In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« American Manhood, R.I.P. | Main | Bagatelle »

December 04, 2008

What Caused the '60s?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A slightly dolled-up version of a comment I dropped on a Roissy blogposting. I was responding to Rick, another commenter, who had made what struck me as a naive reference to the supposed misery of Greatest Generation marriages:

I’m not sure where Rick gets his ideas about the misery and unhappiness of ’50s marriages. I was around (if very young) in the ’50s and quite sentient in the ’60s, and my guess would be that most of the marriages of the WWII generation were happier and more solid than most of today’s marriages are. They were adult collaborations more than quests for self-fulfillment.

The ’60s were a very interesting phenomenon, but the usual way they’re portrayed strikes me as whacky. There were loads of reasons the ’60s happened, and the supposed repressiveness of ’50s style marriage seems to me like a rather small one. Remember that Playboy, James Bond, and Marilyn Monroe were all ’50s phenomena — the '50s are where “swinging” started, not among '60s hippies.

A much, much bigger reason for the ’60s was that Boomers were 1) hugely numerous, 2) prosperous in ways that had never before been witnessed, and 3) spoiled.

Boomer kids were the first generation of genuinely self-centered, spoiled brats. They were also the first bunch of teens who grew up thinking of themselves as a specific generation of teens, and who were catered to as a market segment. The ’50s economy, in other words, made them feel like the center of the universe.

A lot of the ’60s was simply about teens saying “I demand that things suit me, and speak to me in my way.” It was quite a surprise to a lot of adults that '60s teens actually got away with it. In previous decades, adolescent tantrums either weren’t taken seriously or were squashed instantly.

Drugs also played a huge part in the ’60s. A big reason movies from the ’30s and ’40s feel different from movies of the ’60s and ’70s (and beyond) is because of a very basic change. Prior to 1960, the altered-consciousness of choice was booze — “good times” meant something like “getting drunk.” Often social, convivial, humorous. After 1960, “good times” more and more meant “getting wiped out, man, just like taking acid.” Movies became much more overwhelming, solipsistic, and hallucinatory. You can see it still in today’s big Hollywood epics. They’re wipe-you-out, mow-you-down, kill-you-with-effects-and-Dolby extravaganzas. That’s the legacy of the ’60s, and of the way the model of “good times” moved from booze to drugs. Watch a "Batman" movie, and it's like taking an acid trip.

As for all those supposedly miserable marriages that broke up in the ’60s and ’70s … Well, an elderly shrink I know tells me that one of the most common things he ran across in the ’60s and ’70s was lives that had been shattered because marriages that didn’t need to break up had in fact broken up. Some people kinda gave up on the idea of working things out. Some people took too many drugs, paid too much attention to the popular media, bought the idea that everything should always go their way, and wound up deep-sixing perfectly good lives and marriages. But many didn't.

For more on the history of the teenager, read my blog posting about it.

Short version: the whole “teenager” thing — adolescence as a defined and desirable phase of life — is of very recent vintage. As recently as 1951 the bestselling music in the U.S. wasn’t pop music for kids, it was musicals, opera, folk music, Tony Bennett — entertainment for adults. It’s historically very, very weird -- as well as terrifying -- that we as a culture have put adolescence at the center of experience, and adolescent values (me! me! me! now! now! now!) at the center of our value system.

And you wonder why kids today have a hard time growing up. It’s partly because adulthood has gotten a serious demoting, and ‘way too much is made of adolescence, and of adolescent values.



posted by Michael at December 4, 2008


Totally agree, Michael.

Posted by: JV on December 4, 2008 4:05 PM

Although, there was some good to come out of the 60s, mainly in the area of institutional transparency.

Posted by: JV on December 4, 2008 4:08 PM

I am a rabid conservative and a hippie hater, so articles like this have always been right up my alley. My only problem with them is that they seem to stop short when assigning the blame and often look at the 60s in a vacuum. But the 60s is when this sentiment ripened. Too often the people who created these narcisstic boomers get a free pass: The Greatest Generation. This disillusion with tradition started with them, and they deliberately did their best to raise their kids differently than they were raised and spoiled them rotten.

I highly recommend this article:

It discusses how the Greatest Generation threw out the child-rearing style of Watson for that of Dr. Spock. I think you'd especially like it Michael.

Posted by: T. AKA Ricky Raw on December 4, 2008 4:09 PM

Pre WWII, there was a youth culture, but it was far more adult and sophisticated.

For instance, the big band era certainly appealed to teeny boopers, but the ideal was classy and formal. Big Band musicians were often classically trained and they definitely knew their chords and scales. When the teeny boopers went out, they wore suits and tuxes, and strove for adult sophistication and style.

The factors that you've cited certainly are important. Two others brought down the entire social fabric: (1) the civil rights movement and (2) anti-war pansified men.

I'll start with (2). We 60s kids were fed a steady diet of Hollywood movies and cultural stores about the bravery of our dads in combat and the incredible horror that they faced. This did not have the desired effect. All those stories about bodies piled up like cordwood on the beaches of Europe and Asia terrified us. Put this together with the spoiled brat culture, and the result is unexpected. We weren't itching to emulate our fathers who sacrificed themselves by the tens of thousands. We wondered why any sane person would run onto a beach into the line of machine gun fire. It didn't seem heroic to us. We weren't Depression kids, raised for sacrifice and accustomed to pain. We were spoiled brats who wanted to live for the goodies and euphoria.

