Back to the Sixties

June 2, 2014

thesixtiesIt was a decade in which so much happened we could hardly keep up with it.

Vietnam. Women’s liberation. Civil rights. Assassinations. The moon walk. The air was electric with possibility. Change. And the development of television as a way to bring it all into our homes, up close and personal.

The new CNN series, The Sixties, speeds us back in time and then walks us through just how momentous a decade it was, socially, scientifically and politically. I’m a sucker for anything 60s, so this show was tailor-made for me.

Diahann Carroll as Julia in 1969, the first black woman to star in her own series.

Diahann Carroll as Julia in 1969, the first black woman to star in her own series.

Television was the subject of the first show, and rightly so, because it came of age in the 1960s. That was the last decade in which advertisers held tight control over content. Petula Clark, the singer, told a story about singing a duet with Johnny Mathis on her variety show and holding his arm as they sang. Advertisers pre-screened the show and objected vehemently to the interracial touch. Only a touch! She held her ground, and it was one more sign that times were changing. Performers like her and others—Diahann Carroll in Julia, Bill Cosby as one of the leads in I Spy and of course, the first televised interracial kiss between Lt. Uhuru and Capt. Kirk on Star Trek—these performers and TV writers pushed the envelope of the times.


The historic kiss.

The Smothers Brothers’ social and political commentary was blatant—the network thought they were getting clean-cut, blazer-wearing folk-satirists but they got more than they bargained for, including a ditty satirizing themselves. Here’s an interview with them about why their show was cancelled:


On today’s broadcast networks we have talking heads—no, make that screaming heads—blatantly delivering messages of hate and intolerance as well as ugly insults. Where are those network censors now? Oh, how times have changed.

dogs on protesorI don’t remember seeing dogs being set upon civil rights protestors at the time, but I’ve seen footage of it many times since and it always shocks me. Law enforcement sprayed the crowd with hoses and imagine! They actually did set DOGS on protestors. It was a revolting scenario. You’d think it would’ve shocked more people out of their prejudice. But not as many as should have been.

When I see this four-minute clip of footage from Alabama it never fails to bring tears to my eyes:

Television brought into our homes the violence at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Who could forget the chant, “The whole world is watching!” Of course, what that got us was Richard Nixon. But still, it was another glaring example of the ugliness of the status quo.

Here’s a short clip of the violence in Chicago.

As a respite from the vile things going on in the world, shows like The Flying Nun, Beverly Hillbillies, Laugh In and all the various Westerns took us to a more innocent and silly place. Shows like Hogan’s Heroes would never get green-lighted today, and given our modern values, the theme of American POWs in a Nazi camp seems bizarre, doesn’t it?

But programs like the Twilight Zone and Star Trek managed to both entertain and give contemporary social messages reflecting the times.

Television of the 1960s reflected the shift in attitudes that was going on and, in my opinion, accelerated that shift by showing it to us in our own living rooms.

Talking about the show afterwards, M said that he wouldn’t want to go back, that he liked where we were now. But my opinion is different.

The 1960s may have been the last generation in which there was something left to explore in college and after. Today’s young people seem to be far more materialistic than we were. I see apathy and so much entitlement among them. Kids are jaded before they leave high school.

1960s_6If given the chance, I’d go back to my life in the 1960s and do my own life all over again, just as it was. The whole thing. I say this with full understanding that had I been a student trying to integrate a college or a civil rights protestor being hosed or threatened, I’d feel differently. But in this fantasy, I can only come from my life experience.

I loved the electricity that was in the air and being part of a changing society. I loved coming of age in that environment and I can see how what I saw and experienced helped me formulate my own views, which were vastly different from those of my parents.

I wonder how the young people of today will remember this decade and what will stand out for them. I can’t even imagine.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

45 comments on “Back to the Sixties
  1. Yep! I remember many of those shows! Loved Star Trek.

  2. Ahhh, thanks for the memories! Mostly all I cared about in the late 60s was my jade green Mustang and a beach blonde haired boy!! It is good to remember what important things were happening in the world.

