The Great Forgetting

I’m convinced that we are in a time of great forgetting, a departure from what has been…

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

I have a close relative, now deceased, who was born in the year 1910.

That means that she was eight years old when The 1918 Influenza emerged and spread all over the world, killing millions here and around the world.

I was looking over a family genealogy a while ago and I noticed that there was one family, her cousins and my distant relatives who had lost three family members in one month – November of 1918.

How could something so traumatic, with impacts economic, political and personal drift out of our cultural history?

How did my close relative never speak of it? How did we, in our schools, our political policies and our medical procedures take so little note of an event, largely preventable, with such massive economic and generational ravages become, at best a footnote to our history?

It turns out that this response is quite common. If you look at history, we humans, as individuals and as societies, tend to neglect some experiences until they are forgotten entirely.

The 20th Century is full of such events, from the death camps of Germany and Poland (barely discussed in US public schools and ignored entirely in most of Europe) to Native American sterilization programs as recent as the late 1970s, to the police bombing of more than a city block in Philadelphia that killed eleven people – including five children – and destroyed sixty-five adjacent homes, and of course an event virtually none of us heard of until the middle of 2020, the Tulsa Race Massacre, where thirty-five square blocks of the city were destroyed and up to 300 were killed.

It’s not only traumatic events and catastrophes that are “forgotten.” Many celebrities, once globally known and recognized, somehow become lost to succeeding generations.

Even bands and singers might disappear without a trace. Anyone remember Joe Cocker? Dido? Akon? Slade? Mungo Jerry? Everclear? Maroon 5? You could do an internet search and find dozens, if not hundreds of “lost” bands that were once huge.

It turns out that just about anything, and anyone, can be forgotten.

And yes, even those bands and performers that dominated for decades can drift into oblivion.

In fifty, twenty, even ten years, will we know David Bowie, Queen or even The Beatles or Rolling Stones? Maybe even Elton John or Bob Dylan? Probably not, at least according to one writer (https://melmagazine.com/en-us/story/why-no-one-will-remember-john-lennon-the-who-or-queen-in-50-years). The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and a few others, dominated popular music for decades – even fifty years or more. But will this saturation be the seed of their demise? If familiarity breeds contempt, maybe endless “oldies” will make us all sick of what had been “popular” – even for decades?

You may have heard of “peak oil.” Have we reached, or passed, “peak rock and roll”? Or even “peak pop-culture”?

Have we had enough of the celebrities “famous for being famous” and the “influencers” that flaunt the wealth that they have fleeced from the rest of us?

Those politicians worth remembering were those who rallied us behind statements and sentiments worth believing in – they will be remembered essentially forever.

Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, JFK and FDR led us through some of our darkest days – mostly through their stirring calls to action and perseverance.

How many current politicians rouse us to embrace our destinies and best selves to face challenges and uncertainties?

Today we hear complaints, accusations and grievances. Who would want to remember those? Who would want to remember the toddler-esque whining and name-calling that has become our standard fare political discourse the past ten years or so?

I know I’m biased, here, but an era needs to be memorable to be worth remembering. What of the past ten or so years is worthy of passing on to future generations? Our music? Our movies? Our YouTube influencers? Our politicians or cultural leaders?

Maybe we, like the generation that survived The Influenza, will look forward, not back, and never speak of what happened, what we became, what we believed in and what we valued in the years leading up to 2020.

I am convinced that we are in a time, not of remembrance or even commemorating, but of forgetting.

Rituals and activities, celebrities and rituals are being lost and forgotten, neglected into oblivion.

Could we even imagine a life without buffets? Or physical media or Elton John? Or private auto ownership?

For many of us that barren (or wonderful) future is already here.

Each day it seems, another tradition or experience gets left behind.

Anyone remember bookstores? Salad bars? All-you-can-eat restaurants?

Will grocery shopping look anything like it did even one year ago?

Will hotels or airports, or conferences or even business meetings ever be the same?

These experiences drift from our memories.

New routines and expectations – and preferences – will dominate the new seasons of life.

A new generation is taking its place on the world stage.

There’s an old saying that everything that’s old, is new again.

But only if it is remembered.

Will Facebook become a cyber fossil like Myspace?

Will cable news become the screen ghetto and nurturing ground for ever more conspiracy-minded, opinionated old people?

Will email become as useless and cluttered with junk mail, and void of personal contact as traditional postal mail?

Know anyone under fifty who regularly reads a newspaper or even a print-based magazine?

Does anyone want fine china dishes or antique furniture?

Will compact discs seem as ancient and passe’ as landlines? Or will they emerge from the dead, like vinyl LPs, and have their own resurgence?

The trends are already in motion for those with eyes to see.

McMansions and tiny homes are icons and reflections of a certain era and belief system. Is home ownership itself an endangered species? Or will we start looking at multi-generational homes instead of the single-family model that has been the standard for a couple generations?

Whatever happens, and whatever we take with us, I’m convinced that we are in a time of great forgetting, a departure from what has been, and a time of preparation for what comes next.

When it comes to 2020, plausible deniability, or a shared oblivion, something like a collective annulment, sounds like the best solution for all of us.

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