The Culture of the Mid 60's


On November 22, 1963, the United States received one of the greatest national shocks in its history: President Kennedy was killed. Americans across the country watched the assassination, and the later murder of the accused assassin, on television. In addition to causing many to take a closer, more critical look at their culture and values; the event solidified television's central role in American society. The immediacy of the exposure brought the country together in a state of national mourning. Television also brought news of race riots in New York City and Los Angeles, and of the beginnings of troop escalation in Vietnam.
In 1962, the number five nonfiction bestseller had been Charles M. Schulz's Happiness is a Warm Puppy; three years later, the same slot was filled by Johnny Carson's Happiness is a Dry Martini.
The simplicity of many westerns on television lost its appeal to many viewers, while science fiction programs and spy shows became popular. Television also brought the Beatles into American homes. On February 9, 1964 the group appeared on the "Ed Sullivan Show," beginning the British Invasion with a rash of "Beatlemania." Competing with the Beatles for the top song slots were the elegant Supremes. Motown had groomed the Supremes to bring the Detroit sound to the general public with songs that dwelt on love and avoided the social and political issues of the day.
In the movies, some filmmakers dealt with social and political issues like nuclear war and bigotry. Many, however, focused on comedic romps, romantic adventures, and sentimental plots, which still carried the most weight among moviegoers.
The middle years of the 1960s were full of fads and fashions. The miniskirt, which would become the fashion item of the decade, was introduced in 1964. Discotheques became popular. Men wore longer hair, women wore pants, and the hippie lifestyle was embraced by growing numbers in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Ethnic consciousness grew among African-Americans, spurring some to reject hair and clothing styles that sought to conform to European-American society, choosing natural "afro" hairdos and traditional West African garb. Among younger Americans, the Twist became a fad of the past, replaced by dances like the Watusi. As beach songs and beach movies grew in popularity, "dry surfing," or skateboarding, became a frequent pastime of young people. Interest in the NASA space program and the science fiction television shows increased, causing a futuristic clothing fad. Items included metallic and plastic-like materials, helmet-shaped hats, and calf-length boots.
In science and technology, IBM introduced the System/360 family of compatible computers, and the number of computers in the United States rose from 2,500 in 1958 to 18,00 in 1964. The first fully-automated factory using computerized equipment opened in 1964. NASA launched the Gemini mission, as part of its continued efforts to land an American on the moon. Scientists developed an improved strain of rice, which ushered in the Green Revolution in developing countries. In medicine, the Surgeon General reported a link between smoking and lung cancer in 1964, and soft contact lenses were developed in 1965.
The middle years of the sixties were years of transition from the expectations to realities. Although science and technology continued to carry the nation forward, Americans felt a growing disease and alienation from previously-accepted norms of culture and behavior. Popular culture began to question traditions and mainstream approaches, preparing for the outright rebellion of the late sixties.