The civil rights movement gave us the lever to use against our dads. Our dads were bigots! Just like the Nazis! This tactic proved to be hugely effective... so effective that every political group for the past 50 years has grabbed onto it. We discovered that the allegation was a crippling offensive that could not be answered. (Why? I'm still not sure.)

This tactic lead to the onslaught against tradition that has proven to be unstoppable. Opposing any liberal movement became the same as turning the fire hoses on blacks. And arists discovered another unanswerable tactic: If you can tell a sob story about any group, then you must concede to that group whatever it wants... or else... you are a bigot!

Beating down our own fathers with this nonsense was a drug. We defeated our own fathers! What a rush! Hippie men pioneered this tactic, then were aghast when feminist women used the same tactic against them. And, once again, the allegation was impossible to answer. If you don't think that women have the right to screw around and abandon their children for working in the office... you're a bigot! Next to pile on this gravy train were gays.

Everything fell before this tsunami. I recently re-watched "Little Big Man." While it is a great movie, it originated a whole series of cliches that have now become common wisdom. The heroic story of the founding of America is a lie. White men are genocidal maniacs bent on exterminating the Indians. The Indians were noble savages living in peace in the Garden of Eden. Christians are all insane hypocrites secretly commiting fornication whenever possible.

Since I was part of all this insanity, I understand the progression well. In some ways, the civil rights movement was the key. When I was a teenager, some things just went over my head. It couldn't be true that black people embodied innate negative characteristics the way my father and grandfathers said. No, my father and grandfathers had to be racists! It did not occur to me that America was remarkably unique in its determination to solve the problems of racism. I wanted perfect justice immediately. Incremental change wasn't good enough. If everything couldn't be fixed right now, the only answer was to rip everything to pieces.

You can see the apotheosis of all of this in the gay rights movement... the ultimate spoiled brat movement. Spoiled kids with no discernable bitch once against copping the bigot! accusation. Once again, if some idiot film maker somewhere can mock up a sob story portraying gays as persecuted, then gays must be given whatever the hell it is they want... right now! Or else, we're all fucking bigots! After all, if a movie says gays are persecuted... well, who can argue against that! Only Nazis... that's who!

Anyway, that's my contribution. And my conclusion. This is the slow degradation of society into collapse and fascism.

Incidently, the era we call the 60s was from 1963 to 1973. The assassination of John Kennedy marked the beginning. The ascension of Elton John in the rock pantheon was the end, in that John completely faggotized rock.. and in doing so killed it. (I'm not saying anything about his skill. Obviously, as things turned out, John is a Broadway composer.) For those who wonder why 1973 marks the end of the era of really memorable rock, Elton John is the culprit.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on December 4, 2008 5:00 PM

I agree with both Michael and R. Raw. The parents let 'em get away with too much.

And I'll up the ante by tossing in college faculty during the 60s. I was there as a grad student seeing too much willingness of profs to abandon their knowledge/principles/etc. and, in effect, ask the students to teach them about the wondrous new age a-dawning. I thought that was nuts, and basically lost much of my respect for the "social sciences" at that point.

In retrospect, this behavior on the part of those profs might be interpreted as a "bubble psychology" where this time it's different -- the new will triumph, old rules will never apply again and everyone should get with the program or be left behind forever.

Contributing to this was the fact that many faculty were lefties who had been keeping their heads down during the McCarthy era and after. I got fed almost no politics in class during the late 50s to mid-60s. The student movement of the 60s allowed them to begin showing their true colors (various shades of pink).

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 4, 2008 5:12 PM

Greatest Generation, my ass! You'd think they were the only generation to be herded up and marched off to the killing fields to glorify some goddamn government of holy saints to hear them talk. Maybe they're just getting senile. They never once even considered the fact that maybe, JUST MAYBE, all that destruction in Europe and Asia was a fucking waste of life and resources while destroying an civilizations in the process. So if boomers were nurtured by these bozos, no wonder it's all crumbling around us. Sinatra to Elvis to Rolling Stones in three easy steps.

Posted by: Bob Grier on December 4, 2008 5:31 PM

It is interesting that the youths pre-60s wished they were adults, and so their youth culture was an emulation of adult culture; whereas post-60s, adults wish they were youths and so adult culture clings to youthful endeavors.

I don't think this is entirely a bad thing. Done well, it means you keep involved in the things you enjoy throughout your life. But too many times it means prolonging adolescent interests and behaviors long past the expiration date.

Since the previous post was on male movie stars, let's talk about the traits that were valued in them, pre- and post- 60s. Pre-60s, it was a sophisticated and calculated reserve, a la Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, etc. Post-60s, it was impulsive and childish emotionality, a la Jack Nicholson (in my opinion, the most overrated actor of all time). His performances in supposed classics like Five Easy Pieces are merely adult tantrums.

All that said, there was much to like about the 60s, at least from my perspective as a child of Baby Boomers.

Posted by: JV on December 4, 2008 5:51 PM

ST - To expand a little on your generational mileposts, below are some common beginning and end points for each era:

The 50s: Roughly Eisenhower's presidency until just after JFK's assasination.

