The Sixties: maybe we saw too much

August 20, 2014

The Sixties-JFK assassinationWatching the CNN series on The Sixties, I wasn’t surprised that an entire two-hour episode was devoted to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I’ve seen so many programs on this in the 50+ years since. But this time, I watched it through a different cultural lens.

One thing that struck me was the size of the crowds lined up in Dallas, awaiting a glimpse of the President. JFK captured the imagination of the people in a Hollywood-star kind of way, for sure. And I noticed that most people were doing this:

3eda0befaKids and adults alike were excitedly waving at the president in a way they don’t for presidents today. Nor can I remember a crowd this large for any recent president. I looked at their faces on that old black and white film: They were excited because seeing the President was a big deal. A very big deal. Especially for the kids.

One of the commentators on the program observed.

“People today want to be inspired in that same way.”

I turned to M.

“People today will never be inspired in that same way because people and society have changed so much,” I said. “The Sixties-maybe we saw too much. Today, we’ve become jaded. It takes more to impress us. Our values are different.” And not in a good way.

Consider this:

1950familyBack in the day, this was what families did together. The key word is “together.” They sat together and they spent time together. The innocent past-times of family picnics, playing ball, barbecues in the backyard–that was what the world was like. Lots of interaction between people.

But it’s different, today:


From a young age, children today are taught to live in an electronic bubble: just them, individually, and an electronic device. Isolated. Interaction is primarily electronic: text, email. They look down at a device, not up at one another. They consume media individually, not as a family unit. That’s what we all do now.

And we’ve seen a lot, since 1963. A whole lot.

It’s been a privilege to have a front row seat for so much social change. Back in the 1960s our focus on society as a whole and its evolution was exciting in a way young people today can’t possibly get. We saw the results of black people sitting in at a lunch counter.  Women’s liberation from the constriction of limited roles was huge. The Pill.

There was darkness, too. Our world was shaken we four high-profile people involved in social change were murdered. That shook our lives, too, because we never believed most of the official stories behind them.  We were forced into an up-close view of the horrors of war as Vietnam entered our homes every night on the news.

Meanwhile, the Brits revolutionized music. Not to mention the uptick in the use of drugs for consciousness raising and entertainment. Which has led to a pretty mess.  A president resigned in disgrace. The energy crisis brought forward issues never before considered by mainstream Americans.

And so much more.  Think about it–We saw so much in the Sixties–maybe we saw TOO much.

We’ve seen so much that we think we’ve seen it all and it takes a lot for someone, even the President of the United States, to impress us.

Since 1963 we’ve lost our naivete and our trust.

We’ve become each other’s enemies, polarized beyond imagination.

And our young people idolize celebrities who have no life achievements other than… a sex tape?  Yes, our naivete is long gone.

I can’t think of a time in recent years when the populace lined the streets for miles just to wave at our President. When I last saw that kind of innocence and trust.

I just don’t think it will ever happen again.

That one act–or lack of action– symbolizes our world-weariness, our apathy, our disillusionment with so much of life.

With so much of life outside ourselves.

We’ve drawn into ourselves. Us and our devices. We’re….jaded.

And I’m sad about that.

Have you watched CNN’s series and has it spawned any observations? Even if you haven’t, what do you think when you read this?


27 comments on “The Sixties: maybe we saw too much
  1. chuck house says:

    Carol, as usual your observations are apt, witty, and trenchant. Thought-provoking would be an understatement. But some of my thoughts on this one are contrarian.

    The picture of the family at the TV drew unmitigated scorn and rage at the time–clearly a symbol of the family LOSING its togetherness, sitting without looking at each other, never talking to each other but mindlessly watching Lucille Ball or some other inane performer… Recall Eric Hoffer’s polemics (The True Believer, for example), Vance Packard’s “Crack in the Picture Window”, or Paul Goodman’s “Growing up absurd.”

    As for crowds, the Arab Spring, using the tools you eschew, generated crowds way beyond the Kennedy tour attendance–granted, in some ways they had more ‘skin in the game.’ The Fourth of July crowds in the Washington D.C. plaza are today said to be four times the size of fifty years ago, and my personal experience is that they are amazingly patriotic shared events.

    Presidential inaugurations for Clinton and Obama were stunning for their inclusiveness as well as magnitude, dramatic by comparison with the Bushes preceding and following Clinton (but even those for the Bushes were sizably larger than for Nixon and Carter).

