Feb 28, 2008

Introducing the 1960's

As I mentioned before, the end of the fifties and the beginning of the sixties was chronologically a little messy for me. The fifties were my years of childhood, and the sixties were the years of my adolescence and youth. Unbeknownst to me, my childhood and the fifties had definitively ended somewhere in the middle of 1958 when the family took off from Des Moines and went to New Zealand. Likewise my adolescence and the sixties had begun somewhere in the middle of 1959, the summer before I turned 13, returning from abroad to the American heartlands of the fifties, with my heart no longer there. That leaves about a year that didn't really belong to either decade.

The decade of the fifties for my age bracket had been a decade of social and political deception on a monumental scale. We had been systematically lied to and decieved by our elders and leaders about almost everything. We were led to believe that the world was not what it really was, that history was not what it really was, and that the potentially greatest wrongs were rights and so forth.

Of course we were by no means the first generation to be systematically decieved. I am sure that whole generations of British, French, Dutch, Canadian, American and Mexicans growing up in the late 1700's and early 1800's had much the same experience.

But our particular generation, when the deception was uncovered, produced a cultural social and political tidal wave that will forever remain unique in history.

On YouTube there has been an amazing little nine minute video circulating this year produced by a company called Lonestar Sound that sums a lot of this up. It's called «The meaning of American Pie» and presents an ingenious visual summary of the sixties using Don McLean's song as the backdrop for understanding the decade 1959-1969.

Looking around the American society in the late 1950's it would have been hard to predict the sort of societal revolution that was coming. The size of the social protest movement was so small, compared with, say, Europe. The civil rights movement seemed to have stood still since the forties, the folk music movement was infinitessimal. At the same time, the initial power of black R&B and the exciting new wave of white Rock and Roll, had already petered out into a mish mash of wishy washy comercial music.

The ostensible winners of the fifties had been the right wing like MaCarthy and the John Birch Society. Cold war powerbalancing and paranoia seemed unopposed and unopposible.

Among the notable events of the final year of the fifties we can find: Castro's victory in Cuba; the death of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper in Iowa ; the St. Lawrence Seaway is opened; Alaska and Hawai'i become states; the Barbie Doll and pantyhose are launched on the American market; the first ICBMs are placed on a submaraine; the first Americans are killed in action in Vietnam; a Russian satilite takes the first pictures of the far side of the moon, The Twilight Zone makes its premieres on CBS; and Ben Hur sweeps the Oscars.

It is interesting for me to compare that with the end of the sixties. In 1969, just ten years after I came home to Des Moines from New Zealand, as I braced myself to leave the US for good, Richard Milhous Nixon was sworn in as president; Yasser Arafat was appointed leader of the PLO; The Supreme court ruled against the Des Moines school board's right to sensure political expression in the schools; The Boeing 747 and the Concord appeared; the first manned lunar landing, the first Venus probe, and the first mars flyby hapened;The Harvard University Administration Building was seized by the SDS; "Give Peace a Chance" was recorded by John Lennon; the first U.S. troop withdrawals are made from Vietnam; Muammar Gaddafi came to power in Lybia; The Manson Family went on their bloody killing spree in LA; the Woodstock festival happened in NY, and the Altamont festival in CA; the "Chicago Eight" went on trial in Chicago accompanied by rioting between Weatherman and the National Guard; National Moratorium held antiwar demonstrations across the US; and the first ARPANET (precursor of Internet) was established.