Re: [sixties-l] more .. generations

From: robert (
Date: Wed Jun 07 2000 - 07:05:52 CUT

  • Next message: Sandra Hollin Flowers: "Re: [sixties-l] more .. generations"

            The intra-gen splits aren't a metaphor as much as way to approach social
    analysis of divisions within the movement's -- and i hesitate to use the
    word even now -- leadership.

            On a small group level, the unspoken power struggles within the Movement
    had a generational overtone.

            Look at the demographic differences in terms of family position. The
    "in-between" generation, born in the midst of the depression, by the first
    grade were being indoctrinated - sometimes three times a week -- by
    propoganda films with a distinct anti-fascist and pro New Deal slants (I
    can remember the one on the TVA). But we marked a nadir in American
    fertility - a puney crop of kids made up significantly of only children or
    older e.g. dominant children. The war was not just a game we played but an
    effort in which we were raised to take a leadership role whether it be in
    planting "victory" gardens or collecting tin cans on Saturday. At the age
    of seven, the war formed our total view of what was dimly understood as
    politics, society -- it was for real, serious and some of your buddies'
    dads were being shot down over Germany.

            Now the hook is: the indoctrination took. The proof is that so many of us
    (like Gretchen Dutsche) from arch Republican families experienced a gut
    counter-reaction to the Rosenberg executions and McCarthyism: the U.S. was
    becoming less the democratic ideal we had been so "carefully taught" to
    uphold. By the time of high school, the Cold War rhetoric contradicted if
    not betrayed all the anti-fascist ideology we had already absorbed: we
    organized to abolish study halls.

            We were privileged in being able to go to college and get scholarships at
    a time when universities were affordable and student applicants few. But
    the heirs apparent of the "best and the brightest" had inherited an
    "attitude" or "student president complex."

            We could get along well enough together, as kind of small group with a
    very closely shared experience -- the "loving circle" phase of Old Guard SDS.

            But within SDS the hegenomy of this small and somewhat cliquish
    generational cohort was short-lived; by 1966 it found itself outnumbered
    -- three to one -- by the post war cohort, and in a losing struggle to
    keep control.

             Their formative frame reference (as seven year olds) was the Cold not the
    Second World War. And their family position were generally those of
    siblings in rivalry rather than only or older children with assured
    attitudes of authority. Their parents were more likely to be divorcing than
    those depression era couples who stuck together while the rest of the world
    was falling apart. (I won't even try to go into how this might have
    affected differnces in gender role imprinting.)

            So temperamentally, the "old guard" wasn't equipped to deal with the
    "young turks" who challenged their control on the national or the chapter
    Manipulation was used adeptly for a brief interim. But the Old Guard's
    characteristic response to the challenge of their leadership was to pick up
    their marbles and walk away.

            Klonsky is right. Opposition to the war erased these differences, but only
    temporarily. So did the melding influences of pot, rock and long-hair. But
    the congruence of the summer of 1967 was ephemeral, and the polarization of
    1968 dissipated whatever was globally working to contain all the internal
    divisions within the movement, not just the generational.

            Ted, contrary to your posting and media hypothesis as being integrative of
    the generational rifts, I would just say that on an experential level of
    collective life within the movement that it was very personal, and that
    sometimes the organizing failed for lack of internal structure to contain
    such differences and power relationships.

            There's a good reason why this issue doesn't appear in the "literature.":
    we studiously and characteristically didn't talk about it or glossed over
    such differences as ideologically insignficant in the spirit of us all
    being equal brothers and sisters and none of us over 30.

    At 05:23 PM 6/6/00 EDT, you wrote:
    >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
    >Sixties," and then blaming them for today's ills (in the process, obscuring
    >the propagandists' own connection to those ills alleged and otherwise
    >of the family, incivility, drug 'crisis,' sexual promiscuity & AIDS, Vietnam
    >'syndrome,' etc....
    >What really counts, it seems to me are the experiential factors that
    >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
    >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
    >& 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
    >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
    >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
    >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
    >particular politics" WHEN his frame of reference was? Friendships and group
    >affinities were important parts of the politics I experienced, but they
    >to come from the politics, not the other way around. Lots of friendships
    >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
    >deal of skepticism, I guess. But, if we reverse the typical
    >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
    >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,
    >Department of Political Science
    >Maginnes Hall #9
    >Lehigh University
    >Bethlehem, PA 18015
    >phone: (610) 758-3345
    >fax: (610) 758-6554

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