I just finished reading the excellent Making of Star Wars gigantic coffee table book thing (that has a font that's way too small for something so large--I must be getting old if I'm complaining about print size), and I think Peter Jackson makes some kind of comments in one of the sidebars about being the "perfect age" for Star Wars because he was a teenager when it came out in New Zealand. (The Making of... book is so great by the way, because it's just chock full of historical documents showing the very early stages of the idea of the movie all the way through completion. It's like being along for the ride, every step of the way, seeing all of the uncertainty and doubt that circled the film.) Anyway, it made me think about how much I was also EXACTLY the right age for Star Wars, yet I was only 5 years old when it premiered. Yet how much of my life is based on the fact that I saw Star Wars at age 5? A lot. There's no doubt that it deeply informed my interests as a human being. Did it shape my personality? Who knows. Probably. But it definitely affected me, and continues to affect me, deeply. Because I saw it when I was 5.
So what else in my life came out at exactly the perfect time.
I think I was exactly the right age for Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, too. I was 14 when it came out, and even though I appreciate Watchmen more now, Dark Knight Returns impacted me more powerfully as a teenager, just getting seriously into comics. More than the story itself, I was astonished by the strong style of Miller's artwork, and it shocked me into an awareness that the creator matters more than the characters. Since then, I've never been able to read comics the same way, and I'm grateful for that.
Had I been a few years older or a few years younger, I wonder if I would have been affected by Miller's work as strongly? I doubt it. If I saw it as a 12 year old, I probably would have found it hideously ugly, and if I came across it later in life, I might have already codified my attitude toward comics. Seeing it at 14 changed the way I look at the possibilities of super-hero comics, and I DEFINITELY haven't been the same since.
I was also the perfect age for Nirvana, who released Nevermind when I was 19. I bought it right away, on the recommendation of a friend who somehow knew about this band even before their second, pivotal, album was released. So, since he kept checking the record store to see if the "new Nirvana" album had come out, I joined him. And I bought it the same time he did. If you weren't the perfect age for Nirvana, as I think I was, you might not realize how important that album was. Consider the musical landscape at the time--dominated by the likes of Vanilla Ice and C+C Music Factory and the death throes of hair metal. It was unbearable. I stuck to my Clash and Sex Pistols, mostly. But Nirvana was something current that sounded like the stuff I liked. And, thankfully, it knocked those crappy dance bands off the musical radar. I still think Nevermind is one of the greatest albums in history, but I'm sure that wouldn't be true if I weren't the perfect age when it came out.
I remember reading my brother's copy of Film Comment in the months between Pulp Fiction's debut at Cannes and its release in the U. S. and thinking about how it sounded like it was going to be my favorite film ever. I had just graduated from college the year it was released, and I was the perfect age to appreciate its fresh approach to cinema. Now, I show the movie in the cinema class I teach, and the kids love it, of course, but very few of them are shocked by it in any way. When I saw it back in 1994 (or was it not released until the winter of 1995 in our town???), it was the most exciting thing I'd ever seen. The images, the dialogue, the structural tomfoolery, were all thrilling to me. And it was so shocking and disturbing to audiences in the relatively uncrowded theater back then, that people actually got up and walked out. I've read about stuff like that happening, but I witnessed it first hand with the screening of Pulp Fiction. Because I saw it when I was 22, I think I forgive it it's excesses more than I might have otherwise. Nevertheless, it shaped my adult cinematic tastes, and I can't imagine another film affecting me on such an intellectual and emotional level the way Pulp Fiction did.
Add up these four central experiences, and you get a big chunk of who I am. Maybe it explains a lot, maybe it explains nothing, but I was the perfect age for all of these things.
I'm sure many people of my generation have very similar memories of these four cultural artifacts. Especially all of us in the land of Geekville. But if your answers differ, I want to hear them. What were you "exactly the right age" for?