Question history

History is never how we remember it.

As a genre, history takes on a life of its own, open to interpretation and revision.

For instance, four family members will remember one event four different ways. It's not just failing memories that put a twist on the past, it's different perceptions of one event or era. The more we live, the more our experiences shape those that have gone before.

The current fascination with the culture of the 1960s and '70s is no different. Retro movements have always existed, and it is hard to discern how much of our collective memory remembers and how much has been enhanced into an idyll.

For the most part, our generation's love affair with the '70s has focused on television, music and fashion. True, it was a cheesy time in America, but it was our time. And in 20 years the 1990s will be "our time."

While I remember the "Brady Bunch," Styx's Paradise Theatre and "Little House on the Prairie," my parents' contemporaries probably remember huge lines at the gas station, inflation and Watergate.

I remember coming home from fifth grade, finding my mother sitting on the front porch and hearing her say, "The President has been shot." I remember looking at the clock radio on top of our old white refrigerator and hearing radio announcers talk about Reagan's condition.

That was when I decided I didn't want to be president of the United States, which was my career goal. I was going to be the president or be a writer. After the assassination attempt, I decided that I didn't want a job where people would want to shoot at me.

That is my memory of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. It doesn't incorporate national security concerns, the larger ramifications of the shooting, gun control issues, Congress's reaction. What I remember comes from a fifth grader's perspective. I remember what struck me at the time.

I also remember crying when Elvis and John Lennon died, but other people my age don't even remember it. I loved Elvis and the Beatles, so it was important to me. I didn't know FM radio existed, much less any albums beyond the Beatles' Revolver. Elvis television specials were a highlight in my life. I still remember the words to "All Shook Up," and dancing around in the backyard, convinced I could sing like The King.

But of course childhood memories are different than adult memories. Adult recollections incorporate a larger world, politics, personal response and a different perspective.

Part of being an adult is education, and part of education is learning that history is not concrete, that rarely is anything only the way we see it. It is important to view our education and our lives with a questioning mentality, to not accept things only as we are told they are.

For instance, periods of great change, like the 1960s, are difficult for us to gain perspective on. Yet that may be why we are so fascinated with it. The '60s are billed as a time where young people had a great impact on the nation, a time where twenty-somethings seized the day and fought for change.

The effects of the counter-culture movement are debatable. While some of our generation are undeniable slackers, others seek out a way to make a difference with organizations like Rock the Vote and Rock for Choice.

Today is different than 30 years ago, but youth involvement is not alien to our generation. College kids are active in the Democratic and Republican parties so much so that some Republican heavyweights are worried that junior Republicans think the party is too soft, and are working on making sure they don't alienate the youngsters.

It is easy to page back in history and find heroes Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Susan B. Anthony. Yet these are not the only people of note, and even these icons are under intense debate as historians realize that people are multifaceted. What was paramount to one chronicler may not be of import to another.

Part of education should be to learn to question things intelligently, and probe into issues. We owe ourselves, and history, that much.

Sarah Garrecht is Wildcat editor in chief and a journalism senior.

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