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WebSideStory Pick of the Week! 3/16/98

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Undeath of a Salesman and Loving or Hating Silk Flowers

    Don't worry -- we're not talking about "Death of a Salesman with Vampires." As far as we know no one's tried that yet. Actually, we're thinking about the actual classic drama written by Arthur Miller which first premiered back in 1949 but is currently a huge hit again on Broadway featuring ultimate actor's actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Spiderman-to-be Andrew Garfield.

    Although it was first performed only a few years into the post-war baby boom, it seems pretty clear that the play was hugely prescient in predicting the conflicts that would play out in oncoming decades as members of, in Tom Brokaw's phrase, "the greatest generation," brought up during the existential challenges of the Great Depression and World War II, clashed with their baby boomer children over everything from music and clothes to religion, racial attitudes, basic human values and whether artificial silk flowers were pretty wonders of industrial technology or very, very uncool.

    Indeed, the clashes that play out between Willy, Linda, Biff, and Happy Loman are being played out far later in life as today's boomers, very much getting up in years themselves. still have sometimes deep-seated conflicts with their Depression-baby parents, now closing in on their eighties and nineties. Of course, today, a relatively with-it 85 year-old may find her silk flowers on a website like, but many elderly parents still don't understand what their baby boomer kids see in Elvis Presley or the Beatles, much less James Brown or Led Zeppelin.

    Of course, those differences in sensibilities are nothing next to the deeper differences that created the often searing "generation gap" of the 1960s and early 1970s, in which young people often refused to admit anything of their parents generation was of value and many parents often followed suit and seemingly disagreed with their children about almost everything. Generations that followed had a more easygoing attitude to the past. Today many youngsters see no particular difference between music made today and that made twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years ago -- to them, the Beatles seem as remote and also as thrillingly contemporary as Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday -- but it was a long time getting to the generational rapprochement we now enjoy.

    "Death of a Salesman" is a great enough play that it will probably last for centuries, but we wonder how much generations in the far future will understand the specific conflicts it embodies. The differences between the generation that admired silk flowers as a miracle of technology and those who -- for a time, anyway -- questioned just about everything produced by mainstream culture may have softened as baby boomers have aged. Still, even after our parents have gone the differences and similarities we have with them remain. And so, "Death of a Salesman" continues to feel far more contemporary than many plays and films made six, let alone sixty, years ago.
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