Basically, they say generations come in four types that recur throughout history: Artist, Prophet, Nomad and Hero. These are called generational archetypes.
Artists are washy, sensitive generations that are good at compromise and don't like to take decisive action. An example is the Silent Generation (born 1925-1942). They were stifled by their "children should be seen and not heard" parents from the Lost Generation during the Great Depression. The oldest just missed being World War II heroes. In the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy years, they married early (around, say, age 19). They fought the Korea War without question, even though they knew they would never have the glory that World War II soldiers knew. William Manchester called them "silent". They also produced the first rock-and-roll artists as well as civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X during the fifties and sixties. In the Vietnam War years, Silents like Bob Dylan and John Lennon mentored the Baby Boomers. They gave birth to Boomers and Xers, and, as the authors claim, were permissive but negligent parents. They became professors, academics and intellectuals in the MTV Era -- people like Gloria Steinem and Ursula K. Le Guin -- and also Religious Right leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. They were the most anti-war of all the generations during the War on Iraq, overpowered by bad childhood memories of a total war (World War II). Another example is the Progressive Generation (born 1843-1859), who were traumatized by the Civil War growing up.
After Artists come Prophets. A Prophet Generation is very loud and vocal, argumentative, confrontational, and fervent about what they believe in. When young, they are rebellious and counterculture, but they divide into moralistic factions that war against each other around the time the oldest turn 40. They lead spiritual awakenings that come once every 80 years or so (The Puritan Era, the Great Awakening, the Romantic/Transcendental Era, the Muckrake Era of Upton Sinclair, the sixties and seventies). The best known Prophet Generation is the Baby Boomers (Howe & Strauss say they were born 1943-1960). They were indulged by parents from the Greatest Generation during the postwar Baby Boom, and raised permissively in the safe but sterile world of the fifties. After JFK's assassination, they got into Eastern religion, listened to the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Doors and Janis Joplin, protested the Vietnam War, dodged the draft, and joined the SDS, SNCC, the Black Panthers, the Weathermen and the Symbionese Liberation Army. They experimented with such mind-expanding drugs as LSD, marijuana, psilocybin and peyote. In the seventies, they discoed and many became Jesus Freaks. Then came Reagan's election, followed by the Bush and Clinton years, when Boomers became yuppies and strict parents who pushed for zero tolerance, uniforms in schools, curfews, V-chips and MPAA-style ratings on video games. They started fighting out the Culture Wars (Blue Zone soccer moms vs. Red Zone NASCAR dads) that continue to this very day. The authors say that halfway between the beginnings of spiritual awakenings, a crisis like World War II, the Civil War or the American Revolution starts, and Prophet Generations provide a visionary leader (the "Grey Champion") who sees the nation through the Crisis and transforms America (FDR, Lincoln, Ben Franklin). Boomers are expected to produce such a leader soon. Another example of a Prophet generation was the Missionary Generation (born 1860-1882), who were born in the Victorian Era, muckraked a` la Upton Sinclair at the turn of the century, enforced Prohibition (but also pushed for women's suffrage) . . . and then gave America FDR.
After a Prophet generation comes a generation of the Nomad archetype: scrappy, cynical realists who are neglected as children and learn to be tough. They don't B.S. anybody, but can be sassy. An example of a Nomad Generation is Generation X, which Howe & Strauss call the Thirteenth Generation (born 1961-1981, they say -- weird parameters, huh?) They were born in the Vietnam War Era and grew up with the New Math, few movies for kids, and movies for adults that portrayed children as possessed by demons. In the eighties, they appeared in movies like The Breakfast Club and Mallrats, widely berated for being dumb, amoral, materialistic, etc. In the nineties they introduced grunge, and have a variety of styles, such as hip-hop, punk and goth. The Nomads, Howe and Strauss say in fact, are the most diverse generations in lifestyle. Compare a Silent high school circa 1950 with Ins, Outs and Greasers to a Gen-X high school circa 1990 with preppies, jocks, rednecks, valley girls, skaters, surfers, slackers, geeks, punks, goths, neo-hippies, industrials, metalheads, etc. Another example is the Lost Generation (born 1883-1900) born during the Muckrake "Awakening" amidst heavy opium, cocaine and cannabis use and unregulated alcohol. They were let out to play as children and then worked in sweatshops before Child Labor laws. During World War I, they fought a disillusioning war, and were not welcomed back when they returned -- in fact, they returned to Prohibition. They became flappers, bootlegged hooch, entered speakeasies, smoked weed in jazz clubs, joined gangs and said, "Oh, yeah" (the twenties equivalent of Gen X's "Whatever"). When 1929 came, the stock market crashed and Losts settled down. They became tyrannical parents of Silents, and also provided America's generals during World War II. They were the Eisenhowers and Trumans and Norman Rockwells of the postwar years, regulating stability and stopping any more radicalism. The majority died by the end of the Vietnam and Disco years, and those who survived were more likely to vote for Reagan in 1980 and 1984 than any other generation. Some, however, had been socialists, anarchists or communists all their lives, such as Sacco & Vanzetti (yes, I know they were executed in the twenties). Losts who survived to see the twenty-first century include Robert Earl Jones, Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, Frederica Sagor Maas, Gregorio Fuentes (inspiration for Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea), Jimmie Davis ("You Are My Sunshine"), Arnold O. Beckman and Yitzhak Kaduri.
