Boomers Learned to Wait

There are many things that have changed during the nearly half-century since the last baby boomer was born in 1964. Mister Boomer has chronicled several of them in these posts and now, here’s another: anticipation. As Carly Simon musically observed, “anticipation … is making me wait.” Baby boomers grew up in a world filled with anticipation. We anticipated every end of school day and couldn’t wait for summer vacation. We’d count down the days between May and June, and just when it seemed like we were ready to explode, summer vacation would finally arrive, making the anticipation all the more worth while.

We anticipated holidays, when special foods and treats served once a year made the anticipation all the more intense. Birthdays, Thanksgiving, Easter — of course, Christmas — but also Memorial Day cookouts and Mother’s Day visits to restaurants all tilted the dial on our anticipation meters.

The point is, anticipation helped make the event, whether it was mundane or spectacular, that much more enjoyable and vivid in our memories. There is an inherent discipline attached to the art of anticipation, and our parents used it to see that we were held in check. Threats of punishments intended to diminish our abilities to completely enjoy whatever it was we were anticipating were ways for our parents to reign in our anticipatory enthusiasm. You might say that anticipation contributed to the methods that helped us learn how to behave.

As we became teens, the anticipation level increased right along with our growing anxiety for social interaction. Yet a huge part of the anticipation factor was centered around learning how to drive, and subsequently getting our first car. “I can’t wait until I’m sixteen,” sounds like a phrase The Beave might have said when his brother Wally pulled up to the front of the Cleaver house in his first jalopy. Intimately connected with this anticipation was our first date, first kiss, first dance and first going steady. Popular music from our boomer years is filled with references to these anticipations, from He’s So Fine to Then He Kissed Me and beyond.

Through all our early years, there was one level of anticipation that has now completely changed for today’s youth: TV viewing. Baby boomers desperately anticipated Saturday morning cartoons, naturally, but also weekly TV shows. The entire TV season was structured differently when we were young. The new TV season began the end of September and ran until June, when summer replacement shows were slotted in. Since most shows were broadcast only once a week and on limited TV stations, we had no choice but to wait to watch them. TV programmers were also wary of, say, broadcasting a Valentine’s Day episode of I Love Lucy in November, or a Christmas episode of Father Knows Best in May. The VCR wasn’t popularized until the 1970s, and DVDs and DVR were still in the science fiction stages, so when the program was aired, that’s when you watched it. If that meant making sure you were home on time to tune in the TV, then so be it.

There were shows that we just couldn’t wait to see each week, whether because they were a serial format with a continuing story line or individual episodes of mirth and zaniness. For Mister B, it was comedy that won out for anticipation domination on the TV program front. He was almost completely uninterested in the Friday-through-Sunday night line up of variety shows like The Jackie Gleason Show, Hollywood Palace and The Ed Sullivan Show. There was no need to waste anticipation, so he thought, for some old-fashioned singers or a guy who spun plates on poles. Rather, he couldn’t wait for The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show (especially for Fractured Fairy Tales and Peabody and Sherman), Beany & Cecil, The Addams Family, The Munsters and later, Rowen & Martin’s Laugh-In. On the non-comedy line-up, Mister B anticipated weekly showings of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy.

It’s hard to imagine what life might have been like for us if our TV viewing in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s had any semblance of the on-demand world afforded today’s youth. They can pretty much get whatever they want, whenever they want it, from music to movies to TV shows, past and present. No anticipation is required.

Don’t get Mister B wrong, he’s not necessarily saying that a culture of instant gratification is altogether good or bad, especially since we were the generation that helped to create the current level of technology that enabled it. Rather, it is just different, especially when it comes to teaching children that “good things come to those who wait.” It seems to Mister B that anticipation helped tweak our intellectual and moral curiosities while instilling a sense of self-control that carries little weight in our current culture. Have we outgrown the need for anticipation, or will some other form of mental and emotional bell-ringing emerge to help the next generation to salivate before the treat is served?

What did anticipation mean to you, boomers, and what TV shows did you greatly anticipate each week?