The 60s: Mario Savio and the "Free Speech" movement at UC Berkeley up to Nixon's resignation.

The 70s: From Nixon's resignation up to John Belushi's death in 1982.

The 80s: Brezhnev's death up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Posted by: Sgt. Joe Friday on December 4, 2008 6:28 PM

"Elton John is the culprit"

Ha, I'm getting that printed on a t-shirt. I disagree with it, but it is funny sentence taken on its own.

Posted by: JV on December 4, 2008 6:49 PM

Young people ran amok in the 1920s and 1890s too, including weird blaring music, sexual debauchery (and attendant venereal diseases), and stronger-than-booze drugs.

In America, there was also a huge crime wave from the start of the 20th C up through about 1930 -- as bad as the one that started in the '60s and ended around 1990. Bratty teenagers joining gangs rather than working hard, just to get quick fixes on drugs, women, etc. The whole sh-bang.

Both sides of the "which time was better?" debate artificially restrict the time-frame from now back to 1950, perhaps 1940, and rarely 1930. It makes it look like a steady improvement -- or debasement, depending on your values -- in something about society.

In reality, it's one phase of a cycle that's been going on for far longer. The truly interesting question is, aside from these ups-and-downs across a few decades, is there a centuries-long decline or rise in the thing?

For homicide: rapid decline since about 1500 in northern Europe and its off-shoots. (1800s in Southern Italy and its off-shoots.)

For sluttiness and related things: almost surely a decline, though hard to measure (except by V.D. rates in the pre-treatment era).

Teenagers not wanting to grow up -- probably a decline, since it's not so bad joining the adults nowadays, vs. a life of *real* drudgery (not that serving fries at the mall is fun...), going off to get killed to enrich some nobleman, and all those other awful aspects of adult life back then.

Society has gotten steadily better over the past 500 years, now that modern states have made it unprofitable to really harm other people, have invested in innovations that improve our quality of life, and therefore made it more desirable to grow up and life a long, low-risk life.

The ups-and-downs about this overall increase in civilization are interesting too, but let's not lose perspective here.

And not that civilization might decline -- as during the dark ages in Western Europe -- but we are not headed that way. Not even close. We have more lights on, more books, more medicine, etc., than at any time before -- not less.

Posted by: agnostic on December 4, 2008 8:12 PM

It's hard to overestimate the influence of The Beats on the great sea change from '50s square America to '60s hip America. Which means that the lead time was quite long. The life that Kerouac reported on, or presented, in On The Road actually took place in the late '40s to very early '50s in Harlem, the Village and tiny enclaves of San Francisco and Denver. Ginsberg's Howl was also a factor but Kerouac was immense. On The Road hit a whole generation like a bombshell. Maybe it was the boredom of a very successful but very settled culture. All I know is that when I read OTR in the late '50s I had to go on the road, I had to see San Francisco, I had to "live." I was one of millions, literally millions. Most went way beyond what I did, went much deeper into the bohemian life. But there was no going back after Kerouac.

This emphasis on one man, one book by one man probably seems lopsided but it isn't. Kerouac was as influential in effecting a genuine change in the inner climate of the young as Rousseau and Byron had been for earlier generations.

Posted by: ricpic on December 4, 2008 8:13 PM

"Movies became much more overwhelming, solipsistic, and hallucinatory."

Can you give some specific titles? I think most films of the 70s' films tended to be small scale character dramas or comedies. Certainly, the 70s films and filmmakers celebrated now - Altman, Scorcese, etc. - weren't making epics. Overwhelming was ushered in by Star Wars and the Lucas-Spielberg axis of filmmaking.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on December 4, 2008 9:08 PM

I'm thinking the rise of mass college eduction must have played an enormous role. College bottles up thousands of hormone infused, immature youths in one place, gives them all the comforts of life for free, and requires virtually nothing of the student in return. It's a perfect recipe for creating spoiled brats.

Posted by: Devin Finbarr on December 4, 2008 9:56 PM

What caused the 60's? Funny you should ask. I just wrote this for my (unconventional) CV:

"1967-1968. In January of 1967, after my thesis was accepted, I moved down from Portland to the Haight-Ashbery district in San Francisco as a self-identified independent anthropologist (I kept my hair short) and where I intended to do field work in order to try to understand the nature of this new hippy phenomenon that was now sweeping the nation. After six months living in the heart of the Height (at 130 Rivoli Street) I came to a conclusion; this new youth culture was not being caused by the new hallucenagenic drugs on the street nor by the War in Vietnam, though these were both contributing factors. Rather it was a symptom of something else, which I described at the time as “the disillusionment of middle-class life.” These were basically spoiled adolescents from upper-middle class homes. They took suburbia for granted, being oblivious to the enormous sacrifices and the generations of hard work that had gone into making it possible for them to grow up in a house in the suburbs with a full-time Mom who stayed at home with the kids.

Posted by: Luke Lea on December 4, 2008 10:28 PM

I asked a professor talking about generational groups where all this emphasis on individuality came in, since it seemed to start in the 50s or so. He said it had to do with fears of fascism. So...were the 60s just Godwin's law writ large?

