Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Forty years on

Thinking about the 1960s, and the social revolution that
took place in countries like New Zealand anyway.
Actually, the kinds of changes that swept Britain, France,
Germany and the United States in the late 1960s didn’t
really kick in here till the early 1970s. But they followed
the same arc, which went, roughly speaking, from “She
loves you, yeah yeah yeah” to “Man, you should have seen
them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.” Janet Malcolm puts it
well in The Silent Woman when she writes that the 19th
century "came to an end in America only in the 1960s;
the desperate pretense that the two World Wars had left
the world as unchanged as the Boer War had left it was
finally stripped away by the sexual revolution, the
women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the
environmental movement, the Vietnam War protests.”
Malcolm, born in 1934, says she came of age “in the
period when the need to keep up the pretense was
especially strong: no one was prepared—least of all the
shaken returning GIs—to face the post-Hiroshima and
post-Auschwitz world.” Former radio show producer
Johnny Douglas, interviewed today by Jim Mora on
Radio New Zealand National, reminded us of how the
old NZBC tried to hold the line by banning from airplay
not just songs considered improper for sexual reasons
but songs that appeared to treat God with insufficient
respect (“One Hundred Pounds of Clay” by Gene
McDaniels) and even songs that simply objected to war
(“Universal Soldier” by Donovan and “Eve of
Destruction” by Barry Maguire). The pretence began to
shatter with John F Kennedy’s assassination and the
subsequent rise of youth music culture but it was the
Vietnam war that really broke it into little pieces. It was
one thing to grow up in the 50s and 60s knowing that
the previous two generations had fucked up badly
(world wars, the great depression, the Holocaust, atomic
bombs) but to see them doing it again in our adult
lifetimes was the clincher. The American war on
Vietnam was so manifestly idiotic, and such a monstrous
manifestation of male chauvinism and Western
imperialism, that the dam finally burst. Through it
poured all those revolutions and movements of which
Janet Malcolm speaks.

Social mores certainly changed dramatically in the 70s,
but at a far more fundamental level the economic
equations remained the same—so much so that, as years
go by, it becomes ever more painfully clear that the
money-changers in the temple of capitalism never had
anything to fear from the hippies, dopeheads, music-
lovers and protest marchers whose very self-indulgences
were predicated on social stability and secure incomes.
Did Roger Douglas and the troglodytes of Treasury march
against the Vietnam war or the Springbok tour? I don't
think so. They were busy making other plans, and ensuring
that they had the power to carry them out. Which they did;
while the Left, arms weakened from too much banner-
waving, could only feebly gesture. Moral: always count
your change.


Steve Withers said...

The 1960s and 70s were an interruption to the regularly-scheduled programming.

While the baby-boomers live, that programming will continue to be disrupted, though it has had some success in re-asserting itself. That being said, it's flaws are once again obvious in the failed presidency of G W Bush, in turn creating another generation of people not inclined to drink the kool-aid.

Locally, National's move to dump MMP is one manifestation of the attempts to resume the old ways and neutralise the democracy that enables voices that disrupt the pretenses you refer to.

gnat said...

Do you think there's a generation disgusted with Bush and ready to ignite a new wave of social revolutions (on a par with feminism, civil rights, sexual liberation)? I don't see it, as much I'd love to live in those interesting times.