This book was recommended to me by my Aunt Jai, my mom’s sister. Without revealing just how young she is, I know through several conversations we’ve had that she has an intimate understanding of the decade and of the revolutionary changes that altered the lives of the generation directly above my own. Like the first book I chose to read, due to its relationship to the President-elect, I thought it would be interesting to read a history of the sixties now that – for the first time – we’ve elected someone who was only nine when the decade ended and was not directly involved in the major events of the period. He is, after all, the first major presidential candidate in some time about whom we haven’t had to wonder what he did during the Vietnam War and whether he behaved patriotically enough.
It is in some way disturbing to think of the lack of education on the sixties that I grew up with. In fact, most of what I know of the sixties I learned from Wonder Years and Bob Dylan, which is good, I guess, but neither are the most reliable source. I think that is common though, coming to understand the sixties solely through music and movies and TV.
Comparisons of pivotal events in the sixties to recent events have begun to take shape, with an unpopular war, a world that accepts turmoil in the world as the norm and lives with the fear of destruction. For those that don’t agree, understand that Saturday and Sunday night in Washington D.C. there were National Guardsmen posted outside the metro with AK-47s. Getting under one’s desk makes you acutely aware of the bomb from the sky, but today, the National Guard (7 years after the attacks) defends us from each other, from the people we interact with every day and live with in our cities. I guess really, though, that comparisons of the sixties to this decade are based mostly on the hyper revolutionary changes – if one were to compare 2000 to 2010, they would see a magnitude of change OR a variety of changes few other decades have seen. Whether it’s revolutionary or Revolutionary, maybe perhaps there is something comparable between these two tumultuous decades.
What the sixties had, though, and what Brokaw illuminates in the way he chooses to give his history, is the Individual and the Leader. The sixties, it seems to me, were the height of the American Individual. Some of this, I guess, is the residue from the establishment of our OR America’s first real ownership society, where people could feel more like independent individuals and go to college to learn different things about the world and it’s history. This coupled with a decade that produced a shocking number of Leaders and more importantly produced and distributed THE medium by which these new Leaders could be more widely heard and more importantly seen. The saying always goes that Tricky Dick would have been President in ’60 if not for TV and Jack Kennedy’s glow through the tube. But really, as Brokaw points out through every mini-bio, every fundamental aspect of the ‘60s was broadcast on one medium and every individual from MLK to Walter Cronkite to Gloria Steinem became famous through television.
For this generation it is New Media that describes us the most, not television, but this media is often so overwhelming and plural that it has created millions of individuals rather than the few World Hisorial Individuals TV could produce (this blog itself is a product and driver of this.) While I, and millions of others, am producing “media”and am feeling like an individual doing so, I ,and others, rely on organizations like Mac, Facebook and WordPress, within whose small, sponsored communities we acquire a local individuality. We understand ourselves, and in fact create identities of ourselves and others, only in relation to these utilities and companies and how we use them. In the end, the book about the revolutions of this decade will be a book about iPhones, Facebook and Blackberrys, not Malcom X, Dylan, and Jane Fonda. We are more aware of media now than people ever were of TV. There are obviously two fundamental things opposing this broad statement: everyone watching towers fall on TV that morning in 2001 and the Che-like t-shirts and posters of Obama. But 9/11 will be known as the last Universal Television Moment and perhaps Barack Obama will be known as the first individual to successfully use (or manipulate, if you prefer) this new media to re-create the individual in our society, someone who we see as above history and not just a product of it.
Of course parts of Boom! emphasize why this new media is so important. TV created these individuals silently, and few acknowledged TV as anything but universal, but things like the Free Speech Movements pointed to and drove the new media of today. Today, Molly can communicate freely and openly with all her students about topics the FCC and current administration would not stand for but over which they have no authority. Just 44 years earlier, the FCC controlled all visual content distributed, and oilmen and bankers controlled the print, upholding their own standards. Many of the people in Boom! articulated the ideas of freedom that fueled the need and purpose of New Media.
Forgetting TV and the new media, it is shocking to think just how many generally brilliant, fascinating and New people came together in this generation. The sheer number of things that HAPPENED is really hard to comprehend. Hearing the roar of cheers outside my apartment at 10 pm EST election night gave me a glimpse of that feeling, as people poured into the streets all over this city. Four weeks from now, the inauguration might be a glimpse as well, but it all seems contrived (well, it’s an inauguration so of course it is), while Boom!, and the personal stories through which it is told, give the sixties a glow of spontaneity both good and bad. If the sixties were a good thing for our country overall, not just in achievements but in life styles and revolutions, then perhaps our understanding of them will prevent us from ever experiencing anything like it again, because everything, even the inauguration in a few weeks, is compared inevitably to something in Boom!