Sunday, March 9, 2014
Have The Sixties Finally Faded?
Growing up in the 1980s meant I knew a lot about the 1960s. That might sound strange to you, but the second half of the 1980s featured a strong and intense wave of sixties nostalgia. Reruns of The Monkees on MTV were so popular that the Pre-Fab Four (minus Mike Nesmith) made a successful comeback. Other groups followed suit to cash in on the reunion circuit, from Jefferson Airplane to The Who. Classic rock radio began to take form, meaning that I soon knew the music of that era just as well of the hits of my own day. Not an hour of cable television viewing could go by without seeing the commercial for the "freedom rock" compilation. Films about Vietnam, from Platoon to Missing in Action came fast and furious as the country began to grapple with the war's legacy. Growing up I seemed surrounded by that conflict, from the touring version of the wall memorial I saw in a nearby town to television commercials for the Time-Life book series about the war. Twentieth anniversaries of events like Woodstock and the "Summer of Love" got massive coverage in the media.
At the time the 1960s looked like a much more interesting time to be alive than the reactionary, frivolous eighties. I remember a stand-up comic of the time making the same comparison, saying that "sex, drugs and rock n' roll" had regressed to "AIDS, crack and Madonna." There didn't seem to be any hope that I would get to live in as interesting times as my parents did, or that the Baby Boomers would ever relinquish their hold on popular culture.
The sixties' grip on the public imagination continued into the 90s. JFK assassination theories, culminating in Oliver Stone's film, drenched popular culture. When The Beatles' Anthology appeared in 1995, it was one of the last great television events of the pre-internet age. In every presidential election from 1992 to 2008, service in Vietnam (or its avoidance) was an issue in presidential elections. Much of the animus against Bill Clinton seems to have stemmed from the notion that he represented all the aspects of the sixties that conservatives despised. The culture wars waged bright and hot in the 1990s, and those battles were really a referendum on the social and cultural changes wrought by the 1960s.
It is with this in mind that I have been surprised to see the inevitable: the fading of the 1960s from popular consciousness. President Obama was a just a child at the time, and not a participant in those heady years, even if the very fact of his presidency was enabled by the changes of that time. Potential foreign policy entanglements are never criticized as the potential to be "another Vietnam." We have now fought plenty of other wars and have our own new quagmire in Afghanistan to worry about. The culture wars are not over, but recent events, such as sweeping acceptance of gay marriage, seem to show that the reactionary side is bound to face ultimate defeat in the culture wars. Recent anniversaries, like those of the JFK assassination and the Beatles coming to America, don't seem to have resonated very deeply. There is perhaps a sense that our times, which have witnessed international revolution, war, political polarization, and economic volatility, are plenty interesting enough.