1962: The Dawn of Modern Pop Culture

In a post yesterday titled "America's Decadent Elite," Stacy McCain writes that the radical transformation of American postwar culture in the 1950s to the mid-1960s would make a fascinating book -- and he's right. Quoting Robert Bork's assertion that the Sixties “brought to a crescendo developments in the Fifties and before that most of us had overlooked or misunderstood," at the apex of his lengthy post, Stacy writes:

Bork’s insight has been stuck in my mind since I first encountered it in the mid-1990s, and the thought of turning it into a book, examining how we went from the Cold War liberalism of Harry Truman to the anti-American radicalism of the 1960s, has been in [my] mind ever since.

What is needed, I think, is not an argumentative polemic, but rather a lively, detailed narrative history of the era, modeled somewhat on the pattern of liberal historian William Manchester’s The Glory and the Dream. The point to be demonstrated is that historical change is not a product of anonymous deterministic forces – trends that are as irresistible as they are impersonal — but rather (a) history results from the ideas and actions of individuals, and (b) the beliefs and choices of leaders have a disproportionate influence on history.

Leaders who make change happen are often not recognized as leaders until after the fact. Prior to 1948, for example, almost no one could have predicted the enormous influence of the work of an Indiana University biology professor named Alfred Kinsey. Nor, for that matter, did anyone prior to 1963 suspect what changes would result from the work of a freelance magazine writer named Betty Friedan. What I have in mind would in some ways be a counterweight to the Left’s class-oriented “social history” and its mechanical, materialistic concepts of change, as well as a rebuttal to the anti-American perspectives of Howard Zinn and other academic leftists.

I found Teachout's article on 1962 as a touchstone year in popular culture via a post at Ricochet by Emily Esfahani Smith. As I wrote in the comments there (on Friday morning, still numb from the then-breaking story of atrocities committed in Aurora, Colorado), purely coincidentally, over the last couple of weeks, I received a refresher course on how dramatically popular culture had changed from the late '50s to the early 1970s via a pair of movies that had been playing as part of a local theater's revival series. Two weeks ago, Nina and I watched Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess's book A Clockwork Orange, which was released to theaters in 1971. Last week, it was Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant's North by Northwest from 1959, arguably the summation of both men's long careers in Hollywood. The West's postwar cultural confidence was overflowing in the latter film, and was completely eviscerated by the time the Kubrick convinced Warner Brothers to back A Clockwork Orange. And Clockwork would be a warning of even more horrors to come. (So much so that Kubrick had the film banned in England while he was alive, after it inspired death threats and reports of copycat violence during its initial run.)

Incidentally, the year that Burgess wrote the book that inspired Kubrick's graphic film?


* The more things change...