Has the generation gap disappeared?

These days, far from groaning when we play our music, our kids often like the bands we like. And we may even have heard of theirs! By Oliver Bennett

On 24 August, Robert Smith played at the Reading Festival. Smith is 53. Did that worry the cuties? Not a bit of it. All age groups were rocking.

Indeed, the Cure first played Reading in 1979 and the festival now attracts generations of music fans. So if you were 20 then, you’ll be Smith’s age, and probably still backcombing your hair.

It’s another piece of evidence for the case that the generation gap has disappeared, or migrated elsewhere. In recent years, I have attended several concerts and a small selection of festivals. Anecdotal, I know, but the audiences at all of them were dad-and-son teams, mum-and daughter-teams, whole families. In the Seventies, the only oldies were superannuated Hells Angels.

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56 per cent of boys share the same taste in films as their fathers, and 48 per cent enjoy the same music

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Back then, it was an article of faith that you would like music that your parents hated. But that’s gone to the wall. Now, aided and abetted by the catholic library ushered in by YouTube and Spotify, the music of the past has little cringe factor.

Indeed, it has led to a massive taste convergence, whereby your kids like the Stones and Nirvana as well as Florence and the Machine or whoever. It’s a great big all-in-it-together, Jools Holland-fest out there. We still embarrass our kids, but that’s just for fun.

New technology, new attitudes

So what’s happened to the generation gap? Does it still exist or has it taken a different form?

A 2009 study by Nickelodeon in the US suggests what we at high50 always thought: the generation gap as it was constituted in the Fifties and Sixties is disappearing.

It cited “new cultural attitudes”, “expanding technology” and differing modes of parenting as factors, concluding that “today’s increasingly multi-generational and diverse families are rapidly becoming united by an expanding set of values and converging tastes”.

Stephen Burke represents the charity United for All Ages, whose campaigning site aims to bring all generations together. He has noticed that the tendency for intergenerational mixing has mashed our communal tastebuds.

“It’s definitely an issue in the world of pop and entertainment,” he says. “Partly it’s because more householders live together, a situation which is economically driven.”

We live together and listen together

He approves of this mixing; though less of the financial circumstances that drive it. Still, we share our tastes as we’re thrown together, and the taboo against enjoying the same culture as your parents has receded.

The beginnings of the ‘teen age’ in the 1950s, as documented in such books as JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and films like The Wild Ones, positioned the teenager as incomprehensible, alien, separate – pretty much unknowable to their parents.

Conversely, Nickelodeon’s survey found that 56 per cent of boys aged eight to 21 share the same taste in films as their fathers, and 48 per cent enjoy the same music. This was even more so among daughters and mothers, with 64 per cent of the same age group enjoying the same films. We’re digging the same shit, daddy-o!

In other ways, too, the tribal factors of generational difference are disappearing. Indeed, particularly with urban 40- and 50-something parents, their teen and 20-something kids probably share their attitudes as well (or are more conservative). As for new technology, I’m on Facebook more than my 22-year-old daughter.

Generation whatever

Nonetheless, there are still ways that the generation gap is kept alive: in hot air. A recent article in a Canadian paper talked of a “generation gap industry”: a seam of pop sociology favoured in the US and populated by heated-up categories such as ‘Gen X’, ‘Gen Y’, ‘Generation We’, ‘Generation Next’ and ‘Millennials’.

But it also noted that other fault lines in society, such as ethnic and religious diversity, may have knocked the generation gap into the long grass. It further suggested that Millennials (born in the Eighties and Nineties) are not – unlike the boomers of 50 years ago – rebellious by nature.

“If anything, Millennials are unfailingly polite. Their parents, whom they actually like, have taught them to seek win-win solutions to controversial issues.”

The idea of despising one’s parents and their cohorts as part of some dated old ‘generation gap’ would be anathema to such lovely people. At least, we like to think so.