Happy_Birthday!The Recreati Mindset is our snapshot of the world view of those Americans who turn 50 this year.*


Welcome, new 50-year-olds.


You are an illustrious group, counting among your number a trio of seminal basketball players (Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley),  a brace of talented directors (Steven Soderbergh and the creepy but often rewarding Quentin Tarantino), the lovely Vanessa Williams and Kathy Ireland, and megastars Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt.


Also: Conan O’Brien, Garry Kasparov, Helen Hunt, Lisa Kudrow, Natalie Merchant and Ukrainian pole-vaulter Sergey Bubka. People we all know.


So. How are you doing? A little shaky? This surprises no one. If there is such a thing as fetal memory or fetal perception, you have every excuse if you’re a bit ill-at-ease. No one says you are. But if you were, it would be wholly understandable, because the world went wobbly while you were gestating.


Consider this: You were probably conceived in 1962, a year when the United States was in a benign and enviable stupor—a nation that was comfortable, optimistic, and well-ordered. It is possible to imagine your personal miracle of life commencing while Stranger on the Shore (the top song of 1962) played in the background. But then, as those embryo cells slowly divided, the country did likewise. Where there had been an apparent whole, rifts appeared between black and white, young and old, male and female.


If your parents were paying attention, they probably worried about bringing a child into a world that had come off the rails. Nineteen-sixty-three was a year of assassinations (John F. Kennedy, Medgar Evers) and dislocations. When your sweet baby eyes could finally focus, they stared up at Mom and Dad and then—we imagine—pretty quickly made their first drift toward the television. On that flickering black-and-white screen—the first of a life dominated by screens—your first image might have been Gov. George Wallace standing in the door of the University of Alabama. Or, if you were lucky, Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaiming that he had a dream.


In that innocent time people still talked to each other, so as you lay in your bassinette on the living room carpet, Mom and friends might have discussed Betty Friedan’s new The Feminine Mystique, or the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that state-mandated Bible reading in public schools was unconstitutional. Edgy back-and-forth among the neighbor ladies, fueled by Pall Malls and Folgers.


Granted, you were probably oblivious to the particulars, but babies and toddlers can read the room. They know when there’s a weird crackling energy around them and they incorporate it into their world view. And those formative childhood years—from birth through 1976, the year you turned 13—were dominated by struggle: civil rights, women’s rights and Vietnam. And it showed up in the living room every evening. (This was a time when war was reported on the nightly news, which people watched.)


(Interesting side note: your formative years coincided perfectly with the formative years of video recording. In 1963, the hilariously named Nottingham Electronic Valve Company introduced the first home video recorder; in 1976, JVC launched the first VHS cassette recorder in Japan.)


Let’s assume your middle-school self didn’t retreat into a fetal ball—and why would it, if your actual gestation wasn’t the picnic it’s supposed to be—and at 13 you had your first kiss. Possibly in a basement rec room. Or in the living room of that house where the latch-key kids lived, because the working mom was a newer phenomenon in 1976 and the idea that kids could be trusted alone at home at 13 seemed somehow plausible. You could have been making out to the radio while it was playing the fourth most popular song of that year, December, 1963 (Oh What A Night!), by The Four Seasons, which could have been the month you were born. So, see, it’s no accident that you’re a narcissist. You’ve been groomed.


You turned into a sullen 16-year-old in 1979. Good timing: that year Sony introduced the Walkman, which made it possible to slap on a pair of headphones and immerse yourself in a cocoon of head-banging angst and insecurity. (The year’s top song: The Knack’s My Sharona.) Because you were in your own little world, you probably paid scant attention to the 90 U.S. citizens who were taken hostage in Tehran.


That event rattled the world, but not in the immediate and practical way of the year’s other earth-shaking upheaval, which was that you finally got your driver’s license. From afar, driving looked like freedom. Liberation. Opportunities for making bad choices. Up close, it meant telling your friends they couldn’t smoke in the back seat, and buying gas, and the occasional movie date.


Sadly, 1979 was not a great year for date movies. The top movie (Kramer vs. Kramer) was about failed love and divorce. The movie that would have sounded most awesome was Apocalypse Now, but it was R-rated. So you went to the first Star Trek movie or Rocky II, which was a placeholder between Rocky and the appearance of Mr. T in Rocky III.


And now you are 50:


  • You are accustomed to convenience: your world has always had push-button telephones, freeze-dried coffee and ChipsAhoy! cookies.


  • James Bond movies have always existed and General Hospital has always been on TV.


  • There have always been 5-digit Zip Codes.


  • Boeing 727s have been in service since your birth.


  • Dr. Who has always been a thing.


  • Women have been flying space missions since Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova took off on June 16th, 1963, and spent three days in orbit.


  • Alcatraz has never been a functioning prison.


  • Beatles music has always been available; legal Cuban cigars have never been available. (Over your entire life, the U.S. has had a travel and commercial boycott against Cuba. To be perfectly accurate, the ban on trade with Cuba dates to 1962, so it actually predates your birth. We just figured there would be a pretty big inventory of cigars on hand, so the embargo wouldn’t start to pinch until ’63.)


  • The smiley face…well, let’s say the modern smiley face…was created the year you were born.


  • Silvia Plath has always been dead. Ditto for Patsy Cline (March 5, 1963) and Edith Piaf (October 11). If it seems interesting that Patsy Cline and Edith Piaf died the same year, get this: On November 22, 1963, the souls of C.S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley and John F. Kennedy all left this earth, unless they were immediately recycled into the bodies of children born that day. Which might be one of you, new 50-year-olds.



* (We freely acknowledge our debt to the Beloit College Mindset List, which profiles 18-year-olds as they start college.)


Photo: Birthday Cake (2011) by Vikas Bhardwaj via Wikimedia Commons.