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)


Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful post, Steve. Thank you! I could see you finding happiness in any decade in history. You have a level head, you're smart, powerful, but know how to calm yourself down and laugh at yourself whenever you need to. That would serve you well no matter where and when you lived.

My mother worked an extra month when she was pregnant with me so she could buy an Eames table and set of chairs. A set just like the one I grew up with is now in MOMA. Very cool styles.

I think being gay, a woman, or black in the 1950's would have been awfully hard.

As for the 60's, as an ex hippie I must tell you that I've always been clean, even when I was not allowed to shave my legs or wear makeup. I was clean, my apartment was always clean and smelled fresh, like the organic patchouli all purpose cleaner I used.

The 80's? They were so uncool, but I enjoyed the music, and I enjoyed those incredibly ugly styles.

Like you, I think about past times and how I would have fit in or not. We're adaptable, but we live now. All hail the present moment!

Anonymous said...

very enjoyable post. I totally identify with these musings and your bottom lines: we are a product of the specific socio-historical era in which we are born into & 'be here now'

although I do embrace the era in which I live, and believe we each, in our own small ways should try and work toward making the era we are in the best era possible, that is not to say, I wouldn't like to be able to time travel. I would love it - the ultimate in adventure travel. however, I guess I do when I read sci-fi or visit museums and places that recreate an era. speaking of which, I'm hoping to revisit the tenement museum in nyc when I'm in your humble burg (went once - but only experienced one of their 'era' tours). hey, will you be around town march 30 - april 4? if so and you have time and/or interest in meeting this little gray mouse, let me know. my email is kyanoshik at gmail dot com

Anonymous said...

i see we were passing comment ships in the cyberhood - ;-)

Anonymous said...

maybe you'd have been a painter steve?

Anonymous said...

very interesting post.
I was just going to post the same comment as Letty's. And definitely, the 50's are best experienced as photographs.
Your comments about time also apply to space, in a way. Living abroad is not the same as travelling on vacation - just as your farmer in the 1800s would not recognize himself in the movies being made of him nowadays, your view of a country changes once you experience it as home instead of away-from.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve!

I like that picture. And the post.

I guess we're more or less the same age? I was born in the 60s and think it's in my blood, and I loved the 70s and 80s. The 90s were a growing up time for me and not so easy, and now this period of time, call it Post 9-11?, well it really sucks. I'm not liking the culture, not liking the news, not liking the feeling of things.

Anonymous said...

Being too young to have been a hippie--I am so glad I "missed out" on all of the drugs !
I saw a documentary on "The Summer of Love" and it really did not appeal to me at all.

As a kid I always wished to live back in the 1800s--but I agree with you--Getting sick back then would have been scary. And post op care after childbirth would be unheard of.