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The Generation Gap

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Every generation
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door
Mike + the Mechanics, "The Living Years"

A trope commonly from the period in which it was named, The '60s. The Generation Gap is the idea that the psychological differences between members of the "G.I./Greatest Generation"note  that lived through The Great Depression and fought in World War II and their "Baby Boomer" childrennote  were so significant that they were incapable of understanding each other, and so were in conflict, often devolving into Kids Versus Adults. This mostly occurred because, at the time, the United States' political climate was changing, with many boomers vehemently protesting things like racism and the Vietnam War, all the while using rock-and-roll as a weapon against these issues. Many World War II-era adults disapproved of this (as did many Moral Guardians), so the generational gap became a widespread phenomenon.

Earlier (and somewhat milder) variants of this gap occurred when the "Lost Generation"note  rebelled against Victorian societal norms as it came of age during The Roaring '20s, and thirty years later as those in the "Silent Generation"note  questioned the Red Scare, segregationnote  and the conformism of their parents, who in turn chastised them for their culture, especially their music. This latter gap might be considered as a preview of sorts of what happened during the 1960s.

However, there have been signs of a renewed Generation Gap between the jaded, conservative younger "Boomers" and older "Gen-X'ers" squabbling with the idealistic, progressive younger members of the latter generation as well as "Millennials"/"Gen-Y'ers" and "Gen-Z'ers"/"Zoomers", with "Gen-Z'ers" also mocking "Millennials" in the process,note  this essentially being another far-reaching confrontation between those over 45-50 and those younger the main difference being that the late-2000s financial crisis and the resulting strain on welfare state has put economics on a prominent position, whereas it had been a non-issue during the 60s (to say nothing of how most Western institutions failed to account for inflation rates over the course of roughly half a century, give or take a decade). Gun control, a minor issue for most of the 20th century (save for a brief flareup after the failed assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1981 and the 1994 ban on assault weapons), has become more prominent as well thanks to a multitude of high-profile mass shootings from 1999 onwards getting lots of attention from the mainstream media.

Many social historians will tell you that the Generation Gap was always to a large degree a "manufactured controversy", and that most of the cultural clashes between young people and old people were concerned not as much with values and belief systems as with codes of decorum and behavior. It's been noted, for example, that most members of the WWII generation disapproved of racism; it's just that they disapproved even more of the (to them) radical tactics used to combat it. Same with the Vietnam War, although at least there was a fairly solid consensus behind that. The values of baby boomers weren't that liberal to start with: many polls in the late '60s and early 70s saw a rather large proportion of young adults espousing relatively conservative views, with members of the "Silent" Generation having far more liberal opinions, also being the ones to lead the numerous protests of the '60s. To boot, most people between 18 and 25 voted for Richard Nixon of all people in the 1972 election,note  something that contributed to his landslide win, and high rates of conservatism among the baby boomer generation can also be attributed as a factor in the rise of the "conservative revolution" of the 1980s.

The trope seems to be very common in 1960s and 1970s science fiction; see Films of the 1960s and Films of the 1970s. However, it also continued well into 1980s/'90s family sitcoms (even though the trope was beginning to die around that time).

Note: A "generation gap" is a significant difference in values and ideas between two generations. A simple parent/child conflict (such as a parent disapproving of the music their child enjoys) is not an example of this.


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    Comic Books 
Batman: We haven't the raw might to match Superman's army, but we have the fire of youth on our side. The sons and daughters of many of the Leaguers have come to lend their support.
Ibn Xu'Ffasch: And they're prepared to fight tooth and nail with the generation who sired them?
Batman: Aren't all young people, son?
  • Teen Titans: Most of the Silver Age Teen Titans stories would feature the Titans helping bridge the Generation Gap between some small-town teens and their parents.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 2: Julia Kapatelis finds herself out of touch with her daughter because of their significant gap in age and her inability to relate to the issues and interests her daughter is facing and concerned with. While Julia considers this to be due to how much of a gap there is between their ages her daughter and other characters feel that the disconnect is caused by Julia focusing far more on her work and letting her relationship with her daughter fall by the wayside.

    Fan Works 
  • New Hope University: Major In Murder forgoes two of the recurring themes of the Danganronpa series- the battle between hope and despair, as well as the question of what value talent has- in favor of showing conflict between the generations. The killing game takes place in a college that is ostensibly meant to weed out potentially dangerous Ultimates, established by someone who doesn't think much of millennials. The ultimate villain is a member of Generation X (who'd hid his own age in order to conceal his identity) who hates both Baby Boomers and millennials.

