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Viewing the 1960s From My 60s

One of our most curious and enduring myths is that the 1960's changed America. But besides the flower children's admirable support for civil rights, just what else did the youth from that decade accomplish?

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April 13, 2008 - 1:29 am

Even though I’m embarrassed to have been a Democrat for so many years, I’m proud that even in my 20′s, I thought the 60′s were the worst decade in America’s history.

Because I was born in 1940, I was at UCLA for some of those years and had a bird’s eye view of my fellow college students. It was not a pretty sight.

What makes that time the source of so much nostalgia for so many people of my age – the incessant folk songs, the tie-dyed shirts and blouses, the granny glasses, the bongs, the infantile anti-establishment content that permeated so much popular culture – made me yawn even then.

The young folks in those days were on the right side of the civil rights movement, but that was the extent of their good works. The anti-war campaign was a charade, having far less to do with pacifism than with lack of courage and discipline. The draft was still going strong and it was fear, not moral principles, which led young men to flee to Canada or to burn their draft cards.

The baby-boomers born in the years after World War II were members of the most coddled generation America had ever seen. From birth, they had been treated like royalty, privileged and spoiled not for any special qualities or accomplishments, but simply because they existed and were their parents’ little darlings.

Nobody should have been too surprised that, as they came of age, they were a religion unto themselves. Their not so holy trinity consisted of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. I never really got a handle on how that made them so special. But gods do not have to explain themselves.

Their favorite line, the one about not trusting anybody over the age of 30, wasn’t just an inane catchphrase. It became the order of the day, not just for those under 30, but those well past it. It wasn’t just wars they got to judge, either, but movies, music, TV shows, books, and politicians. It fell on children to bestow the equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

The fact that they weren’t particularly knowledgeable or even open-minded, except, of course, when it came to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, only added to their mystique. Unlike adults, the thinking went, they hadn’t sold out. What made their bullshit so totally odious was the fact that their elders, for the most part, bought into it. In addition, because they were so lacking in humor, their solemnity was taken for sincerity.

Even back then, I found it disturbing that for the first time in human history, youngsters didn’t want to be adults. Worse yet, neither did adults. As a result, one could almost have sympathized with the contempt the kids felt for grown-ups if it hadn’t inevitably led to contempt for America. It also led to a soft spot in their hearts for any and all of our nation’s enemies, which, at the time, included such arch villains as the Viet Cong, Mao, Che Guevara, Chou En-lai and Fidel Castro.

The prevailing lies were so self-evident that I couldn’t imagine how it was that so many people could be so self-deluded. For instance, there was a great deal of self-serving blather about individualism. But most of those doing the blathering wore identical clothes, listened to the same music, went to all the same movies and mouthed the very same clichés. There was more individualism to be found in a flock of sheep.

Perhaps the biggest lie fomented back then was something called the Free Speech Movement. It was like something taken straight out of George Orwell’s “1984.” The title, alone, would have made Big Brother smirk. The movement, which stretched across America’s college campuses from UC Berkeley to Columbia, consisted of student radicals commandeering offices and classrooms, doing their level best to silence professors and administrators who didn’t buy into their fascistic dogma. Funny how little some things have changed over the years.

Today, the children and the grandchildren of those flower children are also in favor of free speech, but only so long as those speaking share their politics and their prejudices.

Because those radical idiots lacked both reading skills and any semblance of self-awareness, they didn’t realize that they were very much like the totalitarians that Orwell had in mind. When in “Animal Farm,” Orwell’s villainous pig dictator, Napoleon, standing in for Stalin, altered the original battle cry of the barnyard revolution from “all animals are equal,” to “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” he had the Soviet oligarchy in mind.

Unfortunately, it very neatly summed up the thoughts and actions of America’s own youthful swine of the sixties.

Television writer Burt Prelutsky is the author of Conservatives Are From Mars, Liberals Are From San Francisco (101 Reasons Why I’m Happy I Left the Left).

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