[sixties-l] "Generation" as the wrong focus

From: TED MORGAN (epm2@lehigh.edu)
Date: Mon Jun 05 2000 - 16:13:49 CUT

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    [Hope this comes through --via our 'old' system - tm]

    Quite a few of these recent posts --the "generation-divided" discussion,
    reflections on changes in
    us over the years, New Left/ New Right, the discussion of 60s "revolution" and
    anti-nostalgic takes on the 60s-- touch on something I've been thinking a lot
    about lately while
    working on my book on "Framing the Sixties: Media Culture and the Eclipse of
    Democracy" (or
    something like that): namely, that generation is the wrong focal point for
    understanding or
    reconsidering the 60s, for three fundamental reasons: (1) Baby boomers (for
    want of a better ID)
    were all over the map in their politics during and since the 60s. Only a
    fraction at any one point
    --how large a fraction is obviously open to discussion-- could be called
    "activists." There were
    plenty of right-wingers, etc. around (as John Andrew's and Paul Lyons' work
    demonstrates). (2)
    Movements of the 60s, while containing a disproportionate (at least
    numerically --might it not be
    always so?) number of young people, nonetheless consisted of people of all
    ages; at least this was
    true of the civil rights and black power, women's, and antiwar movements; for
    obvious reasons not
    the student movement. (3) The Media culture consistently played up the youth
    aspects of 60s
    movements, again and again (cf. Gitlin's Whole World, for example), and to a
    remarkable degree
    the younger members of these movements (the "shock troops") responded to media
    attention with
    media-attracting behaviors as a vehicle for "getting the message across."
    Media attention was
    driven in good part by market considerations; thus the massive attention to
    accoutrements, which in turn helped to attract a largely apolitical,
    second-wave of countercultural
    'runaways.' These latter, media-hyped 60s behaviors, have been repeatedly and
    hyped in the media as representative of something called "the Sixties"
    (whether media folks have
    done this for 60s-bashing propaganda purposes or for market-driven,
    purposes). Check out, for example, the ravings over the years of George Will,
    or for that matter
    the editorials of Time editor, Lance Morrow: it all boils down to a
    generation. This, in turn, feeds
    our own misconceptions (and, what, our self-importance?) that our generational
    membership is so

    I would humbly suggest that this blinds us to what's really important, which
    is the way the media
    culture and the structural forces and elites it represents helped to deflect
    (and repress) 60s
    movements from a course that ultimately and radically challenged the
    structures which today have
    become only more pervasive and powerful (e.g., the market, most of all) --one
    good example is
    the deflection of a "freedom" orientation alive in both the New Left and New
    Right (as John
    Andrew rightly notes) into libertarianism rather than democracy; the former is
    entirely compatible
    with capitalism; the latter isn't (but more on that another day).

    There's a brief discussion of generations in Stanley Aronowitz "The Death and
    Rebirth of
    American Radicalism," in which he refers to Ernst Bloch's argument that
    'people inhabit different
    worlds, or "nows" even as they exist in the same moment of absolute time." In
    that sense there is
    some meaning to generations, but not only "boomers" vs. "Gen-Xers" of typical
    media fare, but the
    differences that occurred between many people entering college in 1964, say,
    as opposed to 1962
    or 1968.....

    I'd be interested in others' thoughts on all this....
    Ted Morgan
    Department of Political Science
    Maginnes Hall #9
    Lehigh University
    Bethlehem, PA 18015

    phone: (610) 758-3345
    fax: (610) 758-6554

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