  • Rebel Without a Cause: Probably the first major movie to explore and deconstruct this.
  • Planet of the Apes has some offhand comments from the younger ape about "adults... always ordering you about".
  • Logan's Run has the youths living in a derelict part of the complex, attacking the adults.
  • Charly, the movie version of Flowers for Algernon, has a sequence where Charly rejects society and goes living a freelovin' lifestyle.
  • A Clockwork Orange, not helped by how the younger generation there has a tendency for crime.
  • The Generation Gap is... well, about the generation gap. The protagonists are runaways after their romance gets rejected by their respective families, and have to survive on their own.
  • The Graduate
  • Dazed and Confused, although the issue is only a small part of the movie.
  • The dated nature of this trope was one of the main complaints critics had with the 2012 film Parental Guidance.
  • Ferris Bueller's Day Off: In the shooting script, Ferris sees himself as part of the second wave of this, and regrets that his parents' generation could not maintain their (supposedly) revolutionary ideals.
  • David Cronenberg's Scanners: One reviewer has noted that the movie is a fairly good examination of the post-World War 2 generational conflict: La Résistance Obrist representing the hippies, Big Bad Revok representing the yuppies, and The Good Kingdom led by Dr. Ruth representing the "Greatest Generation" (especially as he is the father of both Revok and the protagonist, Cameron Vale). The ending is particularly interesting; Revok kills Vale, but in the process Vale is able to imprint his consciousness onto Revok, the combined entity inheriting their father's company and power - resulting in a weirdly-prescient portrayal of the internet generation; prewar power and yuppie greed tempered by hippie communalism.
  • Wings: One of the themes is the gap between the generation that suffered through World War II and the new generation of Soviet youth, growing up in the 1960s with no experience of sacrifice and less of a sense of duty. When Tanya suggests that her mother Nadya quit her boring job and let other people teach the snot-nosed punks, Nadya is appalled.
    Nadya: I never even knew such words as these: "Let someone else do it."
  • Dodgeball: When Justin explains to Peter he wants to get stronger so he can make his school's cheerleading squad next year and prove he's not a loser, a confused Peter notes that high school has changed a lot since he was younger.

  • Angle of Repose: One of the themes, as Lyman is a cranky old professor who has nothing but contempt for the spirit of the 1960s, hippies and free love and such. His caretaker's daughter Shelley irritates him with her use of phrases like "having sex" (instead of "making love"), and her ridicule of old-timey Victorian values.
  • The Catcher in the Rye is a pre-gap example. Holden is disgusted with the superficiality (ie "phoniness") of the World War II generation and decides to embark on a life of rough living and debauchery.
  • Older than You Think: Consider this passage from the F. Scott Fitzgerald story "Bernice Bobs Her Hair":
    "Heavens, yes! What modern girl could live like those inane females?"
    "They were the models for our mothers."
    Marjorie laughed.
    "Yes, they were—not! Besides, our mothers were all very well in their way, but they know very little about their daughters' problems."
  • The Executioner. In "Chicago Wipeout", a Crusading Lawyer scoffs at a recent academic study that The Mafia is dying out in the Generation Gap. As The Sopranos shows, change does not mean extinction.
  • A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain: In "Crickets" a Vietnamese man—actually, an exile from South Vietnam living in Louisiana—tries to get his completely Americanized son interested in the Vietnamese boys' game of fighting crickets. The boy is completely indifferent and his father is disappointed.
  • Third Girl: Agatha Christie takes on The '60s and swinging London. She does so by having her old detective Hercule Poirot and her Author Avatar Ariadne Oliver interact with a bunch of drug-using hippie artists, with the old folks boggling about the strange ways of Kids Today. In the first chapter Poirot evaluates Norma Restarick's short skirt, high boots, and unkempt hair: "She wore what were presumably the chosen clothes of her generation....Anyone of Poirot's age and generation would have had only one desire—to trop the girl into a bath as soon as possible." Mrs. Oliver nicknames David Baker "the Peacock" for his long curly hair and flashy dress, although Poirot notes that long hair and frilly cuffs and collars are Older Than They Think and that David would look perfectly at home in Regency-era England.