After Nomads come Heroes. The two Hero generations alive today are the G.I. Generation (born 1901-1924, according to these two authors) and the Millennial Generation (whom Howe & Strauss begin in 1982). Heroes are supposed to be clean-cut, dutiful, deferential soldiers mindful of social conventions who trust the Establishment and avoid radicalism like the plague. The authors often use the adjective "scout-like" to describe the Hero archetype. Heroes are wanted as children, are well-behaved as teens, fight as the soldiers in a total war during a Crisis, settle down after the Crisis to raise children of the Prophet archetype, build institutions once the war is over, get attacked by Prophets (while Artists side with the Prophets) during the Awakening and are busy and active when retired (think of the senior citizens on their gold courses in Sun City with high voter turnouts).
In the authors' 2000 book about Millennials, Millennials Rising, Howe & Strauss devote a chapter to other Hero generations in history. This is what they have to say about the G.I. Generation:
So basically, because Millennials came after a Nomad generation, Generation X, the authors expect twentysomethings and teens to follow social norms, be intolerant of homosexuality, oppose drug use, listen to the Backstreet Boys and 'N SYNC, dress preppily, believe kids have too much freedom instead of seeking youth rights, get behind the president during times of war, trust corporations, and value unity, order and stability for their own sake.Upon reaching adolescence, the new youths began policing themselves. In an increasingly standardized youth culture, teens watched the same movies and listened to the same radio songs. As historian Paula Fass explains, G.I.s constructed the first modern "peer society" -- a harmonious society of group-enforced virtue. Having "fine friends" and engaging in "fair play" were essential to popularity. Youths began taking pride in their ability to "make the best better", to use the words of the 4-H Club motto. By the mid-1920's, the very word kid shifted in meaning from a word of elder criticism to one of praise.
When the first G.I.s reached college, they began packing the Rose Bowl and other huge new stadia in cheerful youth masses unlike anything ever before seen. They set to work imposing new social mores that pressured collegians to stay within the bounds of the normal. Their fraternities and sororities administered a ritual of "rating and dating" (understood lists of "dos" and "don'ts") to control the libido. Couples were expected to dance close, but student organizations policed "extreme dancing". Violators got a card, and repeat offenders could be asked to leave. Holding hands on the first date, kissing on the second, petting later. Being too forward or too shy brought embarrassment from peers.
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The New York Times described these new youths as "gorgeously emancipated" from Lost Generation badness, and "entirely subservient to conservative public opinion". The president of Williams College summed them up as "nice boys". The Lost writer and critic Joseph Wood Krutch chided them as "not rebellious, nor cynical, or even melancholy. They do what they are told, believe what they are told, and hope for the best." College kids increasingly became what a midwestern college newspaper labeled "a political generation" guided by "facts, rather than romantic fallacies". Malcolm Cowley remarked how they "pictured a future to which everyone would be made secure by collective planning and social discipline" -- what football coach Knute Rockne popularly described as "causes bigger than ourselves".
Then there are the four turnings of the theory: the High (like 1945-1963), the Awakening (like 1963-1982), the Unravelling (like 1908-1929) and the Crisis (like 1929-1945).
Has anyone used this theory to create histories for their conworlds? I'd also be interested in seeing if the people here believe in this theory.