The lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel’s breakthrough single, “The Sounds of Silence,” melancholy in timbre and composition, captures the downtrodden and discomforted mood of Baby Boomers in the wake of the JFK assassination, in all of its political implications.
Written 50 years ago this winter, the opening line, “hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again” speaks like an acknowledgment of collective loss. The seemed invincibility of the nation who won the world war and projected televised images of glamour and prestige to a fascinated globe, in a moment, had its visage undone.
“Silence” recurs as theme in the 1967 Mike Nichols classic, The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman as Boomer and recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock. As the song ends at the film’s opening credits, the unenthusiastic face of Hoffman’s Ben appears onscreen. Alone in his bedroom, the character faces a crossroads, dissatisfied with “the vision that was planted in [his] brain” by his parents upon returning home.
Ben’s father, played by William Daniels, joins a moody Ben in his bedroom, querying him as to the cause behind his demeanor. Ben replies, seemingly speaking for his generation, of his feeling of emptiness and desire for a “different” future.
Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock (Source: United Artists, 1967)
Discomfort with change largely characterizes both “Silence” and Graduate in their poignant grasps of the Generation Gap around this time a half-century ago.
Graduate’s Greatest Generation grapples with its mortality as the president who personified their youth and vigor is killed (Mr. Robinson’s “I wish I was [20 years old] again because Ben… you’ll never be young again;” Mrs. Robinson’s seduction of Ben). Paul Simon’s “people talking without listening,” personified in Mr. Braddock’s unease with regarding his son as a man (repeatedly calling him “boy”) at Ben’s 21st birthday. Boomers dealing with a sense of emptiness and, like Ben in his disapproved pursuit of Elaine Robinson, fighting for something “different.”
So much what was then is now: the hopeful youth presidencies of JFK and Obama; the changing ideals and hopes for the now parental and grandparental Boomers and their younger, more liberal “echoes,” the so-called Millennials; and the quintessential American ideal of progressivism in hopes of something better—something different.
Paul Simon, a definitive songwriter of the Boomer generation, captures the eternal struggle between tradition and change at this juncture 50 years ago in just a few lines: “Because a vision softly creeping / left its seeds while I was sleeping / and the vision that was planted in my brain still remains / within the sound of silence.”
(From top row left, CBS Evening News presenter Walter Cronkite, NBC Today hosts Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters, bottom from left ABC Dallas affiliate WFAA-TV program director Jay Watson with iconic photographer Abraham Zapruder)
Sea Change For American Media Consumption: The “Big Three” networks live coverage of the JFK assassination, among the first nationally-televised breaking news events.
President John F. Kennedy (right) with his last surviving child, Caroline, on board his yacht, “Honey Fitz,” Sunday, August 25, 1963 near Hyannis Port. (Source: JFK Presidential Library)
50 years ago this month marks the end of Camelot with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The death of the 35th president ended the long-felt sense of domestic security for America’s youngest contemporaries, the Baby Boomers.
The children of post-World War II America, even those disenfranchised by discriminatory laws, lived in our nation’s most prosperous and globally-influential period. They were without the memories of the dearth of the Great Depression and the hardship of a nation at war. These were the children of conservative, Cold War Eisenhower and now, the teens and young adults of the stargazing Space Age of Kennedy—but their illusion of a peaceful homeland was to soon be shattered.
President John F. Kennedy at Cape Canaveral, Florida Saturday, November 16, 1963, in his final glimpse of his promise to make Americans the first to reach the Moon. (Source: YouTube)
It was Friday, November 22, 1963, a late morning and early afternoon across the United States, when news shot across the nation that JFK, a man who spoke of and embodied hopes and dreams of families much like own family, was killed. And in a moment, the naivety of the Baby Boomer childhood ended.
What would soon follow was a turbulent decade of the draft to and stalemate in Vietnam, the dramatic climax of the Civil Rights Movement, youth rebelliousness and counterculture, and the end of blind trust in government with the Watergate scandal.
The mortal end of JFK would mark the beginning of America’s modern political era. It was our coming-of-age.
Paradise: back home soon.
Cape Florida, Miami
©September 2013 Flickr/Junior Henry
De Blasio family (from left, Dante, Chiara, Bill, and wife Chirlane McCray) at victory celebration in Midtown Manhattan Tuesday, September 10, 2013 (Source: YouTube).
When the results come in for the New York City mayoral election in a few weeks, they will almost assuredly be in the favor of Democratic candidate Bill de Blasio. The Democrat corrals nearly two-thirds of likely voters in polls since the September primary election opposite Republican opponent Joe Lhota.
And when de Blasio gives his victory speech on that brisk November night, he will thank in his two children, Chiara and Dante de Blasio—and with good reason.
So you’re thinking, “of course he’ll thank his children.” But since August, television ads featuring his son and, more recently, his daughter, have played substantial roles in elevating the “cool” factor of the candidate to voters.
An August ad featuring Dante, now 16, with his tan skin tone, unmistakable afro, and crossover youth and ethnic minority appeal, is credited as a factor in catapulting his dad’s then-flailing campaign to victory in September.
Campaign ad entitled “Dante” featuring Dante de Blasio (Source: YouTube).
Touting the elder de Blasio’s fervent stance against the NYPD’s now-defunct “stop and frisk” policy which disproportionately profiled blacks and Latinos, Dante helped in endearing his father to the broad swath of Democratic families throughout New York.
In the weeks following the ad’s release, de Blasio overturned the polling advantage of leading ethnic minority candidate Bill Thompson by garnering majority primary vote shares in parts of the city where Thompson was otherwise expected to win like in portions of Upper Manhattan and central Brooklyn.
As of late, de Blasio’s eldest child Chiara, 19, is making rounds in a heavily-played ad defending her dad against allegations from the Lhota campaign that the Democrat would be dangerous for the city.
In Lhota’s latest spot, the campaign suggests de Blasio supported the gang motorcycle attack of a father driving his family which left him critically injured, an attack the de Blasio campaign fervently denies.
The front burner prominence of the de Blasio children—both characteristically hip, one a flower child and the other with influential hair—and his maroon-hued wife of nearly 20 years, Chirlane McCray, will likely succeed in putting the candidate into America’s highest municipal office. And with the catapulting rise of the de Blasio family comes a changed look of what we perceive as a “traditional” American family, a potential harbinger for the changing face of American society.