    Live-Action TV 
  • All in the Family was heavily fueled by this trope.
  • The Andy Griffith Show: The Season 7 episode "The Senior Play" presents modern issues that Mayberry Union High School principal Mr. Hampton and other conservative members of the community object to. Helen Crump gets the administration to see -– through a presentation of popular music and dances from the 1920s –- that even the "Greatest Generation" were victims of the Generation Gap by older, more conservative people of their day. Hampton and the others relent, and the play is a success.
  • A big reason why Pierce is such an outcast to the rest of the study group in Community. That doesn't stop the others from having Generation X vs. Millennial conflicts.
  • Family Ties is the Generation Gap after the generation that caused the first Gap... The hippie parents now have a conservative, money-obsessed Yuppie son.
  • Freaks and Geeks exemplifies the Generation Gap in its late stages. The Weir parents are clearly early Boomers while the kids are early Generation X'ers. Needless to say, when it comes to issues like sex and drug use, the Weir parents are little (if any) help. And let's not forget Mr. Weir's blind bitterness towards Sex Pistols!
  • Game of Thrones: A major reason why Renly doesn't get along with either of his older brothers Robert and Stannis is that both of them are over a decade older than him.
  • Ads for The Great Indoors play up Joel McHale's jaded, cynical, worldly Gen-X-er's distaste for his idealistic but clueless, shallow, immature, distracted, and downright odd Millennial hipster coworkers (Stephen Fry is there too).
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: Durin and his father, the king, have a strong fight over his refusal to help the Elves. Durin is fed up with his father willingness to just stay stuck in the past, and not let Durin take his own decisions. Disa considers that the king must be removed from his position if necessary because he has grown too old and suspicious of anything new.
  • The Monkees was undeniably symbolic of this trope. At the time, it was radical to even think about placing youth rebellion (with no parental figures) as protagonists on a prime time sitcom. However, the show attempted to create an understanding between the gap, and prove that America's youth wasn't all that it seemed, despite outside appearances. Their groovy theme tune (written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart) says it all:
    "Here we come, walkin' down the street. We get the funniest looks from everyone we meet..."
    "Hey, hey, we're the Monkees, and people say we monkey around. But we're too busy singin' to put anybody down."
    "We're just tryin' to be friendly, come and watch us sing and play. We're the young generation, and we've got somethin' to say."
  • Quatermass: In The Quatermass Conclusion, it turns out that the Generation Gap is caused by the malign influence of aliens.
  • Reboot (2022): There's a contrast between the old-school writers of Gordon's generation, who prefer simpler storytelling, physical comedy, and punchlines, and the newer writers of Gordon's daughter Hannah's generation, who prefer social commentary, complex characters, and deeper themes.
  • Samurai Gourmet is subtly about the Generation Gap, from a specifically Japanese point-of-view. It's especially highlit in "Yakiniku Her Way", where protagonist Kasumi has to confront his twenty-one-year-old niece about her career choices over dinner. Since the series' point of view is a sixty-year-old Japanese man, the reasonable compromise is to insist that deciding to be a musician is fine, but not against your father's wishes.
  • Vida: Eddy is confused by younger LGBT people, as they embrace "queer" as a self-descriptor (it was a dire insult to her generation) while not understanding the idea of being non-binary, which has become a common identity in theirs. They in turn view her as an out of touch "elder".
  • The White Lotus: Albie is a modern young man with more progressive views on things like gender. He makes critical comments about his father and grandfather's love for The Godfather, believing this reflects the patriarchal values of their generations. They both express dismay at this, saying he was brainwashed by being taught at Stanford.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Cyber Generation was based on a Generation Gap, in this case between the cynical parental generation (the protagonists of the Cyberpunk role playing game) and their vastly more idealistic and Nano Tech-mutated children (the protagonists of this game)

    Western Animation 
  • Is It Always Right to Be Right?: Discussed Trope, as the parable says that "a gap appeared between the generations" and the animation shows a literal gap between old and young, followed by several more gaps as the various factions of society split off from each other.
  • South Park:
    • The ability of the adults to be unearthly clueless and allow the children to be Wise Beyond Their Years is due to that gap, which breaks the possibility of the two parties to share the same wave-length; the show puts this one into an extreme as it exhibits the children's point of view; essentially: Because the show is about the children, and the children cannot comprehend how adults behave; they perceive them to be stupid.
    • Actual example from the show would be "You're getting old"; The parents perceive the children's music to literally be shit, while the children hear literal bowel movements during the adult's music.

  • The Full Matilda, which partially takes place in The '60s, shows this between Matilda and her nephews David and Rodrick. Matilda is an old-fashioned black woman of the World War II generation, David is a hip baby boomer involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and Rodrick falls in love with a white woman.
  • The theme of The Who's "My Generation".
  • Also the theme of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Teach Your Children".
  • Alternate History and non-American example in Cal Bear's The Anglo/American – Nazi War. By the 2000s, teenagers living in the fifteen Administrative Regions which once made up the German Reich protest the unfairness of being held accountable for the crimes of their Nazi grandparents. When the Prussian wing of this rising political movement makes an armed bid for independence and reunifying Germany, this convinces the victorious post-war Allies to nuke Stettin from orbit and kill hundreds of thousands of people as they're convinced, judging by what happened last time, that a reunited Germany will start World War III. You may have noticed this alternate world kinda sucks.
  • Millennials webcomics often shows the gap between Gen X and the titular generation, like in the "Technology gap" and the "Vote" episodes.
  • One Brazilian with plenty of Twitter followers asked her Gen Z followers to note what they found "cringe" note  about Millenials. The thread made the rounds, even being covered by mainstream media, because the responses showed not only a cultural gap (complaining about how the previous generation likes Friends and Harry Potter, as well as clothing such as skinny jeans) but the youngsters looking down on things such as eating breakfast.


Video Example(s):


Christmas vs. Fantasy Elves

A High-Fantasy Elf visits his Christmas Elf parents for the holidays and the gap is quit clear.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheGenerationGap

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