When I was very young, my family lived in a rural part of north-central Pennsylvania, and in the valleys of the Allegheny mountains, not much reached us. We received three TV stations from an antenna way on top of the mountain, had a weekly newspaper, a movie theater than got films on third release, and a local radio station that signed off at sundown. Walter Cronkite told us the way is was, and gave us the body count for dinner each evening. Thank goodness for AM radio skip at night!
From 1967 to 1971, when I was in my early teens, my family lived in Delaware, and I got a job delivering the Bulletin out of Philadelphia. I read every issue I delivered, front to back, and soaked it all in. I read about LBJ falling victim to his own Vietnam policy, Lt. Calley and My Lai, Commander Bucher and the Pueblo, MacNamara, Christmas cease-fires, the SDS demonstrations, the Weatherman bomb factory explosion, the Chicago Democratic Convention, Abbie "Steal This Book" Hoffman (I had a copy, along with Betty Friedan's book), Patty Hearst and the SLA, the Black Panthers, "Cassius Clay", Jackson State, Kent State, and of course, Woodstock. My daddy marched with Bobby in Wilmington, and my mom was escorted from Delaware State campus by the national guard the day MLK was killed. I hung with the brothers at the seminary on Sunday nights, listening to music of the "Woodstock Nation" and discussing the world around us in dark, incense-filled back rooms. I had hopes that I would grow old in a better world than what we got.
My daughter and I went to see "Bobby" at the movies, and I cried. She looked about the theater at other's reactions and commented that it must be a generational thing.
The 60s shaped everything I do, think and feel. Are our present problems rooted in the 60s? No, I believe our problems are the result of failing to follow through on what was started. Were peace, personal freedom and dignity, ecology and good stewardship of the Earth all just fads, the wasted exuberance of youth? What a sorry group of humans that believes such a thing. Then again, maybe it's the result of a personality defect of a generation -- immediate gratification won out over longer vision. (Is this why our parent are called "the greatest generation"?) Abbie is dead and Jerry Rubin lives on. Alex Keaton became our new hero. We plowed under the corn fields and orchards to put up our McMansions, and now we wonder why the spuge from ConAgra makes us sick. We view the world through the corporate media that has become the centerpiece of our "family" room ("that g*dd*m noisy box," as Jubal Hershaw would say), and wonder why our kids don't know where Arkansas is. We fill our days with distractions, running here and there and obsessing about this celebrity or that object d'jour, and wonder why we don't have enough time to get a good night's sleep. Out "idols" are chosen by phone-in vote and "reality" is unscripted but no less contrived. We hand the presidency to someone we think might be fun to drink beer with and give an academy award to the guy who's seriously concerned about our planet becoming an oven. We don't even WANT to know the body count anymore. Are we insane? What are we spending our lives running from? Do we think that what we can do will make no difference? Is that what we thought in the 60s?
I don't know when the 60s ended; there are so many events that could signal the end. I do believe the spark remains, though. Some of the old hippies are still around, flying under the radar and keeping the faith. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. "By their deeds ye shall know them." Brittany won't sing about it, but Willie might.
I could write a book about this topic. But that's all for now. Do you grok? ;)