Man, WWII must have been scary! The whole thing's a joke now...Bruno Ganz as Hitler used as a punchline...but I can't imagine what it must have been like to watch Adolf eat country after country...

Posted by: SFG on December 4, 2008 10:33 PM

JV -- I think there was plenty around to rebel against, much of it worthwhile.

T./Ricky -- Fun article, thanks for the link. Dr. Spock was a major figure in American culture. I recall occasionally feeling jealous of the kids who were given Spock-style upbringings -- they were so ... free. So spoiled.

ST -- Eloquent rant, hilarious Elton John theory. Plus: he really is by nature a Broadway composer, isn't he?

Donald -- Lordy, you're reminding me of the way education went bad in those years ...

Bob - Very funny snarl. But am I mistaking your tone?

Sgt. Joe -- Nice, and very useful, timeline.

Agnostic -- Thanks for the perspective. Big diffs though between earlier periods and the '60s: the flappers of the '20s weren't teens, they were young adults. The misbehaving youths of the '30s didn't have the money of the '60s kids (let alone the Dr. Spock upbringings, or the ricpic-style Jack Kerouac dreams). And no generation prior to the Boomers had been targeted economically as kids and teens nearly as much. All of this meant that the '60s crowd had big, overflattered egos, a feeling of being special, and the time and money to impose their teen wills on the rest of the country. Things have been upside-down ever since. From my posting on teenagerhood:

# Juvenile courts had their origins only a hundred years ago.
# There's no word for "adolescent" in many languages.
# The word "teenager" didn't appear in a dictionary until 1942.
# Teen magazines started in the 1950s.
# Such teencentric movies of the '50s as "Rebel Without a Cause," "The Wild One," and "Blackboard Jungle" were inconceivable in previous decades.

ricpic -- I'm eager to hear more about that "On the Road" section of your life! Are you still spiritually there? In recovery?

Peter L. -- Sure: aside from the trippy exploitation movies, there were movies like "The Wild Bunch," "The Godfather," "Taxi Driver" and "Nashville." As you point out, loads of small-scale character stuff in each of those movies, but all of them intended to be emotionally overwhelming experiences that worked on all the senses in ways that would previously have felt just plain unfair. I'm with you on "Star Wars" and such, btw: it's as though Spielberg and Lucas took that "let's overwhelm them to death" ethic and made it literal and childish.

Devin -- Yeah, I agree, I think the post-WWII explosion in higher education played a big role in it too.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 4, 2008 10:48 PM

I think the narrative we commonly get fed these days is that the WW2 generation were universally patriotic and championed traditional American values, but their spoiled kids resented their parents and rebelled against their values with narcissistic, opposite values. While this is indeed a major part of what happened, I think it's important to acknowledge that for a lot of these Boomers, these antitraditional views were not simply a result of being spoiled by their parents...they actually got these views FROM their parents.

Read the book version or the movie version of Man in the Gray Flannel suit by Sloan Wilson, a very influential and popular novel from the 50s. Or read Anti Intellectualism in American Life by Hofstadter or The Organization Man by William Whyte, all very popular and influential books in the 50s. There were many men of the WW2 generation who came back from the war disillusioned and questioning themselves and traditions. Even the old biker gangs like the Hell's Angels were originally formed by disenchanted WW2 vets. This disillusionment and disenchantment led many of them to become determined to raise their own kids differently, which is why they were so open to adopt Spock's parenting techniques as described in that first article I linked to in my earlier comment.

i think many of the "Greatest Generation" hagiographies we get spoonfed really downplay how the seeds for much of the 60s counterculture were laid by disillusioned members of the WW2 generation after the war. although the Boomers took this frustration and disenchantment much further than their parents planned, many of their parents were the ones who put a lot of those ideas in their heads.

Posted by: T. AKA Ricky Raw on December 4, 2008 11:27 PM

The 70s were a great period for American movies, and not because they ushered in the overwhelming epic. The "disordering of the senses" effect MB talks about was real, and used, but so was the opening up of a much greater range of character possibilities. Movies in that period were intensely individualistic and small-d "democratic" in the range of possibilities they offered characters. It was this, as much as cinematic innovation, that produced their effect on viewers.

The modern blockbuster kept the understanding of the possibility of movies to work on the viewer's emotions in new ways, but completely ditched the richness of character. Instead we got this rejection of complexity and an assault on viewers through special effects. The great innovative movies from the late 60s through the mid 70s were notably light on special effects.

Posted by: MQ on December 4, 2008 11:47 PM

Well, yeah, T, as a matter of history I think you're right -- that's a great comment, in fact. But if the Greatest Generation, who were one of the most "dutiful" generations ever in their way, really were disillusioned and unhappy with the narrowness of their adult lives, then perhaps there was something to the rejection of their form of adulthood, no?

Posted by: MQ on December 5, 2008 12:33 AM

I think the traditional marriage structure of the 40s and 50s (and before) was more stable, more supportive, and usually happier than the sexual anarchy ushered in with the 60s.

I also think that the traditional marriage structure was constricting and limiting and in many cases oppressive.

The 60s were the triumph of the social libertarians. Much of the groundwork was laid by crypto-libertines like Kinsey, with his bogus statistics about sexual activity, and Margaret Mead, with her bogus accounts of sexual paradise in Polynesia.

