Boomers Face a Moral Dilemma With Boomer-Era Transgressors

Recent reports of spoken insensitivities and outright illegalities committed by politicians, sports stars, artists, movie stars and celebrities of all sorts is nothing new to boomers. There is a long list of people who have walked that path before the current crop. The question was, and is, what do we, as their audience, constituents and fans, do in response?

Months before the Beatles embarked on a U.S. tour in 1966, John Lennon remarked to a London reporter that the band seemed to be more popular than Jesus. In the U.S., his remarks were taken out of context from the reporter’s article and John was forced to try to explain himself in a press conference in Chicago on August 11, the first stop of their tour. There was an immediate firestorm of negative response, resulting in some religious groups sponsoring the burning of Beatles records. John tried to explain that he wasn’t comparing himself or the band to JC, he was merely talking about the meteoric rise to fame the band had experienced. Nonetheless, the incident did not hurt the band in record sales or concert attendance. The band, however, already not happy with touring, never toured again. In retrospect, his particular spoken insensitivity was on the milder end of the scale.

In 1957, a young Boomer Generation was rocked by the news that Jerry Lee Lewis had married his 13-year old cousin. As if that wasn’t scandal enough, his divorce from his second wife had not been finalized yet. His 1958 tour of England was canceled because of the international outcry. Radio stations refused to play his records. Though he did have one more hit in 1958, his career never returned to the level it was before the marriage.

Chuck Berry was arrested and jailed in 1962 under the Mann Act for allegedly transporting a minor across state lines for illicit purposes, while some people say his only infraction was “driving while black.” Chuck claimed the girl had told him she was twenty-one, but in court, she testified that she was fourteen. Chuck said he was trying to help a girl down on her luck and had offered her a job at his St. Louis nightclub, but the Mann Act didn’t require the prosecutor to prove any contact occurred. Chuck served nearly two years in prison. A complicated scenario, but it wasn’t Chuck’s first or last run-in with the law.

Ike Turner verbally and physically abused his wife, Tina, in the 1960s and ’70s. She went on stage many times with bruises that she tried to cover with makeup. A rarity among celebrity abusers, Ike’s reputation was seriously harmed in his later years by Tina’s accusations from her 1986 memoir, I, Tina, and subsequently portrayed in the film What’s Love Got to Do With It in 1993.

In 1976, Eric Clapton went on a drunken, racist and anti-immigrant rant from a stage in London. He went so far as to tell those not born in his country to get out. Fifty years later, it does not appear to have hurt his music career. In light of recent conversations on race and immigration, this incident has resurfaced.

Michael Jackson, Boy Wonder of the Jackson 5 in the 1960s and ’70s, was, in his adult life, accused of being a pedophile. Had he lived, there is a strong possibility that his accusers may have had their day in court. Again, though, his record sales and popularity did not wane, and have not since his death.

Woody Allen burst onto the stand-up comedy scene in 1964. He followed his early success with the release of several full-length comedy features in the ’60s and ’70s, many of which are now considered classics. In 1992, he was accused of pedophilia toward the daughter of his then live-in mate, Mia Farrow. Accusations broke up their long-term relationship. When the girl turned twenty-one, he married her.

Phil Spector had a reputation of being difficult, and girlfriends accused him of being abusive as far back as the 1960s. He was arrested in 2003, accused of killing his then girlfriend, actress Lana Clarkson. He remained out on bail and continued to work in the industry. In a 2008 retrial, he was convicted of second degree murder and spent the rest of his life in prison. Spector died of Covid-19 last January at the age of 81.

The dilemma in all of these examples of boomer-era celebrities and icons that crossed a line, is, how should boomers react to these incidents in the spotlight of modern discourse? Some of these people continue to produce new material, and all of them have a catalog of material for sale. The question for everyone is, can the transgressor be separated from the star? Should people not see a movie directed by a person accused of crimes against society? Should people not listen to or purchase songs and albums by musicians accused or convicted of various offenses? Is the genius of their talent we recognized in our boomer years diminished by the offense? Should there forever be an asterisk on any type of Hall of Fame accolades? What is a boomer to do?

Have you resolved these questions for yourself, boomers? Have you made a blanket rule of principle or are you approaching each case individually?

Boomers Questioned Their Own Religious Affiliations

Recent reports by Pew Research and Gallup indicate that religious affiliation in the U.S. has dropped below fifty percent for the first time in more than a century. In particular, there has been a precipitous drop in church attendance in the past two decades. Mister Boomer remembers the tumultuous times of the 1960s, and places religion smack in the middle of the controversies raised by anti-war and Civil Rights protestors. Mister B feels it was a time when religion was both revered and reviled, and wonders if the seeds of organized religion rejection weren’t planted in our boomer years.

