Longtime loyal readers of my little blog know my life story which is very much alike to most people my age. I turned seventy on January 1 this year. I was among the first of the baby boomer generation. Life was so much simpler back in the later 1940's and 1950's and the game changing 1960s. My generation was born just after the United States had saved the world from the Nazi's and Imperial Japan. Good had triumphed over evil. The United States was on the march again - rebuilding the country and re-imagining who we are as a people.
I grew up in a little suburban town called Mountain View, Colorado. The town was exactly two blocks long and six blocks wide. You could see the outline of the front range of the Rocky Mountains located about ten miles from my school. My school and my little town were typical of most of America at that moment in history. There was a population explosion as returning servicemen moved to newly created suburbs. I remember kids in my class sharing stories of what their dads did in the war. Television was introduced across America at the same time and quickly replaced radio as the principal means of mass communication. My generation grew up watching shows like The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, and SUPERMAN where the principal characters fought and defeated evil each week. We also watched shows like Leave It to Beaver which portrayed an idealized version of middle class family life in mid-century America. Since television was new and there weren't re-runs like we do now, local stations would supplement network programing with old movies from the 1930s and 1940s where the American way of life was extolled. We grew up believing America was great and Americans could do no wrong.
John F. Kennedy became the President of the United States and inspired my generation (identified as baby boomers) to set new goals and to achieve great accomplishments for the good of all people. At the same America was becoming divided over civil rights but particularly in the South. I did not realize it as I was growing up, but my lily white community (and in fact all of Jefferson County) was segregated. There were no black families and only a hand full of Hispanics. At the beginning of the seventh grade the Russians launched Sputnik and then orbited a man in space. Later the Russians built a wall around East Berlin to keep the locals locked inside the city - forever. And then the Russians placed missiles capable of reaching the mainland US in Cuba. Kennedy ordered air defense missiles set up on South Roosevelt Blvd in Key West, Florida just a few blocks from where I now live. I still lived in Colorado and went to first period English the morning after Kennedy addressed the nation and warned us about what was going on. We were all on edge. One kid didn't think anything would happen, but others thought we could all be dead by the next day. Class began. The one kid was correct. The US and Russia managed to avoid war. We lived.
A year later Kennedy was killed and our baby boomer innocence was taken. Evil had prevailed. Lyndon Johnson became President. While Johnson pushed for civil rights and voting rights, he got the United States stuck in an unpopular war in Viet Nam. We watched the nightly news and saw some American soldiers doing bad things in Viet Nam, The war over there became the war at home.
Generations of families were torn apart. The view we had of ourselves derived from what we watched on television and the movies was not true. We were flawed. Not evil. But we were not who we thought we were.
During my teenage years a lot television programs had lead characters who were other worldly - characters on shows like Bewitched, The Adams Family, The Munsters, I Dream of Jeanie, and BATMAN. I remember when BATMAN first appeared on network tv in early 1966. I was a college freshman and lived in a coed dormitory which had a single color tv in the lounge, For some reason BATMAN became an instant hit across America and in my dorm. Few students ever watched anything on tv but dozens showed up twice a week to watch Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin the boy wonder. Batman was a moral exemplar - he was a good guy who fought the super villains. While it often seemed their fate was doomed, Batman and Robin always prevailed in the end. Good triumphed over evil. The morality of our common youth was restored.
Adam West died this week. The City of Los Angeles illuminated the Bat Signal across the LA skyline to acknowledge his passing.
We are living in a much different age today than fifty years ago when BATMAN took our minds off the political wars at home and the real war in Viet Nam. For my generation there was a JFK to give us hope about a better tomorrow and a Batman to give us a break from reality. While there have been many Presidents and many actors who portrayed Batman, there will never be another JFK nor another Adam West.