There was a long history of generally legitimate efforts to cast off the extreme repression and prudery imposed in the Victorian era and before.

But it was eventually taken over by people (men, mainly) who wanted unlimited personal freedom with no responsibility; a group that had been metastasizing through the intelligentsia for many years, and now came to dominate the academy and the media.

As to divorce in particular: the traditional severe restrictions on divorce caused a lot of hardship. But the liberalization of divorce law led to a new wave of abuses and errors.

It's a classic example of what I call Rostrom's Law (AFAIK no one else ever formulated it):

If there is a hard-and-fast rule, agonizing special cases will pile up begging for mercy; but when an exception is made for those cases, it will be abusively exploited in so many other cases that the rule is effectively nullified.

As to the rise of the "overwhelming movie": I think a lot of it was technology, which has made 'big' special effects easier, cheaper, and more effective.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on December 5, 2008 12:53 AM

See Halberstam's The Fifties for a nice way to understand the segue from 50s to 60s. People who live through something like a great awakening--and the 60s was something like a great awakening--cannot help but see that era as a radical discontinuity. After all experiencing something as a radical discontinuity is part and parcel of something like a great awakening.

But sad to say there are no radical discontinuties, really. These are just perception flaws that happen when you get close to the sun. In fact, everything connects quite nicely, as can be noted when things cool down.

Posted by: fenster moop on December 5, 2008 2:09 AM

And Shouting T.: If you weren't such a homophobe you'd acknowledge it was Phil Collins, not Elton, that was the real culprit ;-)

Posted by: fenster moop on December 5, 2008 2:12 AM

"On The Road" is a very dated book. I'd read that Kerouac's vision of America was akin to Walt Whitman's, but it turned out to be just a guy driving around. It must have been exciting when it first came out but there are many blogs that can do road trip stuff better than that

Posted by: hello on December 5, 2008 8:01 AM

Ah, things would be soooo much better if only our fathers had slapped us kids around more when we showed any signs of rebelling, if only our mothers had meekly acted like chattel rather than partners, if only the damn n**gers had accepted their place on the bottom of the socio-economic order, if only the f**gots had stayed in the closet. If only ...

Unfortunately it seems one result of the election of Obama is that the more reactionary and intolerant attitudes and attributes of many who post or comment on 2 Blowhards have been coming to the fore.

One aspect that seems missing in all the comments thus far is the influence of capitalism and the free market. Having won the hot war our parents entered the Cold War, which was more about economic systems rather than political systems per se. Our side was capitalism and it was all about increasing consumption ... in other words it was ideologically demanded that we become consumers, the more we consumed, the better.

Boomers, by definition, were (are) a huge demographic bulge and thus a prime market segment to be tapped. When we were young we were targeted indirectly, our parents were urged to buy us toys, clothes, games, movie tickets, and on and on. Parents who felt their own childhoods had been unpleasant and painful were eager to see that their kids had a better life. Isn't that why they had suffered through the Depression and fought the Great War? It was easy to sell them on the idea that they should buy this that and the other to make their kids life more fulfilling and enjoyable.

As we reached adolescence the market began to target us directly. Television was a medium that came of age with us and it was used to give us desires that only the right toothpaste ... soda ... car ... could assuage.

The rebelliousness of the Sixties can be seen as much as an attempt (however futile) to call into question the idea that our highest calling was to buy more products. It ran its course and got co-opted.

Soon enough we entered the "it's all about me" Seventies as the boomer bulge left home and college to enter the workforce. And on it goes.

As a final note, I think Michael may be right on his point that marriages in the Fifties were not the miserable and hollow things some might imagine but were largely real collaborative unions.

Posted by: Chris White on December 5, 2008 9:16 AM

"Ah, things would be soooo much better if only our fathers had slapped us kids around more when we showed any signs of rebelling, if only our mothers had meekly acted like chattel rather than partners, if only the damn n**gers had accepted their place on the bottom of the socio-economic order, if only the f**gots had stayed in the closet. If only ..."

Ah, the return of Chris "The Only Good White Man!" Heroically facing down the KKK! Polishing his halo while saving mankind!

Chris, you are constantly rearranging the entire world to reflect on your sanctimony.

You are the most godawful boor on the face of the planet. How do you stand yourself? How does you wife stand you?

Why aren't you embarassed by that act? You are absolutely ridiculous!

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on December 5, 2008 9:39 AM

No more ridculous than Shouting Thomas who polluted Roissy's blog, and now pollutes this one. Why don't you try attacking ideas rather than people, little man?

Posted by: Clarence on December 5, 2008 10:40 AM

Man, WWII must have been scary! The whole thing's a joke now...Bruno Ganz as Hitler used as a punchline...but I can't imagine what it must have been like to watch Adolf eat country after country...

As I understand it, Americans at the time hated and feared the Japanese more than Hitler. It makes sense. We didn't know about the Holocaust at the time, America didn't feel particularly close to most of the European countries that Germany attacked, and from an American point of view Hitler's invasion of Stalin's Soviet Union was not an entirely bad thing, sort of the way that we'd view a war between Iran and North Korea today.

