Archive for November, 2013

Generational Touchstones

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Certain events seem to mark an age cohort and establish a generational zeitgeist.  Events such as the September 11, 2001 attacks, or the Challenger Disaster a quarter century ago are of such immense magnitude that they become shared experiences.  But the shared experience is in many ways ephemeral — it is a mediated experience, not the experience of the actual event.   The mediation by  television, radio, and newspaper is what provides the common threads that unite people.

Yet these defining events, that seem to be shared by so many, are at the same time highly personal and individual.  When my Mom talks of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941, she cannot speak to the actual attack, but instead talks about waking from a nap after dinner and walking down the stairs to be greeted by her father saying:

“Well, we’re at war.  The Japanese just bombed Pearl Harbor.”

She remembers going into work the next day, to her part time job at an Army recruiting center, to see men lined up as far as she could see, all wanting to enlist.  And she also remembers one of the soldiers coming over to flirt, saying “The sergeant said we are not supposed to talk with you” and her replying “Well I guess you better do what he says.”

My generational identity was forged fifty years ago today, and is also very much a part of my personal experience. I was sitting in Mrs. Lodge’s fifth grade glass at St. James School in Seaford, New York, about half-way back in the third column of desks from the windows on the left. Mother Superior entered to announce that President Kennedy had been shot, asked us to pray, and then bow our heads onto our desks and remain quiet until it was time to go home.

Throughout the weekend, I sensed the gravity of the situation, as we watched the reporting on LBJ being sworn as President, the return of  First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to D.C., the lying in state, the shooting of Oswald by Jack Ruby, the funeral procession with the caisson and the boots facing backward in the stirrups, and John John and Caroline standing with their mother.  These were the shared events from that weekend — and although they were mediated via Television, each of us had our own individual experience.

It will be interesting to see how twitter, facebook and other internet media will impact the experience of future zeitgeist events.