Updated: November 6, 2013 6:05AM
Just as we have written the history of the Gilded Age and Great Depression, and lately presumed to have understood the Cold War, our great-grandchildren will one day look back on us and tell the story of our times. How will they name our era, this early stretch of the 21st century?
If we’re lucky and our offspring prove charitable, they might dub us the Cloud People, considering our wireless ways of doing most everything. They may also mark our age as that in which the world’s many and disparate economies fully merged and left us in a World with No Place to Hide, where everything everywhere has become everyone’s business.
If less fortunate, and we careen further down certain precipitous slopes on which we now struggle for footing, future generations may rightfully call us the Age of Rage. When we don’t get our way and the world will not mold itself in our image, we blow things up, turn passenger planes into lethal missiles, blithely massacre scores of schoolchildren, or throw a switch in the nighttime that makes a train wreck of “the government.” We can turn most anything into a terrorist’s bomb or a vandal’s slashing sword with which to make the world sorry it ignored us.
We can take comfort, perhaps, in knowing we won’t be around to read what future generations say of us. Moreover, history will eventually judge them, too, and for all our attempts to teach them well, and their earnest efforts to learn from our mistakes, they will make their own messes for yet another generation to clean up, pay for and stick with some clever name.
Admittedly, this swerve may stem from escapism and denial, but thinking about generational perspectives on weighty matters calls to mind a story far from the front-page headlines. (You really didn’t want to read another word about the tea party or the Affordable Health Care Act, did you?)
Get this. In December, NBC will air a remake of an all-time Hollywood film classic, “The Sound of Music.” The very idea smacks of iconoclasm, if not vandalism, and indeed, the casting will likely make Roger Ebert roll over in his grave, or at least shudder somewhere. Carrie Underwood, country singer and “American Idol” winner, will play the role of Maria von Trapp. Talented as Underwood might be, and no matter how hard costumers and makeup artists work on her, every viewer over 12 years old will think, “That’s not Julie Andrews. She’s an imposter!” Truth be told, Julie Andrews is Maria von Trapp. Period.
The whole idea invites fantasies like producing a cinematic biography of Queen Elizabeth II with Brittney Spears in the lead role. Or remaking Cecil B. De Mille’s “The Ten Commandments” with Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey as Moses. Charlton Heston, the original, true and unquestionably real Moses, would come back from the dead to protest such blasphemy. Would you believe Steve Carell and Kate Upton in the roles Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman immortalized in “Casablanca”?
Come to think of it, how do today’s political actors measure up to old-time cast members, like Abraham Lincoln, or Sens. Sam Ervin and Howard Baker, all of whom weathered a Washington, D.C., circus or two and somehow managed to keep the nation’s welfare foremost among their concerns? Or were they, in their day, also considered stand-ins, cheap imitations of iconic leaders who’d come before?
Likely so. Which means, I suppose, that for now we inhabit the Age of Imposters. Our children will one day decide which of us were real, and which were frauds and pretenders.