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 Knew Inflation

News about the potential for a continuing increase in inflation in the coming months has sounded an alarm for many people. Supply chain disruptions and other factors due to the Covid-19 pandemic are the likely suspects for what has, in practicality, meant a five percent rise in the cost of goods and services to consumers and manufacturers alike. Some economists are calling these increases temporary, while others are not so sure. Dealing with inflation is nothing new to boomers, since we lived through one of the most volatile decades in our country’s economic history.

The decade of 1970 to ’79 saw an inflation rate of 7.25 percent, the worst since 1900. Compare that with a rate of 1.8 percent in the 1950s, and 2.45 percent in the 1960s. So what happened in the 1970’s to cause such a jump in inflation? A mix of world events and domestic political mayhem caused prices to go up, and interest rates to rise to an unprecedented level of up to 20 percent.

Richard Nixon was president, and still dealing with the process of ending the war in Vietnam, when in October of 1973 he asked Congress for $2.2 billion dollars in emergency aid for Israel following the Yom Kippur War. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) responded with an oil embargo against all western countries that supported Israel. Overnight, oil became scarce as OPEC shut down all exports to the U.S., Netherlands and Denmark. The U.S. imported about 30-35 percent of its crude oil at that time. The Federal government asked Americans to conserve energy as much as possible, as prices practically doubled and gas rationing was instituted in every state.

The price of manufacturing was already on the rise in the country before the embargo, and Nixon had the Watergate scandal growing ever more, to the point that it ultimately brought down his presidency. In August of 1974, Nixon resigned and Vice President Gerald Ford became president. By that point, Egypt and Israel had agreed to a cease-fire and the oil embargo was lifted. It did not stop the rising inflation in the U.S.

On October 8, 1974, President Gerald Ford addressed Congress and proposed a grassroots campaign called “Whip Inflation Now.” The president asked Americans to come together to save more, practice disciplined spending and conserve energy, instead of instituting policies of government intervention to restrict prices. This included suggestions for carpooling and driving less, turning down thermostats and starting a vegetable garden. To get the American public excited about his program, Whip Inflation Now merchandise was produced, from t-shirts to sweaters; footballs to gym bags; watches to earrings; and pins to buttons.

People who pledged to support the voluntary measures were encouraged to wear a WIN button. The public campaign was doomed from the start as people began wearing the buttons upside down to to spell NIM, which was meant to stand for “No Immediate Miracles,” or “Need Immediate Money.” Alan Greenspan, the Chairman of Economic Advisors at the time and initially, but reluctantly, onboard, called the idea “…unbelievably stupid.” Ford’s program was a flop with the public.

Image courtesy of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

Mister Boomer has a WIN button somewhere in his boxes of memorabilia. His looks just like the one pictured. Mister B can’t remember how he got the button, though he knows someone gave it to him. He did not sign any loyalty pledge of support, which were available through local newspapers. Signing the pledge and mailing it to Washington would garner the sender a WIN button in return.

Inflation in the 1970s hit home for Mister Boomer through more than gas rationing and the rise of oil prices. In the mid-70s, he purchased his first new car, and found the interest rate on his auto loan at more than 12 percent. Amid the resulting recession, boomers learned to tighten their belts and make do, as their parents had done during the war.

Did you have any Whip Inflation Now merchandise or a WIN button, boomers?