The Late Sixties



The latter years of the sixties were shadowed by the escalating war in Vietnam, the incomplete success of the Great Society, and a growing militancy in efforts to achieve greater civil rights. The pursuit of sex, drugs, and rock and roll became the preoccupation
of many young people, turned off by the perceived inadequacies of mainstream culture. A counterculture arose, epitomized by the activities of residents of the Haight-Ashbury region of San Francisco. Drawing on 1950s Beatnik themes of alienation, rejection of materialism, and the quest for spiritual fulfillment, the sixties counterculture influenced young people across the country. Even those who did not embrace the entire lifestyle took part with experimentation with drugs and more extensive sexual activity.
The turbulence of the times and the alienation of many Americans were strongly reflected in a wide range of movies, such as The Pawnbroker (1965) and Easy Rider (1969). Violence and horror were depicted more graphically than ever before, in such movies as Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Wild Angels (1966). Heroes became passé, and anti-heroes became protagonists. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) made existential role models out of two amoral outlaws. Even the traditional American Westerns was replaced by more sardonic Italian-made Westerns, called "Spaghetti Westerns," such as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1968). Beach movies like Beach Party (1963) were replaced by more rebellious biker movies like The Wild Angels (1966). Sex and relationships were explored in movies like The Graduate (1968) and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (1969). Issues of race and ethnicity appeared in movies like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1968) and Goodbye, Columbus (1969). Some filmmakers brooded on the unpleasant side of life, such as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) and Midnight Cowboy (1969). Others pondered the future of humankind in movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Planet of the Apes (1968). Despite the introspection in many films, there was still room for the world of camp and zany comedy in movies like Barbarella (1968) and The Producers (1968).
Comedy shows became popular on television, as shows experimented with new ways of entertaining the youthful and increasingly jaded audiences. Sitcoms maintained their appeal, while slapstick and more subtle humor invaded other genres. Although some programs depended on traditional forms of comedy, many introduced racier elements and rapid successions of humorous sound bites. Westerns on television continued to decline in popularity, while more spy shows and police and detective shows were introduced, many of which maintained their popularity into the 1970s. It is ironic that police and F.B.I. agents were portrayed so favorably in fictional dramas, but were seen as oppressive and untrustworthy by many young people and liberal adults. Black actors and actresses made more non-stereotyped appearances on television. Excitement about NASA's advances, culminating in the landing on the moon, contributed to interest in science fiction shows.
The late sixties saw a large number of advancements in science and technology. In 1967, the London Daily Express was transmitted electronically through telephone lines and communications satellites, to be printed in Puerto Rico; the transmission took 15 minutes. Scientists made strides in semiconductor research. A 1968 breakthrough in biochemical research facilitated the later use of genetic engineering. Computers improved in speed and capability. Supertankers were introduced to transport oil. Ecological research revealed more environmentally-abusive industrial and consumer practices, inspiring demonstrations against pollution and the use of herbicides and insecticides. Soviet supersonic jet airliner Tupolev TU-144 broke the sound barrier in 1968, the first time a commercial plane accomplished that feat. The most famous technological event, however, was Apollo 11's moon landing on July 20, 1969, which was televised live to American homes. In the same year, the first microprocessor, Intel 4004, was invented; a scanning electromicroscope was built; bubble memory was developed to allow computers to retain information when turned off; the transatlantic vessel Queen Elizabeth II made its first voyage; and a large ship traveled through the Northwest passage for the first time. The ship was the U.S. ice-breaking tanker Manhattan, and the journey demonstrated that it was possible to transport Alaskan oil to the eastern American states by ship.
New and improved products and services entered the home. The first successful transatlantic direct-dial phone call was made in 1966, and regular telephone service from New York to Paris and London began in 1967. Recordings were improved by the development of a Dolby device to filter out background noise. In 1968, American cars were required to have anti-pollution devices to control emissions because of the newly understood dangers of automobile hydrocarbon emissions. In the same year, Big Macs and quartz watches were first marketed. The earliest models of the quartz watches were priced at about $1,000. The Japanese firm Seiko introduced the first electronic wristwatches in 1969, followed by Pulsar, an American company.