History has documented how World War II placed people together from all walks of life and from every corner of the country. After the War, this blending to “American” was exemplified by the marital mixing of nationalities, something that was discouraged prior to the War. Immigrants, like the parents and grandparents of Baby Boomers, tended to live in the same neighborhoods with others who matched their own nationality, and therefore, their religion. For decades, that comprised the major marriage pool for men and women. Boomers, like children everywhere to this day, adopted the religion of their parents and grandparents without discussion. It was the 1960s when the equation began to change on a larger scale. Organized religion has always helped people answer the big questions of life and death, and assist them in coping with the rigors and stresses of their time. Throughout history, when people no longer recognized their religion as fulfilling their needs, the religion changed, reformed, or drifted away. In the 1960s, many boomers asked questions and researched alternatives to their family religion. There were several possible reasons for the beginnings of breaks with traditional family religious affiliations by boomers, many of whom were leaning toward “spiritual” rather than “religious”:

Transcendental Meditation (a.k.a. TM): Created in India in the 1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, U.S. college students began exploring this type of mantric meditation that was based on Hindu religious principles, but was seen as a global humanitarian movement to bring about world peace through inner stillness. The movement got a boost when the Beatles spent time with the Mararishi in 1968.

Eastern Spiritualism and Mysticism: Loosely connected to TM exploration, boomers investigated other forms of religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism to compare and contrast with their mainly Western, European-inspired religious upbringing. Influence can be seen in the clothing of the late sixties as well as psychedelic music and drug experimentation.
Native American Culture awareness: Boomers became more aware of the beliefs of Native Americans, especially their connection to the land and Nature.
Social Justice movement: Civil Rights, anti-war, religious and personal freedoms were seen by an increasing number of boomers as moral issues. As such, they looked to their family religious affiliations to see how these institutions addressed — or failed to address — the injustices they were seeing. Some boomers forget that Martin Luther King was a minister, and his speeches all talked about Civil Rights and the Vietnam War in terms of religious morality.

At the same time as boomers were reaching out to the world for religious validity, there was a traditionalist backlash in the country to counter any break from the status quo. Television became a cultural battlefield as the U.S. Congress debated what was moral and right for boomer children to view. The same held true for violence and language in comic books and language and nudity in the movies. As a result, morality laws and regulations were enacted, many of which are still in place to this day.

There were boomers tending toward Fundamentalism in each of the major religions during the boomer years, as well as the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. The term “televangelist” was first used to describe Bishop Fulton Sheen, a Roman Catholic bishop from Newark, New Jersey, whose radio program, The Catholic Hour (1930-1950), had labelled Adolph Hitler an Anti-Christ. In 1952, his weekly television program entitled, Life Is Worth Living, began broadcasting in prime time, earning him the designation. Evangelical ministers, most notably Billy Graham, Oral Roberts and Rex Humbard, soon had their own television programs.

In 1957, the U.S. Census had, for the first time, a question about religious affiliation in its Current Population Survey. There was immediate backlash by a wide section of people on both sides of the political spectrum, and subsequent discussion eliminated the question from future government queries on the basis of separation between church and state. Since then, the Census collects information on organized religions only as any other county businesses.

Mister Boomer grew up in a Catholic family in a very Protestant neighborhood. In his own family, something that made a profound difference in religious terms was Vatican II (1962-65). Pope John XXIII had called bishops together to discuss possible cultural changes, something that had not been done in the Catholic Church for over 100 years. Mister B recalls the biggest change in his family’s church was that the services were no longer spoken in Latin. Suddenly, the priest spoke English and faced the congregation rather than an altar. Traditionalists like Mister B’s aunts were appalled and opposed to any change in church services whatsoever, but his family embraced the changes. Soon after, the first guitars made their way into special Sunday services, billed as a way to keep young people in the fold. These services left the church organ behind in favor of folk singers with acoustic guitars and newly-minted songs to replace the centuries-old music from the pages of church hymnals.

Mister B’s own religious journey began in earnest in high school, when he explored the world beyond his own upbringing by reading about Western philosophy and ultimately, the tenets of Buddhism. Other religions all seemed very much in line with each other in terms of their professed beliefs of peace, love and understanding. Yet what was visible on the evening news and the actions of people associated with these organized affiliations did not match their stated beliefs. At the same time, priests and nuns who were his teachers and family friends began leaving the Church at an alarming rate. Those contrasts led him away from organized religion at an early age. He has had no affiliation for many more decades than he did in an organized religion as a child.

Therefore, in his experience, Mister Boomer humbly theorizes that the seeds of distrust toward religious affiliation were planted in our boomer formative years. He in no way is disparaging anyone’s beliefs or affiliations; in fact, quite the opposite. He, like many boomers, adopted the ideal of personal choice early on, which means we each maintain that freedom to decide for ourselves. Yet, since we were a generation known for questioning the status quo, is it any wonder that our children and grandchildren are choosing “none of the above” when it comes to religious affiliation faster than we did?

How about you, boomers? Did your children drop the affiliation you had when they were young? Did you drop your religious affiliation in the past few decades?