M-M-My Generation: the Adult Years. Or Where is OUR Sentimental Narrative?
An interesting thing occurred to me. I was watching the terrific 1978 film Same Time Next Year, which was adapted from the stage. I was struck by certain narrative elements. Story points, life lessons if you will, that were shaped in the boomer generation. The sexual revolution, Vietnam, hippies, and yuppies. Gender definition, equal rights, and personal growth, reflected by American culture in a specific time frame. Deftly told through a couple’s illicit rendezvous each year. (The acts occurring in 5- year intervals)
What struck me was how prolific this type of narrative is for that period of cultural renaissance. I would define it as a kind of Baby-Boomer genre. There are others, Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles. Robert Zemeckis Forrest Gump, A.R Gurneys Love Letters, Kevin Arnold’s The Wonder Years. What first comes to mind as all the films, plays, and television series that fall into this coming of age- life story- and lessons learned- pop culture histrionic narrative are all limited by their individual chronologies. STNY is a 26 year period from 1951–1976 Forrest Gump is the 1960’s to the 90’s(late 50’s if you count the childhood scenes (which count)) Heidi Chronicles a Pulitzer prize winner in 1989 follows the same 60–90’s timeline. Love Letters starts in childhood like Gump but ends in the 1980’s. The Wonder Years is briefer covering adolescence but employs voice over narration from 1990’s Kevin.
`1975 was when Same Time was written,’ 89 for Heidi, ’94 for Gump and ’85 for Love Letters. The Wonder Years followed a younger protagonist, whose innocence is shattered as he grows up with War Protests and Moon landings, assassinations, and loss of optimism. I found myself asking: where is my generation’s narrative told in this sentimental story form?
I mean obviously, there are many contemporary film and plays that deal with this coming of age thematic. This emotional growth etc. Yet I can’t think of any plays written in this form.
Are we limited because we didn’t have a sexual revolution?
We had AIDS and Monica-gate. OJ and the Challenger Disaster. OKC, 911, Columbine. The first African American President…
I have been told we are too cynical for such a saccharine-coated yarn. That we have different value sets. A kind of apathy.
We weren’t born that way. The closest representation that comes to mind is Madonna and the arc of her career. It has many dynamic movements, multiple acts, but lacks (at this point) the sentimentality.
Of course, we are limited by time. To tell the story of a generation, in this biographical form, as in the examples above, one has to be simultaneously in the middle of it, as well as be aware of it. The changes that is. I think that these narrative tales are told by the middle-aged, which we are; or are reaching. These works are then presented and performed by those younger than us. Based on history this would appear to be the template.
Maybe we are too cynical… too jaded, too scarred, to tell a morality tale, even one with contradictions, failures, and damaged souls laden with apathy, or worse hopelessness. I remember my parents loving films and plays about their journey even when they were still living it. There are universal narratives to be sure like high school, college; romps, and coming of agers that exist because the experience is shared and relative.
It has been suggested that we lack a certain shared experience or combination of experiences that define and serve as the backdrop of our lives. I would argue that point with the very real nuclear war dreams that kept me awake through middle school and high school.
I would also see the one common thread of our narrative as division. That is the one shared event of the last 30–40 years that has grown to dictate all our interactions. World events affect us as they did our parents but do so by dividing us, progress leaps two steps forward (Barack Obama). And two steps backward (Donald Trump.) For as long as I can remember, well, since 1980 anyway, I have felt the great divide.
Choosing a side became a rite of passage. As a whole, we have yet to see what happens when we stand divided on issues that should cancel each other out. That common sense can be overridden by rhetoric. That false values and myth have lost their appeal, except for loudmouths who use the ideas of free will and choice against us. Or we join that argument, zealously believing what we deem to be true and not wavering or reaching any compromise or collective understanding. In short we don’t listen to each other, or if we do, we only hear select information; button points and exclamations that trigger our culture need to pick a side.
Perhaps that is why there is not yet a play that tackles this generation’s “grown up” narrative, At least not one with any sentimentalism.