…Yes it is. We look at recent history in decades, and each decade seems to have a completely separate character. Roaring 20’s; Depression in the 30’s; World War II in the 40’s; Cold War in the 50’s; Hippies and Free Love and the Vietnam War, and sex, drugs and rock-n-roll of the 60’s; the 70’s disco years; the 80’s (‘nuff said); the explosion of technology and the information superhighway in the 90’s leading to panic for Y2K; and the beginning of the 21st Century: the aught years. It’s interesting and funny how this has evolved, and the effects of each decade on our public and private psyches are also fascinating.
My parents were born in the 30’s but are considered children of the World War II era. The way they lived or are living their adult lives can be directly tied to their early life experiences as Holocaust survivors and refugees. My dad, who passed away quite a few years ago, never really recovered from his traumatic time in a prison camp. He spent his life dependent on his mother, our matriarch Oma. He may have tried his best to be father and husband; his methods were probably based on his idea of what a man should be like, considering that his father and all of his uncles died in the camps when he was a child. But he struggled, and we struggled as a result. My mother was raised to marry a wealthy Jewish man (her mother spent lots of time matchmaking from the time my mom was 15), but ran away to the states and reconnected with my father. It took her years to shake the oppressive yoke of being a woman of those times. She went from being subservient to her mother to being subservient to her husband. Eventually she broke free, and has since been making up for lost time with a vengeance.
The fifties brought us the beginnings of rock and roll- breakout rebels like Chuck Berry and Elvis, among many, many others; as well as the birth and rise of modern Jazz and Blues. The musical Grease is a great period piece that clearly demonstrates the beginnings of the dissent among the young with the status quo. The Cold War brought us air raid drills in our elementary schools, and the McArthy area during which many Americans were suspected and accused of communism. “Better dead than Red” was the banner cry then.
The sixties have quite a reputation now. As time evolves, the nostalgic views of those times have dramatically changed. What we all thought was a romantic, free love, wonderfully unique American spirit now can be viewed in many different ways. Some say that the protests ended the war and changed America and Americans forever- and maybe the world too. Others say the government itself infused the drugs into the poor neighborhoods in order to control the poor masses and keep them from rising up economically. Some also claim that the hippies were nothing more than dirty drug addicts that had no effect on anything but their own lives, leading to the “me” generation. As with anything, it is likely to be a combination of a number of these theories. It is interesting how time changes perception.
The seventies were a time of disenchantment and disenfranchisement. The teens then, myself being one of them, were disgusted by everyone and everything around them. We grew to be independent in a way that no one before and maybe since has done. We depended on no one but ourselves and nothing but our wits. We took nothing for granted, expected little and focused on getting what we wanted and needed. Disco, with its gaudy, ridiculous fashion and its cocaine addiction, fueled the wild dance of our coming-up; rivaled by some killer rock-n-roll. It was a loud, crazy, out of control time to be an adolescent, especially in the cities. My husband in Iowa City had similar experiences to mine in NYC.
The eighties in all honesty were just a mess. New York City was in economic ruins, hard drugs killed many spirits, the music was embarrassing; many young people felt at dead ends. Politically, the US was in the hole in every way. It took Bill Clinton in the late 80’s to begin pulling us up and out. The best thing about the eighties was the birth of my amazing babies!
The 90’s were better- a time of economic and political confidence and some new tunes. Although the housing prices were borderline insane and the construction industry tanked to the point where my husband was more stay-at-home dad than general contractor, it was still an improvement.
The turn-over to the 21st century brought us fresh horrors such as September 11, 2001; the illegal and ill-conceived Iraqi War; a near depression and other world-wide insanities. Yet it also brought new hope of new beginnings. We are truly in the middle of the Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times. I wonder what will be written about my life era in the history tablets (not books, they won’t exist) in another hundred years…