  3. Ryder Ziebarth says:

    I was politically on the cusp of really understanding the Vietnam war, which ended my senior year of high school. We protested, but I am not sure I knew what exactly I was protesting about, other than the loss of my friends brothers and relatives. I did not understand LBJ’s politics back then. I do remember JFK’s shooting; and the civil rights movement-to show solidarity, we had a black child from Newark stay with us for the summer, but she was afraid we would bath her in clorox and she’d turn white. Her name was Queen Esther Cook.She went home after 10 days. Flower Power was fun for decorating with stickers, and TV was wonderful-The Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Mickey Mouse Club,Green Acres, Petticoat Junction,the Wonderful World of Disney,The Ed Sullivan Show, featuring that famous night of Beatle mania. The music was amazing–my mother loved it too–and we’d dance at home, and sing all the way home in the car from school. to the Cousin Brucie Show. My father preferred Rambling with Gambling on WOR radio 77. I also remember polio sugar cubes given at the local elementary school. Those are the first few memories of the 60’s that pop directly into mind. Great Post ,Carol.

  4. I was born in 1965 and have always been so interested in this decade. But what really surprises me is how much my son, 15, has always been drawn to it as well. Thanks for a great post!

  5. This is outstanding Carol! I wasn’t born until 1970 but I have always loved the sixty’s better than any other decade. The music, the TV shows and the fight for equality! You brought it altogether in an amazing way that puts it all into perspective. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. My husband and I watched the show and it was really fascinating. We were both born in the 60s, so we have no personal memories of many of the significant events (he has more than me, being 5 years older). We both greatly enjoy watching and talking about the series.

  7. Laura Kennedy says:

    I respectfully point out the possibility that the kids you know are not representative of all kids. One of the pitfalls of growing older is the tendency to dismiss “the kids of today,” as our parents did.

    “Why can’t they be like we were/ Perfect if every way/ What’s the matter with kids today?” That’s from Bye Bye Birdie, which came out in 1963!

    Look around a little more. The Kids Are Alright.

    • Yes, I can see that. I do know a cross section of kids /young adult sin the US and most do seem to feel entitled. I am open to thinking I don’t know how all kids are. However, I think your kids and their cohorts may be an exception.And exceptional. All of your kids, since I’ve met them all.
      I do think that some Calif. kids raised in aware households (and maybe going to Waldorf schools) have way different traits and characteristics. The majority of the country’s kids don’t have those advantages. I do think there’s way more apathy and ennui than in our generation, which I think is probably the opposite of what my parents thought about our generation. LOL

  8. I loved growing up in the 60’s and 70’s Carol. Life was electric and yet kids were still goofy kids. I know for sure, I wouldn’t want to be a kid again now.

  9. Carey Giudici says:

    I’m proud and fortunate to have been one of the one percent of American who refused to fight in Vietnam as a Conscientious Objector.

    Hippies were pretty conformists at heart, but hidden among them were oddballs like my mother and the network of her friends, who refused to toe anybody’s line and were open to anything.

    Social media makes it possible for people to sound like non-conformists without risking anything. People in the 60s could (and sometimes did) risk everything for the sake of a dream. In that sense we were a lot more like the patriots who founded America than the current generation.

    Baby boomers today have the power and numbers to shake things up again. All we lack is the will.

  10. Karen says:

    I remember so much of this, Carol–have to laugh at that shot of Kirk and Uhuru, as he kind of looks like he’s thinking about his next soliloquy. 🙂

    I do agree with Laura that “kids these days” have a lot more depth than we sometimes give them credit for. Many of them are just as idealistic and engaged as we were…they just channel it differently. And keep in mind that while the activists of the 60s made the headlines, they really only represented about 10% of the youth population–the rest were pretty much “along for the ride.”

  11. Haralee says:

    I caught a glimpse of the show and it is fun to look back. I grew up in MA where politics was a daily conversation. The Nixon administration was not well received when I was in school and college. There was a social and cultural change in the 1980’s that seems to me made fun of some of the 1960’s intensity without truly acknowledging the leaps and achievements that were made.

  12. pia says:

    Great great post! I wanted to be old enough to participate in Freedom Summer. My parents actually almost barred the door so I couldn’t go to Chicago. Later my mother would cry anytime something came on TV about the convention, call me and say “it could have been you. you could have been killed or worse.” (Worse in my family is always brain damage.)
    I was the only person in my high school allowed to go to the 1967 Moratorium in DC. My father an intellectual Archie Bunker was proud that I had strong beliefs. Our class trip to DC was a few weeks later and the tour guide dissed all the people who went to the moratorium. My classmates actually stood up for me–and I had to stop pretending to hate them (long story.)
    I began college in 1968 and my life truly began.
    My birthday was on the day the astronauts landed on the moon and my boyfriend stood me up (actually he was parked across from my house throwing up–scared to meet my parents–but I didn’t know that then.)
    So the night of the moon walk I was like Sally in Mad Men but worse. While the whole world was celebrating my father and I were fighting. I never told him he was right but I think he knew
    In my first college reunion facebook page–just friends–we have the 1970 orientation film that fixates on Kent State which technically wasn’t the 1960’s but I think decades begin and end when an important event happens–so I think it lasted until Nixon resigned. I should put the film in my blog.
    My almost 20 year old niece thinks I’m the coolest person because I did so much in the 1960’s. She loves that decade too. I love her generation. They care.

