I was born in 1983, so just about the only thing I remember from the LA Riots was the famous In Living Color sketch seen below (which I would wager Hulu paid for rights to in light of the anniversary, as it’s nowhere to be found on YouTube). That this is my only memory of the riots was almost inevitable: I was eight years old when they happened and barely self-aware. But I think it also points to the fact that we never know how history will be written. World historical events are happening all the time, and though I can think of dozens and dozens that I’ve lived through off the top of my head (while assuming that I would be making the opposite point prior to, y’know, actually coming up with the list, and thus changing my mind somewhat, if not entirely, as demonstrated below), I never can tell what will be important to generations hence. What will my children’s history teachers tell them about my formative years? Will they even get that far? (Lord knows, in my own American public school education the entire latter half of the twentieth century — which is Pretty Fucking Important — was always sequestered to the last week and a half of the term, during which time most of us were thinking about summer vacation or Christmas presents, not the Cuban Missile Crisis or Vietnam or the rise of modern conservatism heralded by Nixon and Reagan [Needless to say, we never made it as far as George H.W. Bush, as being alive during the time of his administration we were presumed to have understood its ramifications.].) Am I to be their historian? I may have minored in the subject, and I may have even focused on its American aspect, but as much as it pains me to say it, I am fundamentally cynical about the whole endeavor. I know things change. I know things get faster, better, smarter. But we don’t. Email doesn’t make us more productive, it makes us more casual. Google maps doesn’t make us better navigators, it makes us considerably worse! And Siri! Don’t get me started on Siri. I’ve already seen your handwriting, and it’s atrocious. Soon you fools won’t even know how to type.
Which is of course all very hyperbolic and overwrought, as is the intention; I’m not the Luddite I sometimes claim to be. I mean, I have a blog, for crying out loud. I have an iPod, too! But for me the questions remain. How do I explain a road atlas to my children when they will never have to use one? How do I describe the transition from the 40-hour work week to the always-connected work world — how do I explain that it wasn’t always so? How can I communicate what it was like on Barack Obama’s inauguration night, in the penthouse of some schmancy hotel in Seattle for Chris Gregoire’s (D-WA) reelection party, having earlier cried (drunk) listening to Obama’s acceptance speech as it blared over loudspeakers and was projected on the big screen in a ballroom of said schmancy hotel; chandeliers and all, women with manicures in evening gowns, men with hair product and hair parted and expensive cologne and wearing tailored suits (me in a sweater over a button down, Dockers and sneakers). Then 46th floor, early for Gov. Gregoire’s party, not giving a damn about some silly state pol whose reelection gala we were ostensibly there for when a black man — a black man! — named Barack Hussein Obama had just been elected President of the United States of America. A fucking dude named that, who looked like that! In this country! And eating her hors d’oeuvres before anyone else had arrived, drinking the red wine and Red Hook, looking over Seattle, rainy and purple in the evening light, chewing on Nicotine gum, because Washington state, like damn near all of them in this godforsaken country, just can’t get sanctimonious enough. And how to explain how hopeful I felt as a Young American in an election determined in large part on the backs of other Young Americans. And how hypocritical as a young, white man to take any sort of credit for it at all. Then not caring. Not caring because we had done something for once. And I was too happy right then and there, if you can forgive me for it.
And yet how difficult and complicated things have been ever since.
Twenty years from now, when my children are teenagers and dilettantes, I only hope that they’ll be able to acknowledge that I might have something or other to say about the whole thing. About my history, about what I was aware enough to experience. I don’t know what they’ll be asking about, but I can’t say that I care. All that matters is that I have something to say. This is how history is made, after all.
Anyway, here’s that video I was talking about.
(Sorry about the ad if there’s an ad.)