Fifty years ago, on July 21, 1959, Grove Press won permission to publish D.H. Lawrence’s novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” Two days later, G.D. Searle, the pharmaceutical company, sought government approval for Enovid, the birth control pill. These two events, both welcome, were, however, pebbles that presaged the avalanche that swept away America’s culture of restraint and reticence.
That change is recounted by Fred Kaplan, an MIT Ph.D. and cultural historian, in “1959: The Year Everything Changed,” an intelligent book with a silly subtitle. There never has been a year — or a decade, century or even millennium, for that matter — in which everything changed. There are numerous constants in the human condition, including (and because of) human nature. Furthermore, pick a year, any year, in the last, say, 250 and you will find it pregnant with consequential births and battles, inventions and publications that made modernity.
Besides, one reason America got into so many messes after 9/11 was the disorienting mantra that on that day “everything changed.” Still, consider how much 1959 did incubate.
Read the whole thing; it’s a reminder of how much heavy lifting for the Boomers’ most holy of decades was actually done during the “staid, conservative 1950s”, as the cliche goes.
And half a century on, that era doesn’t repeat itself, but elements of it certainly rhyme: Dr. Helen Smith spots an unwittingly puritanical commenter on a news article about former Tennessee Titans quarterback’s grizzly murder claiming that “If McNair could keep his d*** in his pants, he’d be alive today, and that’s a fact” and responds:
Women are murderers too and the men are being blamed for it. A society that believes that McNair and other men had what was coming to them because of their male sex is one that is neither just nor fair. It is just that now, the genders are reversed. Men are the new 1950’s women –but at some point, this will change, as men get wise and quit taking it. Women need to be held responsible for these murders in order to reduce them.
And finally, in Manhattan, with its strange, Max Headroom/Blade Runner/steampunk mixture of old and new technology increasingly reprimitivizing itself under its regressive mayor, an icon from the days of Donald Draper makes a triumphant return.