  13. kim tackett says:

    I remember for my 13th birthday all I wanted to do was drive through Haight Ashbury (we were on summer vacation, near SF). We did…with the doors of our family station wagon locked!

    I have been lucky enough to witness first hand the concerns and passions of 19 and 20 year olds. They care about gay rights, the environment, social justice and poverty. They are also figuring out how they will pay back their college loans, and if there will be jobs for them when they graduate. My daughter and her friends still fight for equal rights, and she’s preparing herself for (hopeful) acceptance into the Peace Corps when she’s out of school. I think they are smart, concerned and connected, and I believe they will make a difference, in their own way.

    Thanks for such a deep and thoughtful post.

    • I’m in the Haight all the time now but back them it WAS exotic. You know, many of us had student loans to repay too, although I’m not sure in those dollars it was as huge a sum, although it might be. You know, maybe socio economic status is one key factor that makes the difference in how kids are today and I wonder what others might be.

  14. Ruth Curran says:

    What a great trip down Memory Lane Carol! We seem to remember what left the deepest, personal marks and forget the rest, don’t we? For me, growing up outside of Chicago, the late ’60s were filled with the political unrest and rumblings rolling across the county and bubbling up in my backyard — literally my backyard. My mom was very political and hosted so many meetings. I remember sitting on wall listening to the debates…. Crazy.

  15. Lana says:

    What a great piece! I’ve always thought the 60’s were such a fascinating decade – I was born in 1967 so my actual experience is a bit limited. I will have to check this series out. I do agree that kids today are more materialistic – but unfortunately it seems that is true for our society in general.

  16. I feel like people who were young in the late 60s and early 70s had all the fun. By the 80s it was all just say no and worrying about AIDS.

  17. Ellen Dolgen says:

    Thanks for taking me down memory lane! So many happy and sad times….all part of the circle of life!

  18. I hadn’t heard of this series, but now I really want to check it out. One of the reasons I’ve loved watching Mad Men is imagining that decade (in which I was a child) from an adult’s point of view — like your post also makes me do.

  19. Mark Fine says:

    Feel fortunate to have experience the creative energy of the 60s. Though living in South Africa at the time–where TV was non-existent–things like “The Flying Nun” were unknowns. But recall with great affection Petula Clark’s “Downtown” and her definitvie interpretation of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.” I felt so positive about the music from this era, that when my son received an iPod as a gift, I stocked it up with “superior music” (in my opinion) from this era. Glad to say he now has impeccable music taste…and has little patience for hip-hop, grunge, and music of similar ilk.

  20. My husband and I were in the classroom in the 60’s. It was wonderful and terrible at the same time. I stood in the classroom trying to understand how JFK could have been shoot. My husband taught very difficult classes during the Vietnam Era. The adults in that community did not understand when he tried to teach the involvement is the only way to bring about change. I did love the Smother’s Brothers but I hated the violence and uncertainty.

    Thank you for posting this Carol.


  21. Born at the height of the Baby Boom, 1957, I was a child of the 60s. Those iconic scenes you highlight are truly seminal. But to those of us who were kids in the 1960s, they were all just part of life. I think that is why the Later Born Baby Boomers, or Late Boomers, were shattered when the world we believed existed, because of televison coverage , not only did not come to fruition, but began to be torn down by the purportedly moral majority, Ronny Rayguns, and uber-conservative fundamentalists.

  22. All of this brought back so many memories. I forgot all about Julia — I used to love that show! And I totally agree — there was something electric about the 60’s and a real sense of possibility that doesn’t seem to exist any more. People were willing to fight for what they believed then. Now there’s such a sense of apathy and more of a sense of hopelessness which makes me sad.

  23. Roz Warren says:

    Thanks for the blast from the past. Reminds me of a poster I saw: I MAY BE OLD BUT I GOT TO SEE ALL THE COOL BANDS.

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