[sixties-l] more .. generations

From: TED MORGAN (epm2@lehigh.edu)
Date: Tue Jun 06 2000 - 21:23:21 CUT

  • Next message: Christine Kingsley: "[sixties-l] World War II Babies"

    Interesting thread here. I appreciate the several responses. At times, it
    still seems we get caught in a false generation metaphor, when in fact (I
    re-argue) it is never a "generation" that acts in any manner, but a subset.
    We're really talking about activists. The problem in talking about
    generations is that has been the insidious way that 60s-bashers have
    stigmatized the 60s as "self-indulgent narcissists" "sell-out Yuppies," etc. by
    pointing to these traits observable in today's 40-55-year-olds (or whatever
    the 'correct' ages are). It's really a case of propaganda, citing behaviors
    that become manifest in the media culture, asserting that these represent "the
    Sixties," and then blaming them for today's ills (in the process, obscuring
    the propagandists' own connection to those ills alleged and otherwise (decline
    of the family, incivility, drug 'crisis,' sexual promiscuity & AIDS, Vietnam
    'syndrome,' etc....

    What really counts, it seems to me are the experiential factors that influence
    people's outlooks & behavior when they "come of age" (and, of course,
    afterwards!) and people come of age at different times. Some of the posts raise
    what I think are highly relevant events & environments that tended to shape the
    expectations, degree of alienation, etc. of activists differently. I quite
    agree that the post-WWII ideological blanket ('good war') coupled with
    anticommunism created a common predisposition among many (including myself) to
    imagine the best for American foreign policy --until, that is, I began to hear
    & learn about Vietnam as it forced its way into public consciousness. Some,
    privy to independent media, radical upbringings, etc. were predisposed to see US
    foreign policy (and then Vietnam) in a (largely) negative light from the outset.
    So, events were crucially important --in the 60s. Exposure to civil rights
    activism had, I think, a huge impact on those who were active in the early to
    mid-60s. I don't sense that impact in those who joined the "2nd wave" (e.g.,
    runaways) of the counterculture as 15-16-year-olds in 1967.

    One (additional) reason I'm interested in this is because my research on
    media-movement interaction in the 60s is moving towards a theory of how the
    media's coverage helped to shape & distort the trajectory of the Movement(s)
    --along, of course, with the horror of the war, govt. repression, etc.-- and
    these basic media traits [I would list 3: ideological boundaries for media
    content, emphasis on story,drama,photo,symbol,'bite,' etc. for
    audience-capture, and a mkt-driven tendency to reach out to any "free spaces"
    (independent thought, personal subjectivity, etc.) & absorb them on mkt-terms
    (cf. Tom Frank, Mark Crispin Miller's work).] are what shapes & distorts our
    politics today.

    Another way of putting this is that, according to the mainstream media
    culture's "Sixties" the only continuity to today is a generational one. I see
    it entirely differently. The continuity with today is the
    contradiction between a capitalist system and its structural supports and
    ideology on the one hand, and a truly democratic, universally empowering
    (envisioned) society on the other. Same 'enemy' only in some ways more so.

    So, I'd argue for three phases in the 60s era --one running from the early
    civil rights awakening (Montgomery...) through 1963 (maybe stopping with JFK
    assassination) [characterized by upbeat idealism, a pervasive belief in the
    system's responsiveness & democratization, etc.[, a second phase mostly
    concentrated in 1964 & 1965 [characterized by the beginnings of a
    criticism-of-the-system, a more radical outlook, but sustained by a sense of
    the movement's momentum itself (this latter carries on into the later 1960s to
    a degree), and then a "late 60s" era from around 1966-7 through the end of the
    Vietnam War [characterized by growing alienation from the system caused most
    prominently by the war, along with a shifting sense of efficacy --the
    beginnings of feeling that the movement wasn't going to bring about the full,
    imagined democracy of the early 60s, that the 'only solutions' were to pull back
    from engagement with the system (either to counterculture communal living, to
    the new 'personal politics of feminism, or local politics of
    ecology/neighborhod) or to 'tear it down' (or at least 'do whatever it takes'
    to end the war.

    Lots of oversimplification in there, but one key, I think is all that took
    place in 64-66: first riots, black power slogan, Malcolm's autobiography, war
    on poverty hype & pull-back of CAP, ERAP & community organizing, Free Speech
    Movement & its aftermath on many campuses, escalation of Vietnam war, media
    discovery of "youth," beginnings of Haight & other countercultural
    communities, rock music ('Dylan goes electric'), etc. In these years, the
    media began to focus in on the generational phenomenon (mkt-driven), began to
    "feed back" to the public images of the generation, which in subsequent years
    have a major impact on behaviors of younger & younger cohorts, many of whom
    arguably weren't terribly politicized (except maybe for their alienation from
    the violence /the war).

    We could talk about alot of details, of course. But this kind of framework
    leads me to wonder re. Don's sentence: "Much of what happened occured because
    of friendships and group affinities rather than because people believed in any
    particular politics" WHEN his frame of reference was? Friendships and group
    affinities were important parts of the politics I experienced, but they tended
    to come from the politics, not the other way around. Lots of friendships that
    I knew or saw suffered a great deal of strain because of the politics. So
    this comment in Don's post caught my attention. It sounds more "late-60s
    coming of age" to me....

    I think the personal perspectives, like Gretchen's, are highly interesting &
    ought to be shared against this kind of thread/discussion. In my own case, born
    in late August, '45, I wasn't really a "boomer" in the technical sense, kind of
    the 'cusp.' Which only helps me view the generational explanation with a great
    deal of skepticism, I guess. But, if we reverse the typical media/60s-bashers'
    fare, and focus on the shaping impact of events, I think we gain a great deal
    more insight into history and the forces that shape it (and today's "democracy")
    than we do by focusing on this generation or that generation. Across our
    various age differences, if we talk about what has shaped our outlook (and
    behaviors), I think we come to a much better understanding of each other, and
    of today's world.

    Just my 2 bits,


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