True change only happens incrementally and like anything else, you only notice it at moments when you have an a-ha! moment. For me, one of the primary indicators of changes in the social view is in the content of television commercials and what while most of my time isn’t spent on the television, there have a few commercials which both show considerable change and the potential for generational conflict ahead.
One of my gripes through the years has been the perception of fathers as portrayed in the media. With only the rare exceptions – Seventh Heaven’s Reverend Camden and Parenthood’s Adam Braverman – fathers have normally been portrayed as lovable dolts (Ray Romano) or complete idiots (Al Bundy, Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin). These are reflections of society’s views of men and fathers from a generation or more touched by divorce and absentee fatherhood. But a recent commercial gave me a pause as its 30 seconds portrayed a reflection of the re-engaging father. In it, two children are preparing to brush their teeth as their father – no mother to correct him or chuckle at his well-meant but errant effort – explains why he purchases a particular brand of dental hygiene product. He’s young and dressed – as I frequently dress – in a casual button shirt and khaki slacks. The sense of the commercial is that Dad’s competent and in charge and the kids are alright with that and is a far cry from other commercials in which Mom can be seen correcting Dad for a goof.
The other two change commercials aren’t about fathers per se, but instead about the opposing views of the boomer generation and Generation Y. There’s been ongoing commentary about the values and behavior of the Boomer generation and the first commercial clearly plays upon that. In the scene, a man is seated at a nicely set dinner table and both he and his wife complain about having been forced to curtail the sushi that they love, yet the woman brings him a small plate of food. At that moment, as he cuts into the dish, their daughter enters and asks if they know what’s happened to her two fish. They each feign ignorance and as the father digs in, quips what are you gonna do?
In the second set of commercials, young adults are in their respective apartments worrying about how their empty-nest parents are doing now that they’re out of the house. They’re typically online and the commentary pertains to the vast number of Facebook friends whereas their folks have so few. As the commercial continues, they’re concerned for their folks while the scene flips to a shot of the folks – Boomers – going to a kegger with their friends and another set of Boomer parents gets out to ride horseback. The copywriter is conceivably a Boomer who’s poking fun at the youngsters’ apparent belief that life is lived plugged into the Matrix. But what struck me watching it was the contrast between the two generational lifestyles; apart from the real/virtual aspect, was the question of money. While the younger generation is much more into the Matrix than my own peers, I suspect that part of that pastime popularity is that it’s much cheaper than activities as boarding or renting horses as that generation continues to spend money on less than wise choices.
The final change commercial again pertains to the Generation Y adults and money in them, from both State Farm and Toyota, the young twenty-something woman is saving and scrimping to cover either the auto insurance or the down payment for her auto. It differs from years of commercials in which cars were sold with little down and zero percent financing and harks back to a time, generations ago, when necessary items were purchased with hard-saved cash. The clock is spinning backwards in terms of personal finance and we’d better get used to it.
So what do these commercials have to do with me? My sense of them is that first, it’s my responsibility as a parent to recognize the change and work to teach my children accordingly, both through discussion and example. If they have to learn how to live a more constrained lifestyle, it’ll be easier if it’s modeled for them here. Second, change never goes down easily and the anger towards the Boomer generation will only intensify as the youngsters face their national future. While I don’t envision a life of spartan simplicity, I doubt that it’s in my best interests to throw the green years pay away on frivolity to only have to return to the kids in the future for help. Once they’re through, our obligation is to assure – as much as possible – that we don’t unduly burden our children because of our own foolishness.