Friday, November 11, 2011
God I Hate "The Sixties"
Yes, it's true. I hate "the Sixties."
This is mainly because of what popular culture has done to it. It's all "peace, love, and happiness," tie-die, pot smoking, free love, Jimi Hendrix, and youth culture. While that's a slice of what "the Sixties" was (well, the late Sixties), it was just a small slice, and perhaps not a very important one.
So the first thing I do is un-teach "the Sixties" by showing them Halloween costumes of "the Sixties" from today--flower girls mostly--and say, this is not enough. Then I show them a picture of a certain someone being inaugurated in 1968. Did all those hippies really vote for Nixon? Why would they do that?
Another reason "the Sixties" are difficult to teach is because they are still very much alive. For instance, it's hard not to interpret the presidency of Bill Clinton as a referendum on the period. Did he or did he not inhale (of course he did).
To get past all this, there is the vomit approach--let's spill out everything and show them. A useful website that takes this approach is too monstrous to be useful to the student, but might be useful to the professor looking for lecture material or the advanced undergraduate looking for a research topic.
On the other hand, I've come to see the 1960s as a debate about the meaning and limits of freedom that takes the same narrative form of the 1920s. Lots of cultural change going on with Nixon and "law and order" as the response, a la the Immigration Act of 1924 and the Second Ku Klux Klan. Every parallel has its limits, of course, but teaching "the Sixties" this way repeats a narrative they've already encountered and keeps the larger story intact.
Vietnam comes next. How do you do it?