What would happen if I had my memory wiped, yet somehow retained my worldview, and got planted into another decade? If I had some choice as to which decade I would want to live in, which one would I choose? Allow me to rank every decade from the 1920s to the 1990s in order of how appealing they would be. The current decade and the one before it are excluded because I actually can remember those. Pre-1920s decades are also excluded for time constraints, and because I would argue there are largely interchangeable decades that don’t have a feel worth mentioning. Name one historical event from the 1880s. Or one from the 1260s. Or the 420s. Can’t do it.
My main objectives here are to listen to great music, watch great movies and avoid getting sick and going to war. I generally would like to avoid decades that were particularly turbulent, though I will be turning my back on this ideal throughout, largely because it’s an unavoidable consequence of living in the world. Finally, imagine that I start my living situation right here in Pennsylvania. This information may come in handy as we go along.
I’d prefer not to live in an era known as the Great Depression. I’m already pretty cranky and financially nervous, so the 1930s would be less than ideal as a starting point for one’s adult life. I appreciate the advancements made in film during the decade, specifically in 1939 and the pre-code noirs, but the financial hardship of the time leads me to believe that going to the movies every weekend might be a challenge. The music of the time is generally underwhelming, in my opinion, so there’s not a ton of benefit in that regard, and the possible lack of a radio would make enjoying the sounds even more challenging.
I adore the aesthetic of the 1920s, but its genuinely difficult to justify living in a time where alcohol is illegal, movies don’t have sound and the economy collapses at the end. There’s a risky allure to the Roaring ’20s that make them seem more desirable than they actually are. With a life expectancy under 60 years, I’d likely already be halfway through my time at this point, and the general lack of regulation on anything is more frightening than appealing in a practical sense. Living in Pennsylvania hurts the case for the 1920s as well. Miss me working in a coal mine. Too dirty. No thanks.
As not a fan of Nazis, and with no particular allegiance to a German heritage, I’d likely be compelled to fight in World War II. This comes with perhaps a worthy risk. Coming home is where things might get a bit dicey. On one hand, culture was on the upswing and the country was moving in the right direction in a few critical aspects. On the other hand, my post-war shellshock, assuming I survive, would dampen the fun. I don’t want to claim to know what World War II veterans dealt with when they came home, but there’s a pretty sinister lack of retellings of that era from the people who actually fought in the war. The Pacific strikes me as particularly unpleasant. The ’40s might be fine, but the risk of death and trauma holds it back from moving higher on the list.
Possibly a controversial slotting, I’ve never really known what to make of the 1980s. Big hair and no middle ground on the tightness of clothing is really weird looking back on it, and I fear that my lack of fashion sense might make me an outcast in this time. And from what I know of ’80s high school movies, except for “The Breakfast Club,” everyone was either a jock with a cool car or a nerd with tape between his glasses and a constantly bloody nose. I guess if I’m already 24, I don’t have to worry about high school bullies, but the toxicity of the era reeks. That being said, Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails saved music in 1989, and Prince is pretty cool, too. And the chances of pointlessly dying in rural Pennsylvania feel relatively slim during this time. Do I get to pull a “Back to the Future” and meet my parents as young people? I’m willing to roll the dice and find out.
The 1970s are kind of like the bargain bin 1960s. Correct me telepathically if I’m wrong, but was the decade not incredibly plain after Watergate? It doesn’t get much more bland than President Leslie Lynch King. The big advantage is that this is the greatest stretch of years for film ever. Almost every aspect of the craft was perfected at the time, and the industry was blooming with independent filmmakers. I’d like to think I’d hitchhike to California and meet up with Coppola, Spielberg, Scorsese and Lucas. I picture that living in this time, despite the retroactive shelling its taken, is the closest I’d get to achieving my dreams. My only misgiving is that the other extreme in life path is particularly unpleasant.
I’ve denoted the 1950s as the easiest decade to live through. The lack of large-scale conflict and the rise of disposable income seems heavenly on the surface. Truthfully, the white people of ’50s-era America had the most peaceful, prosperous go of it. I envy the confidence of that time. Unfortunately, my perception of the decade has gradually diminished over the years. The fortune the country felt at the time was largely a ruse. A chunk of the population was left out of the prosperity, and half of the country was still fighting the Civil War (come to think of it, they still are). Living in the 1950s would be a real test of integrity with even a hint of my modern sensibilities, but it’d also be an opportunity to align with those who demanded a more just society.
The most modern of the decades on the board is underrated. The 1990s saw real video games become a thing, a surge in exciting filmmakers and musicians, and a gritty aesthetic that I think cracked any remaining wholesome feeling. I associate the 1990s with a rebellious streak, sometimes for good and sometimes for not so good. People actually started to pay attention to bullying in schools and life in the inner city. Not much was done to fix any of these problems because of the increasingly splintered Congress of the time, but the people actually could share their frustration openly without immediately being ridiculed. I feel like my current, brooding self would’ve gotten along in the ’90s.
And finally, the gold standard of decades takes the top spot. This columnist would’ve rolled into the decade with a crew cut and left it with hair down to his heels and rose-colored Lennon lenses. I want to watch the Beatles on “Ed Sullivan” and the moon landing and the first Super Bowl on tape delay. I want to see “Bonnie and Clyde” and “The Graduate” in theaters. I want to campaign for Kennedy and Johnson, and then subsequently disown Johnson when I burn my draft card. Take me to the March on Washington and Woodstock. Let me hear the end of Ricky Nelson and the beginning of Led Zeppelin. Give me the chaos and confusion and mud. I don’t care if I won’t remember it. Curse me with interesting times.
Sam Zavada is a copy editor with The Standard-Speaker in Hazleton. He previously served as the news clerk at The Standard-Speaker, working with the obituaries and the community and lifestyle pages. Sam’s work in print dates back to his time at King’s College, where he spent two years as the editor in chief of the school’s newspaper, The Crown. Earlier in his time with The Crown, he worked as a staff writer and the entertainment manager. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.