In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “From the Collection of the Artist.”
A hundred years from now, a major museum is running an exhibition on life and culture as it was during our current historical period. You’re asked to write an introduction for the show’s brochure. What will it say?
Introduction to the Age of Anger exhibit
Welcome to the Museum of the People. This special exhibit focuses on late 20th century and early 21st century American culture. Historians call these “The Angry Years”. This introduction will attempt to provide some context to what you are about to view.
Section 1 focuses on home life. The first thing you’ll notice is the noise; sound mufflers are available if needed, but we really urge you to try and last as long as possible before using them. That ongoing, never ending persistent background noise is from a television, or TV (a sales and entertainment machine displaying 2-dimensional moving content that was ubiquitous starting in the mid-20th century). During The Angry Years, most American homes contained multiple televisions, distributed between common areas and sleeping chambers.
The kitchen area looks stark; can you tell what is missing? If you guessed the lack of a garden and composting area, you are correct. Also missing is solar panels; in fact you will notice a lot less light in all areas of the house than what we are used to.
The idea of generating power through movement, and the positive affect of exercising on attitude, was only just beginning to be understood during this time period. People spent most of their time at home being immobile. What little movement they did was physically isolated from the other parts of their lives. In most cases, Americans sat on couches and watched TV.
There is lots more to see in this section of the exhibit. Be sure and visit the gender defined sleeping chambers for children, which give a good example of the constricting roles assigned at birth based on presumed gender. Take a look at the large garage, and the number of vehicles stored inside. To answer the question that almost everyone asks, yes, it was considered normal for each adult to have their own pollution causing large automated vehicle (or “car” as they were called then).
Section 2 contains a display of a variety of work environments. The Angry Years were the final period of what historians call The Machine Ages. This time period started with the industrial revolution in the mid-1700s and ended around the middle of the 21st century. This was the one and only time in recorded human history when the it was generally believed that people should create a separate environment for focused activities. In addition, the type of activities each person did had a direct connection to their level of power and prestige in society, and even to their ability to procure basic necessities such as food and shelter.
During The Angry Years, in fact during the entire Machine Age time period, most people earned income from “work”, as these activities were called, and that income was required to pay for every facet of their life. Most settings in this section of the exhibit look familiar to us. What you need to envision is that people were required to spend a pre-defined amount of time in these settings with the expectation of being focused solely on work activities.
What does not look normal to our eyes is the “office” work area exhibit. The small square rooms (or “cubicles” to use the parlance of the time) were areas in which people were expected to spend 40 or more hours per week, focusing only on tasks assigned to them. We urge all visitors to sit one of the interactive cubicles to experience a few minutes of what this was like. Now, imagine being in this environment 5 days a week, for 8 straight hours, and doing this year after year. Historians universally agree this environment was a cause of much of the anger and hostility that affected this time period.
Section 3 covers entertainment and activities, with lots of interactive areas. Everything shown here is labeled with the date it was created. It all seems very primitive by our standards, but keep in mind that these items were considered state of the art at the time.
About the Age of Anger exhibit
The big question historians ask about this time period is why there was so much anger. As shown in this display, the average American had a good life. Food and potable water were in abundance, and the environmental crises we experience on a constant basis were infrequent and viewed as unusual weather events. Despite what appears to us as an oasis of plenty and good fortune, the average American during this time period was in a constant state of anger. People formed into self-defined groups based on race, ethnicity, religion or even political affiliations, and focused intense hatred at other self-defined groups. Every activity had the potential to degenerate into an angry confrontation. The number of violent interactions between people seems staggering to us today. Murder was an everyday occurrence. Mass shootings happened weekly. Smaller examples of rage can be found in section 3 by viewing examples of actual comments that people posted on the internet (please note that due to the graphic content, only adults can view this part of the exhibit).
There are no easy answers to why people were so angry. Years of study by academicians in multiple disciplines have resulted in two main theories, which can be very broadly summarized as:
Too much stimulation – this theory presumes that the constant, ever-present level of noise and marketing experienced during this time period was just too much for many people;
The work and life dichotomy – we know, now, that human beings did not evolve to be mono-focused on a single activity for hours at a time. Adherents of this view point to the rise in violence that occurred during the entire Machine Age as proof.
The goal of this exhibit is to provide people with a chance to learn about and experience, just a bit, what life was like 100 years ago. We hope you enjoy this look into the past.