Posted by: Peter on December 5, 2008 11:30 AM

Agnostic has a point. If we really were in a social decline period, then why does technological innovation continue to occur and people continue to start businesses? It is true that the economy is contracting, but this is a correction to the credit-bubble of 1995-2007. Our economy is in a post-bubble correction much like Japan's during the 90's. I think the social conservatives are way off base with regards to societal decline.

I believe agnostic is essentially correct with regards to social decay. I have heard about social decay since I was in child in the late 70's and, yet, we have had enormous technological and economic growth since that time. This simply would not be possible in a society that was truly declining.

Posted by: kurt9 on December 5, 2008 12:02 PM

Well, yeah, T, as a matter of history I think you're right -- that's a great comment, in fact. But if the Greatest Generation, who were one of the most "dutiful" generations ever in their way, really were disillusioned and unhappy with the narrowness of their adult lives, then perhaps there was something to the rejection of their form of adulthood, no?

I'm not sure if a majority of the WW2 Generation were disillusioned and unhappy, or if it was just a vocal minority. I just know if you look at a lot of the popular books of the era, fiction and nonfiction, disillusionment and frustration were definitely sentiments that stuck a chord with a much of that generation. I do believe many of them were indeed dutiful and patriotic and proud, I just think it's a mistake to think all of them by and large were like that, which is something I think the media does when it romanticizes them these days.

It also makes sense why many of them would distance themselves from tradition in raising their kids and overindulge them a la Spock. After seeing so many atrocities up close and the memory of WW2 being fresh in their heads, there probably was a sentiment among many of them that the old traditional ways of life failed to a degree if they could lead to a global disaster like WW2.

I really, REALLY recommend the movie Man in the Gray Flannel Suit with Gregory Peck. It's a largely autobiographical movie and it really surprised me in illustrating as fenster moop points out in his comment above that many of the narcissism, traditions and anticonformist values we associate with the 60s and hipsters were already percolating and building with their WW2 era parents.

Posted by: T. AKA Ricky Raw on December 5, 2008 12:04 PM

What idea do you have, Clarence?

Since you are a Roissy fan, I gather you are living in your Mommy's basement.


That appears to be where all the alpha giants who read Roissy reside. In between playing video games and whacking off, I gather that Roissy readers are killer pickup artists. What could be more attractive to the women than zits and a romp on Mommy's couch?

I'm in the mood for exchanging insults this morning. Keep it up.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on December 5, 2008 12:07 PM

I think the social conservatives are way off base with regards to societal decline.

almost all the big "social decline" indicators either dropped in the 90s and early 2000s -- everything from crime rates to divorce to out-of-wedlock births. The decline seems to have stopped now, but in general it's hard to make the case for social decline over the last two decades.

However, I think this economic recession is going to be really bad. It may rewrite a lot of assumptions. Today's jobs report was seriously scary.

Posted by: MQ on December 5, 2008 1:26 PM

I feel like my brain must have shorted out for a few minutes. I thought the posting and comments were about the elements that went into "the '60s." Instead some of us are arguing about whether there has been social decline since the '90s. What did I miss? Not that social-decline-since-the'90s is a bad topic, it isn't. But how did we get from "what caused the '60s?" to this?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 5, 2008 1:57 PM

Last night I got a call from the Daughter Unit. She was talking about family, mostly based on a recent conversation she’d had with one of her cousins about family dynamics and the holidays. They were both expressing thanks for the relative functionality, love, respect, and focus on values beyond those that can be measured purely by economics that they find on the White side of their family trees. The Daughter Unit also talked about how she and a friend have discovered that they need to make clear early on in budding friendships and romances that (1) they are very committed to their families and (2) that their parents remain happily married.

Now, I fully expect the Shouting One will make snide comments about supposed halo polishing, etc., but I bring this up to make the point that, as a quintessential Boomer who came of age in the Sixites, I don’t particularly buy the notion that we were or are “genuinely self-centered, spoiled brats”. I see the Sixties as a time in which the ideals of past generations got compared to the reality of the moment and efforts were made to bring reality closer to those ideals, and/or to revise those ideals found wanting. And, as other comments have noted, this was historically true in many other decades over the centuries (e.g. 1920s and 1890s) and not some singular abberation.

If I read the Shouting One’s first comment correctly it appears his father and grandfather taught him that “black people embodied innate negative characteristics.” This is not what I was taught by my father, quite the opposite in fact. My views are mostly in synch with those my father held. Oh, we had our disagreements and his personality was such that we butted heads often, but on most fundamentals I am very much his heir. So, if my views on civil rights and the equality of blacks, women, gays, etc. are consistent with what I learned from my father does that make me a rebel or a traditionalist? Certainly I find misguided the Shouting One’s nostalgia for a time when white men were men, black men were boys, gay men were targets outside the closet, and women were supposed to honor and obey … quietly … from the kitchen.

Returning to the Daughter Unit’s observations, she noted that among the friends she has the families she knows that are the most functional, most committed to one another, and least likely to have had divorces are those in which the parents were (or are) “hippies.” It is among the first round of post-Boomers, the Yuppies, that she finds the most dysfunctional and broken homes.

Now, I know more than a few casualties of the Sixties, individuals who dropped one too many tabs of one or another illict drug or who became lost in serial sexual conquests without any emotional connections, but I believe that good outcomes have outweighed the bad overall.

