The Villages: Where Baby Boomer Delusions Die Hard
|by Jake Sorrow|
File under: Baby Boomers12 Mar 2013 2:47 EDT
Imagine you were born some time around 1953. What was your childhood like? Dad drove a Studebaker he could actually finance. Mom managed to prepare nutritious meals without health campaigns run by Mamie Eisenhower. You believed that you would have a future somewhere in this empire of sunlit suburbia. Maybe you even fell in love at your local diner, to which you could walk without fear of being mugged or questioned by police. The spirit of Norman Rockwell lived in your hometown.
So what did you do with these opportunities, you who grew up in this idyllic paradise? Sure, the history books may say you protested against the conditions of your privileged upbringing, like the Buddha whose conscience could not let him rest after he left his princely palace and first saw suffering, but let's be honest here. Self-discovery and social protest were just phases for you. After Nixon freed you from the gold standard it was time to cash in on the groovy new 'liberated' economic structure all those protests you attended helped bring about. Besides, capitalism was getting cool. In a few decades you could move all the dirty factories off to cultures more interesting and exotic than that of the pale, ugly WASP establishment and just sit around and draw the salaries you deserve for being so socially aware, such a refined advocate of the middle ground between crass capitalism and inefficient socialism.
And how hip your business could be! You can be rich and still be a good person! Instead of fighting with unions, having to take responsibility for industrial accidents, and dumping toxic waste in rivers, you can let the Chinese do that while you start a chain of cute little coffee shops cheaply staffed by the next generation of unemployed college graduates you've left in your wake. And you won't even have to worry about them seeing you as a wicked boss, since you have all the street cred from that summer at Woodstock, and you can advertise how your engage in 'fair trade' with third world peasants. GOOD COFFEE FOR GOOD PEOPLE indeed! God Bless America!
Everything was working out beautifully, until your speculation on that 3rd real estate venture in LA went sour. Even Starbucks, that quintessential success story of your generation, had to scale back growth and close stores. Where were the young yuppies following in your footsteps? Where was the young couple with the credit to take that house of yours off the market? You'd done everything right all your life, even took a courageous stand for gay marriage in a letter to the editor of The New York Times once, yet now that bastard capitalism was still screwing over you and your good intentions.
You could try and fight the system again, but now that the country's elected a black man you figure it's in good hands. Besides, as old age creeps up on you, an inexplicable strong nostalgia for your provincial upbringing overwhelms you. You've always been about reinventing yourself, and as you drive home from the office through abandoned urban slums en route to your suburban enclave you long for a radical model of social organization. It hits you:
Yes: The Villages. The ultimate monument to the fantasies of early onset dementia. Life inside of a theme park. Endless geriatric summer camp in endlessly perfect weather. 10 country clubs. 50 recreation centers. 450 plus holes of golf. 60 pools. 142 pickleball and tennis courts. 1,800 activities. You will never be bored. You will never have to sit without a group activity and reflect on yourself and your life as an individual. You will never have to see ghettos or young people again. Welcome to the paradise of the guilty Baby Boomer conscience, where people know that the Social Security checks they defend so zealously against means-testing are going to fund lifestyles the most opulent Roman emperors couldn't have imagined as their entire society crumbles around them. Remember, young people: when these elders encourage you to earnestly work your way up through this society, they do so knowing that the highest reward at the end of this life will be a kind of mindless, evasive recreation at worst, or a pathetic second childhood of reliving interests disowned in their pragmatic careerism at best:
Though The Villages has a reputation for voting conservatively, and we imagine that George W. Bush, the first sitting President to visit The Villages, would be encouraged in his retirement hobby of painting cute little puppies if he lived there, don't be fooled. These people are engaged in a mode of life so radically divorced from tried and tested human existence that it makes an Obama regulatory agency seem cautious. There is nothing at all conservative about abandoning your community to live in a decadent pleasure society, just like how there is nothing conservative about starting preemptive wars allegedly to spread democracy around the world. In a real conservative community, the elderly, often requiring assistance, live with their younger family members. More importantly, their presence brings the younger community sources of wisdom from their unique historical circumstances. Ron Paul, who grew up during the Great Depression, warning millennials of future economic hardship and reminding them of a pre-socialist American character would be a good popular example of this relationship still properly functioning. A minority of young people and elders recognize the loss of this counsel and seek it out, but by and large both sides are perfectly content living in an entirely age-segregated society. The youths, too poor to own anything of substance, take to the virtual world of the Twitter-sphere and World of Warcraft, while the older generation also ignores everything happening in reality but can afford to build impressive physical monuments to their fantasies.
One younger writer named Andrew Blechman managed to leverage some elderly contacts of his to sneak into the compound and do some journalistic reporting. In his book Leisureville, anecdotal tales of hook-up bars and swingers societies, banana republic politics (the developer is essentially the town mayor, council, and jury),and virulent anti-youth sentiments abound. Yet it all occurs in a backdrop so surreal it is difficult to take the issues discussed seriously. As he explains, residents literally live on something amounting to a totally virtual plane at all times:
The Villages is a mausoleum for a desiccated culture, a place of fake history which will be regarded by history as the most desperate attempt of a generation that squandered its inheritance to craft something enduring. Yet delusions die hard- they would sooner turn the world into a theme park than admit that they have entirely failed to create a world as amenable to a free spirit as that of their 'square' parents, and see the extravagance of their designs as a weak proof of their own self-worth. Alas, of this mania The Villages is only the most striking representation...
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