When color television symbolized modernity
Except for TV Land, Nickelodeon or Netflix reruns, most Millennials have never seen popular TV shows in black and white, but in many Boomer childhoods color was a novelty.
In fact, in 1964 – the far off, gluten-enriched, tweet-free year in which the last Boomer was born – only 3% of TV households had a color receiver (TV Facts, Cobbett Steinberg.)
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that most Boomers first saw the original Star Trek series in black and white. Its vivid – some might say garish – red, gold and blue uniforms were lost on us because in 1966, when Kirk, Spock and McCoy first beamed down, color TV penetration was just 10%. It was still only about 30% when the series ended in 1969.
However, color television was in the process of going viral. By the time Star Trek: The Motion Picture debuted in 1979, eight out of ten American TV households had a color set; black and white was heinously old-school.
As with any cool technology, early adopters were proud to display their new toys; in the 1960s manufacturers offered imposing cabinetry to showcase the owner’s modernity and cutting edge taste. For around $700 – $5,000 in today’s money – Boomers with affluent moms and dads could sprawl in front of a top of the line 23 inch screen model that would be the talk of the neighborhood.
By the time the early and late majority were on board in the mid-70s, these behemoths had gone the way of the Studebaker, and high-tech slim was the new sophisticated.
Typical Boomer adaptability: from B&W to color to conspicuous consumption to skinny hip before the youngest of us were out of our teens.
Film Noir: how yuppies turned “old-fashioned” into “classic style”
In much the same way as Millennials are rediscovering vinyl records, Boomer yuppies rediscovered film noir.
Sure, watching television shows in black and white had never gone away; old movies and TV reruns were staples in syndication for decades. On weekends, and any night after 11:00 PM, Boomer kids of all ages could watch old westerns, gangster flicks, I Love Lucy, The Twilight Zone, The Munsters, Leave It To Beaver – hey, I saw that eye-roll –in glorious grayscale.
Ironically, in the yin-yang evolution of Boomer culture, as color took over television, retrospectives were emerging in small theaters and college towns.
Film noir resurgence hit critical mass around the turn of the 60s/70s as Boomer geeks, especially young, upwardly mobile professionals – yuppies – zeroed in on the genre. Humphrey Bogart was our icon, Fred and Ginger were our muses and Laurel and Hardy, Groucho Marx and W. C. Fields our comic relief.
At a time when mores and everyday lives were rapidly changing, and formality was giving way to edgy, transitory fads, classics like Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Sabrina and Swing Time offered escape into a world of certainty, structure and style.
Yuppie fascination with black and white movie greats proved enduring – with their underlying sense of fashion especially appealing. By the glamorous ’80s, romance and dress-up styles had come back into vogue, with TV shows like Charlie’s Angels, Dallas, Dynasty and Hart To Hart leading the way.
Noir they weren’t, but at least we were headed back to grownup clothes after the embarrassing garb we older Boomers favored through the mid-70s. Does anyone really miss groovy headbands, clunky platform shoes, funky flairs, psychedelic hippie vests? OK, anyone except your humble scribe.
So, thanks to the romantic Boomer yuppies, the on-trend young models that people Vogue, GQ and Esquire today owe far more to Bogie and Bacall than to Sonny and Cher.
In fact, appreciation of film noir has become a trans-generational back channel that connects movie buffs of all ages. When The Artist won the 2012 Oscar for best picture – the first black and white film to do so since 1961 – and star Jean Dujardin took the best actor award, we knowing Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials shared a secret, satisfied smile.
Yuppie Boomer romantics: just one segment of the mighty 15th Nation
If the Boomer-Plus Generation, born 1940-1964 were a country it would be the planet’s 15th in population – the 15th Nation™. And as owners of over two-thirds of American household net worth, it is not only a larger market than any EU country but also more affluent.
And, like any nation, we are made up of many parts, many markets, each with its special interests, tastes and attitudes. However, to their cost in lost brand share and profit, most mainstream advertisers see only one segment: “too old to switch loyalties or purchase behavior.”
So, although high ticket categories value us for our assets and big Pharma loves us for our ailments, the adworld establishment no longer engages Americans over 50 when it comes to everyday brands.
Fortunately, a few enterprising Millennials – just like those yuppie Boomer romantics – are questioning convention. These creative thinkers have discovered we never stopped reinventing ourselves, keeping what works but adopting what works better.
And they realize that while Americans over 50 may not all be Bogies and Bacalls, we’re not all crumbling away faster than Bela Lugosi’s Dracula at dawn either.