocean, never to be used again. No, Musk’s company has spent the past decade engineering the booster rockets so that they land safely on Earth and are able to be refueled and used again. The two side boosters did just that, landing back at Cape Canaveral in a synchronized event that looked like something from a Buck Rogers episode. The largest booster, the center rocket, was supposed to land on a drone ship platform in the Atlantic ocean, but missed it by 100 meters. Preliminary reports say the rocket didn’t have enough remaining fuel to execute the landing maneuver.

As if that wasn’t enough, Mr. Musk had another surprise for us. The spacecraft that was launched by the Heavy Falcon boosters was intended to head for an orbit around Mars. When the nose cone of the craft opened, it revealed a red convertible Tesla Roadster with a mannequin in a spacesuit behind the wheel. As strains of David Bowie’s Life on Mars emanated from the car’s sound system, the mannequin — dubbed “Starman” by Musk — had his left arm resting on the car window while the right hand “steered” through space. The car’s electronic readout screen posted the message, “Don’t Panic,” and a copy of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was in the glove compartment. The latest reports say that Starman will miss his orbit trajectory for Mars, and is headed toward the Asteroid Belt. Sweet boomer dreams are made of this!

One week after the incredible SpaceX test of the Heavy Falcon rockets comes news that our government is poised to end funding of the International Space Station in 2024. Reports indicate a desire of the current Administration to turn it over to private industry. While boomers like Mister B might question the wisdom of such a decision, one can only hope that if privatization is the future of space exploration, the International Space Station won’t become a floating hotel with a certain president’s name on it, but rather placed in the hands of visionaries like Elon Musk. Think of the possibilities of building interplanetary craft in space instead of engineering bigger rockets to send the immense size and fuel supply that will be necessary for such travel directly from Earth. While you’re at it, Mister Musk, could you please begin the work on a Warp Drive, and oh, if we had a way to beam up to the Station, that would be super! To infinity and beyond!

What did you think of the SpaceX test launch, boomers? Did it remind you of the excitement we felt in the early days of the Space Program?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Space and have Comment (1)

Boomers Remember Things Costing Less Than a Dollar

Mister Boomer’s latest trip to the supermarket to get the ingredients for his delicious homemade chili sent him on a flashback when he found 26 oz. cans of tomato sauce for 48¢ each (with the supermarket bonus card, of course). Mister B, for one, longs for the days when every can and package — and even produce and some meats — were less than a dollar. He was wondering how long it has been since the price of practically every food item in the supermarket crossed the one dollar line.

In the Boomer Years, food items were often less than a half dollar. Prices for cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup averaged 10-15¢ each fifty years ago, in 1968. The cost of a can of tomato soup didn’t reach the dollar mark until the early 1980s. The same is true for Nabisco Oreos — 45¢ for a 16 oz. pkg. — and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes –– 39¢ for an 18 oz. box. At the same time, bread was around 20 to 25¢ per 1 lb. loaf, and a dozen eggs were in the range of 60¢. Ground beef was less than a dollar a pound, and most fruits and vegetables were 20 to 30¢ per pound. However, there was one item that was more than a dollar in 1968: a gallon of milk.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that by 1968, inflation caused food prices to go up about three percent a year. This annual rise remained relatively steady until the end of the 1970s; between March of 1979 and March 1980, there was nearly a 15 percent rise in food prices, which accounts for many more things costing more than a dollar each as 1980 arrived.

Mister Boomer recalls going on shopping excursions with his father — the food buyer-in-chief in the Boomer household. When things were on sale, items were often four or five for a dollar. Since Mister B’s mom and sister liked Campbell’s Tomato Soup, the shopping team hit the jackpot when the soup went on sale, 10 for $1.00. Jell-O was another packaged food that Mister B remembers his father buying on sale at 10 for $1.00. It was a struggle to try to get the most desired flavors like cherry and raspberry since the shelf emptied out quickly, even though Jell-O was an economical dessert before any sales prices kicked in. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese was often 4 for $1.00, and Banquet Pot Pies could be purchased at 5 for $1.00. The same was true for cans of Del Monte Corn and Green Beans, Campbell’s Pork & Beans and a host of other packaged, bottled and canned foods that had become staples in Mister B’s household, like many other boomers’ homes.

Supermarket sales such as these were the thing that enabled Mister B’s father to afford the brand name products over the lesser-priced brands. There were still compromises in food purchases, though, such as Banquet Pot Pies. Banquet was a cheaper alternative to Swanson or Morton pot pies, introducing their frozen meat pot pies in supermarkets in 1954. To feed a boomer family of five for one dollar was a welcome change. Mister B heard stories of these other brands having great flavor, and, most notably, more meat and veggies. Mister B would not know about that, since the family had a financial loyalty to Banquet.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mister Boomer’s mother would take the frozen pot pies from the freezer (usually chicken for the family), place them whole in their aluminum pans on baking sheets, pierce the tops of the crusts with a fork or knife and pop them into the oven. Forty-five minutes later, dinner was served. Mister B enjoyed his pot pies for the most part, though he always wanted more peas and chicken than was inevitably inserted. Then there was the matter of the crust. The top was always nice and toasty and crunchy, but the bottom could be anywhere from soft and mushy to outright uncooked. Mister B’s mother blamed the oven. Somewhere down the line, the company folks decided that an economical brand such as Banquet didn’t really need an entirely dough-enclosed pot pie and only the crust top remained. That solved Mister B’s bottom-of-the-pie dough dilemma, but the economical nature of the product was compromised in his view. The family noticed but continued to purchase the product, the prevailing argument being the price.

Fifty years ago, McDonald’s introduced the Big Mac. Hardly a supermarket product, it was, however, sold for 49¢. Little did boomers know how short-lived it would be that a wide variety of products would cost less than one dollar.

What products do you remember at prices less than one dollar, boomers? Did your family stock up on food supplies when there were supermarket sales that would offer four or five for one dollar?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)