Recently Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of the movie Pearl Harbor, explained why the Japanese should have no problems with his new film. According to Bruckheimer, it is "all about perspective, they have a certain point of view and we have a certain view." Further, "We've tried to show their point of view versus our point of view. We were strangling them because we'd cut off their oil and their iron." Keeping in mind that this is a particularly self-serving bit of moral relativism, as well as a despicable bit of historical elision, and a direct affront to those moved by the film's patriotic appeal, Joe Queenan would not be shocked by Bruckheimer's callousness. Bruckheimer, born in 1945, regards history as Joe Queenan argues all Baby Boomers regard history, as a reflection of his own self-importance.
In Balsamic Dreams, humorist Joe Queenan mercilessly turns against his own generation. Shocked by such crimes as life-changing trips to Tuscany, retroactive political correctness, and rock criticism, Queenan feels it his moral duty to expose the darkness of the Baby Boom generation to the light. He Boomer-izes the Gettysburg Address as the Gettysburg Statement: "My sense of it is: the battle is kind of a mixed bag. Clearly, the Confederacy and the Union were not on the same page, yet even though 51,000 men got waxed, I view this as a win-win situation because everyone showed grace under pressure despite casualties up the wazoo, and Gettysburg will now be the benchmark against which all future battles are judged." We have our point of view and they have theirs.
Balsamic Dreams is intended to be satire, not serious journalism. But there is, tucked behind Queenan's irony and mockery, a serious, almost Burkean point: tradition and history give people a sense of perspective about themselves. It is that perspective that most Baby Boomers never had and probably never will. It would have forced the Boomers to give up "late in the game" (Queenan hates the sports metaphors used freely by his generation) fulsome praise for the generation that preceded it, a la The Greatest Generation, (Queenan offers a devastating "frontal attack" on Tom Brokaw's book; by the way, Queenan also hates military metaphors), because the Boomers wouldn't have scorned them to begin with. Tradition and history force us to give up illusions that the world revolves around us. Of course, none of this is funny. Yet somehow Queenan's scorn for his generation's failings is.
But flawless Balsamic Dreams is not. There are many repetitions. For instance, he elucidates the high points of the sixties generation ("the Freedom Riders, Woodstock, Four Dead in Ohio, driving Nixon from office, Jon Voigt in Midnight Cowboy") verbatim four times. I lost count of the number of times he uses "provenance." To me, though, the biggest blow to Queenan's credibility come from the numerous misspellings and inaccuracies (for instance, it is Jeff Koons and Julian Schnabel, not Jeff Koontz and Joseph Schnabel). Perhaps these are the editor's ultimate responsibility, but they should have been fixed by the time it went to press.
The faults of Balsamic Dreams only point to what the book could have been with judicious editing and greater focus. Sure, I laughed out loud. With Queenan's timing and acuteness it can't be helped. On finishing, I was left wanting more: deeper thought, less smugness. Still Queenan's singular perspective shines in a time when the Jerry Bruckhheimers of the world darken our skies.