Of course, JFK's death was a generational thing--a moment in time when those of us who experienced it can recall exactly where we were, what we were doing. For my father's generation, an equivalent event would have been the attack on Pearl Harbor. For my children's generation, it would be the airplanes on September 11 flying into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Events such as these are so singular that they really seem to define a part of what that generation thinks and feels.
I learned just how fleeting and fragile generational things are. When I begin teaching a course at my community college, I always spend some time going over plagiarism. Clearly, plagiarizing is a major problem in academic settings, but it is a deadly subject. So, I found a wonderful article by Anna Quindlen which with a light touch deals with the subject. Titled "Danke Schoen, Mr. Las Vegas" she wrote about the time she discovered that an article she had written was pretty much wholesale appropriated by Wayne Newton. I would have the students read the essay, and then wait for discussion.
We first had to get past the title--the non-German aware students would want to know what danke schoen meant. And that Wayne Newton's signature song was "Danke Schoen." Then, invariably, some student would say "Who's Wayne Newton?" Talk about a deflating moment for me. It never occurred to me that the students wouldn't know who Wayne Newton is. I mean, I never found him particularly entertaining, but I certainly knew who he was.
By the time I explained who he was, the whole point of the essay--plagiarism--had been lost. One time, during this discussion, I jokingly said--when were you guys born? And for most of my students now, they were born in the late 1980s. That means Ronald Reagan was ENDING his presidency when these kids were born. WOW!
I have now learned to temper my examples, or to preface some of them with "this is my generation's. . ." For them, JFK is someone they read about in almost ancient history. Vietnam has as much clarity for them as World War II did for me--sure, I knew about it, I just hadn't experienced it.
So, what is your generational thing. . .?