The present now will later be past.
—Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’
I think history, at least to me, provides some comfort of knowing that you’re not the first person, or first generation, to have gone through something — others have struggled and survived.
I write this because I can’t get the opening credits sequence from the Watchmen movie out of my head, easily the best part of an otherwise somewhat disappointing film. The damn sequence has stuck with me, especially the song, and I think my fellow Gen X’ers will drum me out of the union when they hear it’s Baby Boomer icon Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” It’s haunting — a haunting song to go with a haunting sequence, because the sequence presents an alternative — but not so alternative as to be unfamiliar — history of the United States since 1940 up until the mid-’70s. (Leave it to an over-marketed adaptation of the most influential graphic novel of all time to finally reveal the significance of Dylan’s song to this Gen X geek. But I digress).
I introduce this as a way to try to understand what we’re going through now — no, not damaged superheroes, or even the history (or alt-history) depicted in that five-minute sequence, but rather, an idea of the past as prologue. If we accept that we’re now in the New Depression, what did people my age do in 1929, in 1932, in 1941, and in 1945? What appealed to them, musically, stylistically? What movies did they watch? What themes did their novelists write about?
Obviously, we know these answers. But I wonder if they parallel what we listen to, what we watch, what we read, now, in a changing world. Is there reassurance in that? If not a guidepost, then at least a flickering but persistent flashlight, a sign that we’ll emerge from this tunnel?
If 2009 is akin to either 1929 (the year of the crash) or 1933 (FDR’s first year in office) — for this conversation, whether the answer is 1929 or 1933 doesn’t make a difference here, just pick one, or any year in that four-year span for that matter — then what did people my age do that year? What were their hopes, dreams, fears, likes and dislikes? Where did they wind up?
I turn 37 this year. I really want to understand the worldview as seen by someone born 37 years before the 1929–1933 span — born in between 1892 or 1896, inclusive. My baby turns 3 this year. What will the world hold for him? What did the world hold for a child born in 1926 or 1930?
And understanding that, and understanding those Americans’ struggles, makes life these days both more comforting and more worrisome.
Comforting, because Americans have been there before.
Worrisome, because the Great Depression was just getting started.
Worrisome, because does this mean that we have 12 years at most, and 8 years at the earliest, before we face another another Dec. 7, 1941 … and this one coming two decades or less after the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001? Or is history working backwards, with our Pearl Harbor having already occured on 9/11 and before our Great Depression?
The times, they are a-changin’. And the more they stay the same.
Update March 12, 8:07 p.m.: I swear I did not read this article in Sunday’s Times (didn’t buy it last weekend, and I usually skip the Week in Review section, anyway), but this is exactly what I’m talking about:
Generation OMG (link added above, too)
While our generation might be the future unappreciated and pragmatic generals — if you buy Strauss & Howe’s cyclical theory and see us as the re-born Truman-Ike Lost Generation — then the Millennials might be the future warriors and, later, empire builders — the latter-day G.I. Generation.
I believe in the Millennials. (Though, please stop with the Gen Y stuff — not only is it a derivative name, but what the hell are you going to do in two generations when you run out of letters? Generation A¹ anyone?). They just might save us all at exactly the right time in their onward-good-soldiers future-Greatest Generation sort of way, just as it happened in the past for a similar generation. And their eternal optimism (h/t Suzanne Kart over at GenerationXpert) fortifies their resolve — as our cynicism did for us.
That said, this generation has two worrisome qualities. (Only two? Shit, to outsiders, our generation probably has dozens. But I digress).
As I previously blogged, and the economy notwithstanding (though as much as the help has focused on saving the present, there is also an appropriate eye toward saving the future), they have been accustomed to success for most of their brief work history. And, until the layoffs came for us all, they had received it.
Still, their early accomplishments, and a childhood raised on praise and Barney (yes, we had Sesame Street and The Electric Company, but that was about all our parents threw at us, convinced as they were about how bad they thought we’d turn out), bred a level of arrogance. Which may not be the worst thing, especially for them.
No, worse than that is their (in general) utter lack of irony. The impetus for this post is a reaction to the commentariat at SciFi blog io9 following a column by the blogger Moff looking back 10 years later at the disaster and disappointment that was Star Wars Episode I: The Phatom Menace.
I am a big fan of Moff’s writings (I particularly liked his opera post), knowing nothing from him except his on-hiatus blog, his brief bio and his io9 column (and Gawker comments) — sort of like a superhero secret identity, um, without the secret. But I’m digressing again.
One commenter said it perfectly. An awful lot of the rest — Millennials or not, though I’m guessing the latter — sort of missed the joke. But it goes to my larger point. Irony is dead, at least to these young-uns. Maybe they’ll need that seriousness of mind to save us. Maybe they’ll do so in spite of that.
So, dear Millennials: You will save the world someday. Yes, you will. So for God’s sake get off your Facebooking asses every once in a while, smile from time to time at the insanity of the world, and keep yourselves in shape to protect us during the Coming Crisis of 2020. (Or 2018, if you’re looking forward to Terminator: Salvation.) That is all.