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November 17, 2004

Sixties Stuff

Fenster Moop writes:

Dear Blowhards,

To paraphrase Wilde on the weather, when people speak of The Sixties, they usually mean something else. They don't mean the nominal period, the decade 1960-70. And, heavens, they don't mean the complete set of activities that took place, from Jerry Rubin to Barry Goldwater and from Frank Zappa to Lawrence Welk. No, the term usually refers to a somewhat different period--roughly mid-sixties to early seventies, and the objects of study tend toward the countercultural and radical rather than the mundane and common.

That's a bit one-sided, but it is understandable. There was something of a Great Awakening going on, and so it is only natural that attention, and historical memory, would dwell on those aspects producing the highest levels of fervor. If you lived through the period, you will probably recall that many ordinary events and phenomena were invested with some higher level of Meaning. Everything was going to change.

Lawrence Welk--chuckle, sigh.
The June Taylor Dancers--history.
Political Parties--hardly necessary, pass the joint.
The Rat Pack--these geezers think they're cool?


In the moment, I am sure we conceived of the replacement of the old with the new as a kind of war, one leading to an inevitable Aquarian victory. But in real life culture wars, as in real life wars, it is not so simple to discern winners and losers in the long run. We've been greatly influenced by the cutting-edge elements of "The Sixties", to be sure. But life seldom takes a 180, even if it feels that way in the moment to participants in cultural conflict. The old lives on inside the new; they morph, co-exist and dance.

So if you read your Arts and Letters Daily daily, as you should, you came across a link a while back to an interesting article by Bruce Bawer on The Other Sixties.

Bawer does a splendid job in capturing the moment--the period just before the deluge. And while the dominance of the leading cultural objects of this period was seemingly neutered almost overnight, the era's allure did not die. Moneyed chic is all around us today. Heck, with the new Kevin Spacey film upcoming, expect a Bobby Darin resurgence, too.

Things ripened awfully fast from 1963 to 1968. For those with an interest in the very ripe, full-bloom later years, here are some interesting sites.

The first is devoted to the Diggers.

The Diggers were one of the legendary groups in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, one of the world-wide epicenters of the Sixties Counterculture which fundamentally changed American and world culture. Shrouded in a mystique of anonymity, the Diggers took their name from the original English Diggers (1649-50) who had promulgated a vision of society free from private property, and all forms of buying and selling. The San Francisco Diggers evolved out of two Radical traditions that thrived in the SF Bay Area in the mid-1960s: the bohemian/underground art/theater scene, and the New Left/civil rights/peace movement.

The Diggers combined street theater, anarcho-direct action, and art happenings in their social agenda of creating a Free City. Their most famous activities revolved around distributing Free Food every day in the Park, and distributing "surplus energy" at a series of Free Stores (where everything was free for the taking.) The Diggers coined various slogans that worked their way into the counterculture and even into the larger society "Do your own thing" and "Today is the first day of the rest of your life" being the most recognizable. The Diggers, at the nexus of the emerging underground, were the progenitors of many new (or newly discovered) ideas such as baking whole wheat bread (made famous through the popular Free Digger Bread that was baked in one- and two-pound coffee cans at the Free Bakery); the first Free Medical Clinic, which inspired the founding of the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic; tye-dyed clothing; and, communal celebrations of natural planetary events, such as the Solstices and Equinoxes.

If you find this stuff interesting, you might want to move on to Ringolevio, the alleged autobiography by the Digger "leader", wild man and con artiste extraordinaire, Emmett Grogan. Apparently much of his book is not true--why would it have to be anyway?--but it is a ripping good yarn by a naturally gifted storyteller, albeit one with a bit of the Blarney.

Then you might also visit a few sites devoted to the antics of another group, the Situationists (here and here).

Wikipedia says "The Situationist International (SI), an international political and artistic movement, originated in the Italian village of Cosio d'Arroscia on 28 July 1957 with the fusion of several extremely small artistic tendencies: the Lettrist International , the International movement for an imaginist Bauhaus, and the London Psychogeographical Association. This fusion traced further influences from COBRA, Dada, Surrealism, and Fluxus, as well as inspirations from the Workers Councils of the Hungarian Uprising.

The journal Internationale Situationniste defined situationist as "having to do with the theory or practical activity of constructing situations." The same journal defined situationism as "a meaningless term improperly derived from the above. There is no such thing as situationism, which would mean a doctrine of interpretation of existing facts. The notion of situationism is obviously devised by antisituationists."

Their hearts belong to Dada.



posted by Fenster at November 17, 2004


A funny time, no? I was just a few years too young to really live the '60s, and I spent the mid-'60s in a nowheresville small town. So to me at the time, "the '60s" were something that happened on TV and in the pages of Time and Life magazines. I got a little taste of them at boarding school, where the privileged kids glowered, protested, and took themselves very seriously, and in France, where everyone hated Americans because of Vietnam. By the time I got to college, the very last hippies were seniors. So my college life took place as the dust was settling, really. And by the time I discovered the Situationists (who I thought were a hoot) on my own, it was the late '70s and they were being rediscovered by the punk set -- Malcolm McLaren and all that. But these days I sometimes feel like I'm surrounded by the '60s anyway. All of pop culture seems to have remade itself into something very trippy. It's as though everything that in 1960 was inside has now been externalized, and has settled like a blanket over the whole culture. Maybe it was one big giving-birth-to era, and maybe the baby that was delivered was electronics, and the culture that's growing out of electronics...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 18, 2004 12:02 AM may be very right...I was just thinking what a bummer it would have been for the hippies to realize that all that activity really just resulted in...Bill Gates!

Posted by: annette on November 19, 2004 4:38 PM

The situationists are most closely associated
with Guy DeBord, whose "Society and Spectacle"
is an analysis of consumer culture that's
still well worth reading. I find him a lot more
interesting than Bourdieu or Lyotard, and his writing style is much more approachable as well.
Full text in English and French is available online.

Posted by: lw on November 26, 2004 11:27 AM

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