Friday, April 4, 2008

Protest in the 60's and 70's Versus Today: Talkin' Bout My Generation



Earlier this week I received a letter from an intern who worked for us at Jugular Advertising last year. S is from Lafayette College, my alma mater. We both participated in a McKelvy House program there that focused on topical issues. The topic last Sunday was whether and why the 60's and 70's were the gold standard of judgement for protest...while there was less activism from this generation. S asked what my view was. It's below. Take a look at her email at the bottom of the string and then my response (think it's long, but worth it but, hell, I wrote it...I'm biased). It's dedicated to the memory of the remarkably articulate giant of a man Martin Luther King who was assasinated FORTY years ago today. King's speeches are monumental moments in the 20th century New Media of live political television.

Hi S:

I did get this, and I'm not ignoring you. Things are just crazy busy. I wanted to get you a somewhat considered answer.
Funny...I had seen the Friedman article when it originally ran. For some reason, I think his daughter goes/went to Williams.

Here's what I think and feel free to share it with anyone you want down on High Street (McKelvy = the best part of my experience at LC). I really don't think the generations/times are directly comparable at all. They appear to be but there are some tremendous differences.

- When we were in Vietnam there was not a volunteer army like there is now in Iraq. Essentially you would be conscripted unless you had a credible excuse. Most of us did not want to go die in a rice paddy for a questionable "domino theory" which propped up Vietnam way beyond their deserved status. So...we were personally motivated to convince the government not to send us off to die. And we were loud and noisy about it. Lots of us. And our girlfriends too.

- We were in the midst of a remarkable period of political assassination that rivaled the Roman republic (John Kennedy on 11/22/63...the day that defined my generation I believe). More unbelievably, the murders of Robert Kennedy (6/6/68) and Martin Luther King Jr. (4/4/68...MY, MY 40 years ago Thursday) in the spring of 1968 LESS than two months apart. Robert Kennedy was an enormous loss at the worst time. Gunned down the night of his victory in the '68 California primary, he would have been the Democratic Presidential nominee. In November he would have blown Nixon away. He represented the last best hope of my generation in so many ways. Even more than his brother. Clearly anti-war. Clearly Kennedy charismatic. Clearly the guy who chased the Mafia as Attorney General in JFK's cabinet (many people asked then, and now, were JFK and RFK both mob hits?). The result: massive disappointment, rage and a desire among students to take political action.

With Bobby's death, as I look back now, I believe the college population rose up to bear his standard as the most vocal critic of the war was gone and a fairly united student body had to carry the torch. The rage spilled out in the streets of Detroit, LA, and at the Republican and Democratic conventions that summer (read Norman Mailer: Miami and the Siege of Chicago). Way beyond the Pentagon March in '67 (read Mailer's The Armies of the Night, the best book ever written about protests during the period).

As a sidebar Mailer sat in that tiny room (my room) at the top of the back steps on the third floor of McKelvy. He needed some quiet time to focus for a Colton Chapel talk in October of '03. The subject: the Watergate break-in which led to Nixon's resignation. So he haunts the damned place.

- The soundtrack of '65-75 is also a critical difference. Yes...you have "Intervention" by Arcade Fire now and I watched 20,000 energized people sing along with their Bush/Iraq protest anthem last October at Randall's Island. But from Dylan to Country Joe and the Fish to the Dead to The Beatles to virtually every band....you found songs of protest. So you sat in your room with your friends and listened...carefully. And many took action.

- The broad prevalence of drugs was another element of the mix certainly--amazingly prevalent then as now. But, as narcotics they changed the protesters mental and physical state freeing them to take action with less forethought, There was also (and I always point this out cause it humanizes things) an element of let's get high and go to the protest and have some fun. Let's act out...let's jump in some bushes...let's hassle the ROTC guys. Let's stir up some trouble. Doesn't everyone like to, especially at 18 or 19? That can't be ignored. Funny, I pointed this out when invited back to McKelvy in 1981 or 1982 to discuss this very topic of the 60s in the living room. I remember sitting under the fireplace.

So...wow...your question certainly touched a chord. This could be a thesis and plenty have been written on this topic. But hope that helps you out. Let me know what you think. My advice...you're in 2008 and have to protest wildly different issues. You'll just have to do it in an equally engaged manner that's appropriate for today.

Write back sooner than three months later. What are you doing this summer? And GO to see Salmon Rushdie tomorrow night...I was hoping to come up but don't think I can find the time, unfortunately.

Best,
Scott

Scott Lackey
Co-Founder & Strategic Director
Jugular
260 W 39th St.,18th Fl. I New York, NY 10018


On Mon, Mar 31, 2008 at 12:02 AM s@lafayette.edu> wrote:
Hey Scott,

There was a McKelvy discussion tonight titled, "Talkin 'Bout My Generation" which was mainly about how my generation perceives itself and how previous generations perceive us. From the comments made it was obvious that college students from the 60s and 70s were being held as the gold standard for how politically active my generation ought to be. As a former McKelvy student, I wondered if you had any thoughts on my generation's activism versus those of McKelvy's past. Below there is a link to an article from the times that started this whole discussion if you're interested.

Sorry it took me so long to respond to your previous email but your question about coming back to Lafayette stumped me. Coming back here after everything I learned and experienced was scary and incredibly difficult. After a few weeks back, I started to remember all the valuable things the school has to offer and started to readjust to living on a college campus. Gloria Steinem came to visit and I had the chance to meet her which helped. And since I finsihed all my requirements, I am free to take any course I want next semester.

In other news, Jugular made it back on the home page as a slide show this time. Hope all that publicity is going good for business. Oh, Tell Jeff I said hello if you get the chance and good luck with the intern search.

Sincerely,

S

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/10/opinion/10friedman.html

6 comments:

K. said...

Sixties rock music was inherently radical because it was such a departure from anything that had preceded it. Also, soul had a political streak. Most critically, both forms benefitted from a common distribution media -- AM radio -- that brought millions of young people in touch with radical politicized music that also had broad popular appeal. Today, rock is inherently conservative -- it's an extension of what the Sixties brought forth. It's also fragmented into innumerable subgenres, so it's difficult for any one band or singer -- much less a wide swath of them -- to reach a mass audience. And, of course, AM radio is all sports, news, and right-wing political ranting. In short, the cultural infrastructure necessary for music to be part of a mass movement doesn't exist. It's hard to conceive of there ever being another generational soundtrack of any kind, much less one as radical and politcal as Sixties' music.

Scott Lackey said...

Thanks, k. for expanding on the musical aspects of the entry. Excellent, and important contributions. I'd also add the influence of the birth of FM rock stations in '67 and '68. Most notably, WNEW FM in my city, New York, which debuted on October 31st 1967. And KSAN in San Francisco, born in 1968. The FM format allowed a new breed of cool, quiet DJs to play longer form music: think The Doors' "Light My Fire" and numerous Grateful Dead's "Goin' Down the Road Feelin Bad." Many of these songs formed the soundtrack of the generation you reference.

Azure Islands Designs said...

Impressive response...brings back memorys! H

Scott Lackey said...

Hi Azure Islands Design: thank you so much for your comment. Appreciate it. Great jewelry and beautifully shot,

Lisa411 said...

...Bonus Link

Anonymous said...

Modern mainstream music is just not nearly the same as it was in the 60's and 70's. There are some good bands out there, but they are few and far between and not very popular. It is sad to see that the people of recent generations and of generations to come will never get to experience the greatest genre of music ever to come. ROCK AND ROLL!!!!