Sunday, August 16, 2009

Wasn't There and Don't Care


The US Media is off on another nostalgia binge with the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Nostalgia is for those afraid of the future and intimidated by the past. It's the anodyne substitute for memory.

I was all of 11 when that happened. The 60s were something that happened on tee vee, and didn't affect me much at all at the time. The things from the summer of 1969 that really touched me were the Stonewall riots, and the Moon Landing. The moon mission I followed with enthusiasm at the time. I didn't find out about Stonewall until much later in life.

In retrospect, Woodstock was an end rather than a beginning. It marked the end of the "counter-culture" that began at the end of the 1950s in the streets of San Francisco and New York. It was America's tamer version of the angry and liberating breakout youth culture that followed the First World War in Europe in the 1920s. The carrying on of figures like Timothy Leary and Jerry Rubin were small potatoes compared to what happened in the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich or in cabarets in Berlin, Paris, and London in the 1920s. America's version began with the discovery of blues and folk music by the children of the white middle class. They next did something very middle class. They created their own alternative bohemia to challenge the hypocrisy and conformism of their own class. By the time Woodstock happened, that bohemia had long since become commercially viable product.

As a political revolution, the 60s upheaval in the USA was a wash-out failure. The same people own and run things now who owned and ran things in 1960 (if anything with the demise of organized labor, they are even more powerful now). As a social revolution, it was a major transformation, the fullfillment of expectations created in the course of World War II. The Civil Rights Movement, the second phase of Feminism, the Sexual Revolution, and even the Gay movement, would fundamentally alter most Americans' expectations out of life. The old Victorian conception of the family and home that lingered so long in the USA is now as past as the Middle Ages. The old Victorian conceptions of the hierarchy of race and gender are even more past. Unfortunately, those old Victorian concepts of class hierarchy are making a comeback. America is indeed looking more like Europe, but the Europe of 100 years ago with its entrenched establishments of privilege and rigid divisions of class.

I was too young for the big rebellion (followed by the big sell-out in the 1980s) of the Baby Boom generation. I'm too old for the glamorous despair of Generation X, and for the gadget driven youth culture of Generation Y. I'm from that generation that fell in between the cracks of marketing demographic research, on the cusp between target markets.

I wonder if that sense of expectation that drove early modernity, and which drove all the upheavals of the 60s is still out there. I suspect that it might be, but that the privileged political and economic establishment is afraid of it, and is using nostalgia to distract us. Those angry middle aged white people crashing town hall meetings on health care policy may be the best indication that big transformations are in progress. It is new rising expectations that frighten those people who are so used to winning and to running the whole show.

1 comment:

June Butler said...

I suppose I could have been at Woodstock with the three babies, but it would have been a challenge.

It marked the end of the "counter-culture" that began at the end of the 1950s in the streets of San Francisco and New York.

The so-called "counter-culture" was rather quickly enculturated. However, my disenchantment with and opposition to the Vietnam War began my long slide (or rise?) into my present position on the radical left.