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Dive-Bombing Owls & Other Oddities

Generational Markers & What They All Mean

We have attack owls in our neighborhood. Big, old MEAN owls who aren’t shy about letting you know that you’re trespassing on their turf.

These attacks seem to come in the early morning hours or in the early evening, when the light is a bit diffused. Joggers have especially been their victims. Owls have been reported striking people on the back of the head, occasionally raking their hair with their talons, and more often than not, making off with a hat or two. It’s gotten to the point where joggers are considering wearing bicycle helmets, uncomfortable as those may be.

It could be that poor light is reflecting off headphones, airpods, or even a bright hair tie that the birds mistake for prey. That’s being generous. A number of people have deduced that most attacks seems to be coming from one particularly aggressive male who always seems to be in a bad mood. Perhaps he’s just guarding his territory. Or he doesn’t like the jogger’s choice of headgear. Whatever the reason, the last thing anyone expects is a dive-bombing owl with an attitude.

I mean, come on! Who amongst us, city slickers that we are, thinks of owls as combative?! Most of what we know about owls comes from books and TV. For heaven’s sake, owls are WISE. They’re PATIENT. And they have a gentle sense of humor. Right? Evidently, this local owl never got the memo.

Earlier or rural generations would, of course, know better. (I googled it, to be sure.) But we who’ve been raised on G-rated TV and movies think of the gentle, fatherly Owl from the animated Winnie-the-Pooh movies and TV shows. And the scholarly owl who challenged us to find out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll pop. Maybe even the silently spooky owl slowly rotating its head around 360 degrees on a ghostly Halloween night.

Chances are that if any or all of these images came to mind when you read “owl,” well, then we’re probably more or less of the same generation.

The phrase “the ties that bind” refers to a common idea or belief that links people together. For most of human history, that meant family or tribal traditions, religious communities, national or cultural identities, or social classes. Members of these groups share common experiences and a common outlook on life. Being part of these groups, speaking the lingo, breeds familiarity and comfort, and members can usually identify one another – even those we’ve never met - because of it. Shared generational experiences create these types of groups, too.

We have quite a lot of generational experience to draw on. Factor in major national or world events, like World War II, the moon landing, 9/11, and Covid, to name a few. Living through one or more of these events with our peers shapes our viewpoint. Even when different generations experience a major event like the Great Recession together, how they perceive and react to it differs based on where they are in their lives.

Our choices of entertainment alone give us many common reference points and touchstones. Popular TV shows for kids will have them using catch phrases from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (“cowabunga!”) or sharing years later which Power Ranger they dressed up as for trick-or-treating. And then there’s video games and social media, which seem to change just about every day. And don’t forget about music! Music spans all media and changes frequently enough to give each and every generation something that’s uniquely theirs.

We seem to gravitate most to the music we liked while we’re growing up and during our young adult years. I remember my grandparents playing their big band albums. My parents gravitated to Broadway show tunes. And I favor music from the mid 60s through the 80s. Well, most of it. Not disco – never liked it, even at the height of its popularity. (Sorry, disco lovers.)

Perhaps more so for older generations than today’s Millennials and Gen Z’ers, TV shows and commercials provide strong ties that bind. Just like popular radio shows did for earlier generations. TV entertainment from the 60s and 70s – including commercials! – binds together my generation. Of course, with less choice than more recent generations, it was easier for us to have these cultural references. After all, we only had three channels to choose from, plus one for public television and (if we twisted the rabbit ears just the right way) another to tune in the toons on a Saturday morning. Almost everyone watched the same shows and talked about them at school the next day.

I imagine it’s harder for today’s teens to all get on the same page, with hundreds of channels and TV shows competing for their attention. It’s certainly overwhelming for me! I have never heard of a quarter of these shows that play on cable stations I don’t even have paid access to watch. Millennials and Gen Z’ers manage to comb through them and find shows that they collectively claim as theirs. But do they provide the same strong common reference for their generations that we had? Maybe so, but I doubt they’re on the same order of what we remember.

Hop aboard Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine with me and remember: We had wise old owls advising us to enjoy our Tootsie pops to the (not) bitter end. We sang those commercial jingles about Oscar Meyer baloney and McDonald’s hamburger ingredients – and some of us STILL know all the words by heart (guilty!). We knew that the Maidenform woman could show up anywhere in her lingerie and not be arrested for public indecency. We knew the Breck girl had fabulous hair, that Coke taught the world to sing, and that Choo-Choo Charlie could engineer the heck out of a train with his Good ‘n Plentys. And long before the worries of global cooling (70s), global warming (80s & 90s), and climate change (2000s), we knew exactly what the native American elder was saying about pollution. No words necessary; the single tear trickling down his cheek spoke volumes.

It works in reverse, too. What binds one generation together totally befuddles another. I have usually no clue about the popular references my teen daughter and her friends like to use. And they want to keep it that way. (So I’ll play dumb about the things I DO get, just so they’ll let me listen in, thinking I’m totally in the dark. Heh heh.) And she rolls her eyes at cultural references from my generation that still give me a good laugh.

I’m sure you know: kids can spot fakers a mile away. Especially those in entertainment trying to imitate they way they talk, act, or dress. Why? Because generational differences are usually at play. For example, my daughter and her friends mock the dialogue in a popular cable TV show about high schoolers. They can tell it was “written by a middle-aged woman” (it is) because “no real kids talk like that.” Perhaps an earlier generation of kids once did, but the word choice and cultural references are archaic according to today’s audience’s standards. And these kids, like every generation of kids before them, laugh or disdain (it varies on a daily basis) at older adults’ attempts to “look cool.”

So, as a mom, I don’t even try to communicate in her lingo. If I did, I’d earn an eyeroll and an admonition that I’m only embarrassing myself. If I did it within earshot of her friends, then I’d be embarrassing to her. That makes sense. We had similar rules when we were her age, back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth and watched themselves hauling rock in “The Flintstones.”

Fine with me. My contemporaries and I still enjoy our little coded phrases and kitschy commercial jingles, making fun of things that our kids would be hard-pressed to figure out. Every generation has its markers. The secret is to use them to find and make new friends. And share old memories.