And, again, if you want to answer the question of "what caused the sixties" I think you need to look at the dynamic between demographics and capitalism.

Posted by: Chris White on December 5, 2008 4:01 PM

I don't think that one can pick out a simple cause for the phenomena of the 60's. The big ideas of the Sixties were floating around in Western Society, especially in the artistic circles, for most of the early part of the 20th century. What really amazes me, is the high regard that Communist ideas enjoyed in the the 1930's, especially amongst the arty and left political types. The New Dealers were remarkably sympathetic to the commies, Roosevelt cut Stalin a lot of slack even before WW2.

I think people today forget that the Spanish Civil War was perhaps more polarising to Western Intellectuals than the Vietnam war. Lots of Americans actually volunteered to fight for the Communists, so great was the attraction to the idea. Small groups of people actually left the USA to live in Russia thinking it was a better society than the USA during the Depression. Orwell's vignettes of English society in the 30's, really surprised me. I had no idea that amongst the smart set, Socialism had such strong and widespread support.

Many of these fellow traveler's shaped the post war cultural milleau. They occupied academic positions and were also widely admired by academics. Previously, university education was afforded only to a few, but with the massive expansion of post war higher education through the G.I Bill, etc, they were perfectly positioned to influence culture. They could be said to be in the right place at the right time, and hence had a profound influence.

In Kubrick's film Lolita(1962), swinging is mentioned in a way that suggests that it wasn't confined to small religious cult, and in Sidney Lumet's Fail safe(1964), one of the actresses is seen trying to give Walter Matthau a blow job, (his response is very interesting), this is all before Vietnam, when we were all meant to be so uptight. As you say, a lot of this stuff was present in Western Culture before the Sixties. But till that point it seemed to be confined to the indulgent rich and the arty types, the democratisation of higher education enabled the rot to spread.

There where lots of other factors, but easy access to higher education controlled by the arty types,and material affluence which insulated one from the stupidity of their actions, came together in the Sixties. The stars were all in alignment.

Posted by: slumlord on December 5, 2008 4:33 PM

"Certainly I find misguided the Shouting One’s nostalgia for a time when white men were men, black men were boys, gay men were targets outside the closet, and women were supposed to honor and obey … quietly … from the kitchen."

Chris, you are one of the most godawful specimens I've ever encountered.
You have absolutely no redeeming qualities. You are a completely useless human being.

Have you ever considered having your brain checked for worms? I've heard that your condition is often caused by parasitic infestations.

Those stories your father told you Chris, about how awful other white men are... that was sick shit Chris. Your father had the same disease you've got.

Other white men aren't devils, Chris. That was a psychological problem your dad had... and he passed it on to you.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on December 5, 2008 5:14 PM

There where lots of other factors

Should be

There were lots of other factors

No matter how much I proof read......:(

Posted by: slumlord on December 5, 2008 5:25 PM

There where lots of other factors

Should be

There were lots of other factors

No matter how much I proof read......:(

Posted by: slumlord on December 5, 2008 5:52 PM

re: Chris W comment:

the old hippie/yuppie continuum . My kingdom for a more categorically expansive universe to dream on.

Posted by: playrink on December 5, 2008 6:54 PM

I categorically pooped my pants.

Posted by: Ibod Catooga on December 5, 2008 9:12 PM

ST - When ARE you going to take that reading comprehension course? To NOT believe that “black people embod[y] innate negative characteristics” does NOT equate with believing "other white men are devils." That is only your own inability to get beyond simplistic dichotomies misleading you.

Posted by: Chris White on December 5, 2008 10:11 PM

Is ST's obsession with Chris White some kind of homo-erotic reaction formation or what? It's by far the most fascinating element in these comments!

Posted by: Sister Wolf on December 6, 2008 2:14 AM

TV was a mirror which allowed youth to see themselves. Being publicly visible was tantamount to being legitimate. Thus, for the first in history, youth culture was a plausible alternative to adult culture. Blame TV.

Posted by: steve on December 6, 2008 2:17 AM


This fag hag - gay guy threesome thing is really eating at you.

Try craigslist. That's what it's for. The guys will probably spring for the motel room.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on December 6, 2008 1:02 PM

Lots of theories, who knows, I'll throw out one simpler theory, as I know this is why I felt a bit entitled in the 60's. It started in the 50's with "duck and cover", the drill of preparing for inevitable Armageddon -- duck and cover your eyes so that you won't see the light from the blast kills you. Of course they didn't quite explain it that way. It left us all with the sense that all life could cease in an instant and it could happen an instant from now -- so, get in as much life as can as quickly as you can. Think of yourself because there is the real possibility that there is no future for anyone. The previous mantra of protecting women and children,of self sacrifice for the protection of others didn't matter anymore because we would all be gone at the same time. Indulge yourself, alcohol, drugs, sex -- it didn't matter any more because "duck and cover" had conditioned us to be pessimistic, that there may not be a future in the future.

