Friday, March 21, 2008
Out of Time
Most of us have probably thought, at one time or another, that we should have lived in a different generation. Maybe even a different country, continent or culture.
When I was a high school student in the ‘80s, the ‘80s seemed so uncool to me. All the spiky, New Wave hair and pastel clothes were definitely not my thing. I yearned for the ‘60s -- not the wild, acid-fueled ‘60s, necessarily -- but the fun groovy ‘60s that flourished among young people in middle America, fueled partly by the artistic and cultural breakthroughs of the LSD set.
I could never have been a true hippie. I’m way too clean. But I identified with the hippies, or what I knew of them -- the pacifism, the idealism, the energy they gained from opposing The Man. I did the best I could in the ‘80s to follow a similar path, getting involved in both the gay rights movement and the anti-nuclear movement in college. I attended a few protests, organized events, worked on political campaigns.
Paradoxically, I’ve often thought I could have lived quite happily in the 1950s. I admire the cultural cohesion of that time, the prosperity and optimism, not to mention the terrific interior design. Or what about the early 1800s -- a time when my life would have been altogether different, and I’d likely be a small-scale subsistence farmer, like my ancestors, in a much less populated United States?
The flaw with this exercise, of course, is that we only see parts of the whole. When I was a high-school student looking back at the ‘60s, I was seeing the power of a burgeoning youth movement, but I wasn’t seeing the likelihood that I would get drafted and sent to Vietnam. When I look back at the ‘50s, I see that awesome Eames furniture, but forget how suffocating it would have been to be a gay man at that hyper-conformist time. And while I have a bucolic image of farming in the early 1800s, I also know it was hard work -- and God forbid you got sick.
All in all, we’re a product of our time. I could never have been the person I am now in any other generation. A host of factors would have come together to make me entirely different. I think my underlying personality, my way of handling conflict or my enthusiasm for certain interests might have been the same -- but who knows? What is a photographer in a time before a camera?
(Photo: Air conditioner in Brooklyn, Feb. 2008)