Advances in electronics provided synthesizers and inspired a more electric, metallic sound in popular music. Many folk singers, including Bob Dylan, had already converted from acoustic to electric by the middle years of the decade. Other musicians, such as Simon and Garfunkel, borrowed the acoustic guitar and topical lyrics from folk music, and combined them with driving rhythms and instrumental sounds from rock music. Blues-style rock was performed by many British musicians, including the Rolling Stones and Cream (with guitarist Eric Clapton).
In 1967, British and American musicians entered a new psychedelic sonic landscape with albums like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Beatles), Are You Experienced? (Jimi Hendrix), Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane), The Doors (Jim Morrison and The Doors), and Disraeli Gears (Cream). Although much of this music was produced by brilliant and unique artists, many of these musicians and their fans used mind-altering drugs to produce or enhance these effects. Whereas marijuana had been the most common drug among folk, R&B, and rock musicians, LSD became popular among those of the acid rock, heavy metal, and psychedelic crowd.
Although San Francisco was a major hub for these musical and drug-using activities, increasing numbers of young people across the country emulated aspects of the hippie lifestyle. The hippie lifestyle appeared on television, in the movies, and on Broadway. No where was counterculture so celebrated as at the mass music festivals of the late sixties, culminating in the Woodstock festival in 1969.
Many black musicians continued to explore the possibilities of soul music. Although soul music was popular with black audiences until the 1970s, it never achieved as much general popularity as the music of Motown. Although Motown groups had previously avoided making political statements in music, it became harder to maintain such detachment from the larger events of society. Eventually, they produced songs that dealt with social issues and adopted some Afro-centric styles of dress and hair popular among many African-Americans.
In addition to an increased ethnic conscious in fashions of hair and dress, the pop culture of the late sixties emphasized youth and rebellion even more explicitly than in earlier years. The "face of 1966" was Twiggy, the skinny Cockney model who popularized a unisex, nouveaux flapper look for women. Op art, with its thumb-nosing attitude toward established artistic norms of subject and style, became popular. Cashmere turtlenecks, especially when worn under Nehru jackets, became chic. The mod look of Dutch-boy caps, flamboyant wide ties, silk shirts, and bell-bottomed trousers was the style for men. Many women wore pierced ears, white boots and white stockings, with the more racy donning microminiskirts. Teens wore granny glasses, while the children sported cartoon character watches. All things from the far east, or marketable as eastern, became popular. Americans became fascinated with everything from East Asian clothing to Hindu mysticism. Among the most eager consumers of mysticism were the residents of Haight-Ashbury.
The hippie counterculture came with a uniform: long hair, tie-dyed shirts, jeans, protest buttons, long flowered skirts. Just as the hippie look was considerably more relaxed than prevailing standards, hippie sexual mores were generally looser than those of the general populace. Nevertheless, their actions made an impact on the larger society, changing the role of sex in American society.
One of the most important books of 1966 was Masters and Johnson's Human Sexual Response. It's publication and popularity reflected and contributed to a growing social ease about discussing sex in the public forum, as shown in the more explicit sexual situations described in mainstream novels and bestsellers. Crime novels became grittier, and spy novels continued in popularity. Writers increasingly wrote about ethnic themes and characters from distinct ethnic groups.
; religion and mysticism; Valley of the Dolls (1966) by Jacqueline Susann; Portnoy's Complaint (1969) by Philip Roth; In Cold Blood (Truman Capote, 196?).
Themes of ethnicity, sexuality, alienation, and violence pervaded the popular culture of the late 1960s, reflecting the political and social events of the times. Because of the proliferation of information in the mass media, the activities of socially marginal groups had the power to influence the larger society. Although some of these activities were negative and harmful, the open marketplace for ideas resulted in a rich and diverse popular culture.