Posted by: Dan Lewis on December 6, 2008 1:11 PM

Rather than focus on the 1960's generation, I'm more concerned with how today's absurdly overprotected children are going to fare as teenagers and young adults. Not having Mommy and Daddy infantilize them long after they've ceased to be infants is going to require quite some adjustment. If you've never been let out of the house alone, despite being nearly a teenager, lest you be brutally ass raped by some drooling ten-inch child molestor, you'll be hopeless unprepared to venture out on your own.

Posted by: Peter on December 6, 2008 1:41 PM

Dan Lewis: I'll throw out one simpler theory, as I know this is why I felt a bit entitled in the 60's. It started in the 50's with "duck and cover", the drill of preparing for inevitable Armageddon[...]

Indulge yourself, alcohol, drugs, sex -- it didn't matter any more because "duck and cover" had conditioned us to be pessimistic, that there may not be a future in the future.

Don't buy it, Dan. Alleged childhood fears of nuclear war (nuclear winter, population explosions, global warming, etc.) are ex post facto adult rationalizations. A kid who survived Hiroshima would be traumatized by the idea of nuclear attack, yes. But concrete-minded children, who have experienced only security and comfort, are not traumatized by what to them can only be highly abstract notions. In fact, even adults who've known mostly material comfort and only minor-league insecurity, who've never got up-close and personal with real hunger, want, and danger, don't really develop any visceral sense of mortality until they're nigh on to middle-age.

Back in the day, I used to laugh at my "nuclear freeze" friends, earnestly invoking The Children, who were allegedly lying awake in tears of terror night after night, waiting for the big blow. Well, maybe if their neurotic parents worked very hard at it, they could freak the tots out, but in general, no. The nation's children, if they were anxious, were being made anxious by the usual concrete, perfectly understandable perps - parental job loss, poverty, divorce, schoolyard bullies.

Please. People didn't feel entitled to indulge themselves in the '60s - and remember, not everybody did - because the '50s were saturated with fears of Armageddon. The city walls were not falling, the barbarians were not invading, the day of wrath was not at hand. As a matter fact, it was a time of prosperity and security for most Americans. It's not that the possibility of nuclear annihilation didn't exist, it's that nuclear annihilation is not really conceivable - not even to posers and doomsters. It's hard to think of an era less imbued with "for tomorrow we die". "Entitlement" is not a word one associates with the lives of the truly endangered, living passionately on the brink, now, is it? Rather, it is a word applied to the fat and happy, who indulge because they can. It is the nature of the fat and secure, not the threatened, to feel entitled.

Posted by: Moira Breen on December 6, 2008 3:22 PM

Moira, I think you might be too quick in dismissing Dan's point. I can't say it led to the 60s, but I remember vividly the kind of back-of-the-mind feeling he describes, although it was in my teenage years in the late 70s. It had an effect on a lot of people. It didn't lead me to a hedonistic lifestyle but I did take it for granted that the world could vaporize at any moment.

And who knows, there's still time yet!

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on December 6, 2008 6:57 PM

Thank you, ST. Craigslist. Good to know.

Now, can you explain all this contempt for the 60s and those who enjoyed that era? What exactly is the trigger for this resentment? Anyone?

Posted by: Sister Wolf on December 6, 2008 10:27 PM

I think the contempt comes from how the boomers acted after the 60s. Managing to be both preachy and money-grubbing is quite a feat. Otherwise who would bother about what happened back then? It would be just another historical oddity.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on December 7, 2008 1:01 AM

"A kid who survived Hiroshima would be traumatized by the idea of nuclear attack, yes. But concrete-minded children, who have experienced only security and comfort, are not traumatized by what to them can only be highly abstract notions"

I wholeheartedly disagree. I grew up in the 80s and literally spent some sleepless nights obsessing over what I felt at the time was the coming nuclear holocaust thanks to the Cold War. Much of it was probably tied to the usual teen angst, but my fear was very real. Of course, survivors of actual tragedies have it much worse.

Posted by: JV on December 7, 2008 1:23 AM

No contempt for the 60's here. I turned 12 in 1960 and other than being a skinny redheaded kid that felt very out of place, I loved the 60's. We had the freedom to do anything and felt empowered to experiment with everything. The cold war was in the back of everyones mind -- our father's were still having nightmares about WWII but feeling very happy to be alive and proud and prosperous. I have to say that the second half of the 60's was a scary time, worry less about the end of the world than ending up dieing in a rice paddy but if you were safe in the USA it was easy to compartmentalize the rest and enjoy life.

Posted by: Dan Lewis on December 7, 2008 12:44 PM

Thank you, Todd. That makes sense.

But you know, I've come across people who have stuck to their 60s ideals...basically, old hippies who still smoke pot and haven't 'sold out' in order to advance a career or amass money. And they're usually a little creepy.

So how does a child of the 60s earn respect? By recanting everything they claimed to believe in, or what?

Posted by: Sister Wolf on December 7, 2008 9:49 PM

One thought occurs: why are we even still talking about the sixties? Whatever the merits or demerits of that decade, the decade itself began almost 50 years ago.

The hippies? They'll be crowding into the rest homes of the nation stating, oh, about now. That's right: gumming creamed spinach and griping about their Grandkids.

Ranting about hippies now is sort of like...the hippies back in the sixties getting all bunched up about Charleston dancing and bathtub gin - not really relevant to anything currently going on in America.

Posted by: MT on December 8, 2008 2:05 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?