    So, yes, it’s disturbing when kids (mine, for example) no longer answer a ringing telephone late at night (having been raised that such a call means an emergency), but they all answer a text message instantly. But while it’s different than my upbringing (and preference), I’m not convinced that this next generation (or is it two or three generations now beyond me?) is all that jaded or disconnected from the reality all around them.

    • This is a discussion for the next time we have a beer, for sure. I see a lot of today’s patriotism as mindless nationalistic behavior, different from the past. I do think remember the “electronic fireplace” that the TV was scornfully called, so maybe this is a continuum of pulling away behavior to the individual experience. Inclusiveness is definitely true, a result of social change, but what i bemoan more is that sense of innocence we lost. It isn’t the younger generation, it is OUR generation that I feel has lost it The young never had it. Oh, let’s do have a beer again soon!

  2. I love you for your spot on observations about life. You are right, we do interact with each other less face to face because of electronics. I can hardly wait for huz to come to bed so I can turn off the tv and watch an episode on my iPad. Seriously though, all he watches are sports so… we don’t do THAT together.

    Anyway, not to be devils advocate, but have you ever considered what it would have been like had we had Twitter or Facebook back in the 60’s or 70’s even? The late 80’s and early 90’s ushered in AOL and the beginnings of being social with strangers. Which isn’t a bad thing is it?


    • We’ll never know. But it’s interesting to contemplate. I do think social media have changed the character of relationships and not in a good way. They’re not all bad, but they’re not good totally, either. But they are the way we’re going, so we swing with it. Progress. For me, again, it’s all about losing the innocence.

  3. Jacqueline says:

    I’m not sure. I think maybe you think that the 60’s were more special than they were. They are so idolized by your generation that I wonder if you can even see them clearly. Does watching TV together as a family constitute family time? I would argue that children actually spend MORE quality time with their mothers and especially their fathers now then any time in the past. Just some thoughts from a GenX… who doesn’t idolize, yet, the 70’s and 80’s… because really there aren’t enough of us to get on that bandwagon!

    • I think you had to live through them to really feel how different they were, but just a glance at the things that happend should illustrate it. As I commented above to Chuck, our interaction today has drawn more individual. You’re right that watching TV together isn’t the same as interacting with a game, but everyone was in the same room doing the same thin. I agree that dads today are way more involved but it’s the lost innocence, I bemoan more than anything. Thanks so much for your interesting comment!

  4. I’m a young boomer, so I don’t remember many of the most important moments of the 60’s, though I experienced them as a big part of my childhood – especially the music.

    What was most special for me growing up was having my family – both my mother’s and father’s – all living in the same town. It was really amazing to spend so much time with grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc. My kids didn’t have that experience on such big scale, unfortunately.

    I do have to disagree with you about family togetherness, at least from my experience. My children spent way, way more time with their father than either he or I spent with out fathers. We may not have been sitting at a table playing board games, but we were at their sporting events, performances, and so on. My husband coached and I volunteered. Yes, we often retreated to our own spaces at the end of the day – but me being who I am, I would have done that anyway, whether with a book or a laptop!

    • I think the biggest benefit of modern times is the way dads stepped up and took on more with kids. Now, that’s a benefit! I also was always retreating with my book, but my real refrain here is the loss of innocence, and that we’ve seen so much that we’re jaded.

  5. pia says:

    I began answering your post and realized I was writing a post so I copied it and will make it into a post as you inspired me so much!

  6. Nora says:

    Sometimes I’m sad when I think about what we have lost from the 60’s, but then I realize that it’s futile to try to stop change. It will happen no matter what we want. I agree with the comments about children getting to spend more time with “Dad” and think that is wonderful. I guess the real test will be when today’s children speak out about their childhood once they become adults!

  7. We have been watching the series and find it to be exceptional. So much work to locate and edit all that footage. I find that it helps me put things I thought I knew in much clearer context, whether that is world or national events, music, or television.

    I agree that we are the first generation to have lost our naivete young. I remember for me it was reading the transcripts of the Watergate tapes. Nixon was so foul. And I remember thinking, “THIS is our President? This is what he says behind closed doors? ”

    I don’t think I’ve ever looked at politicians the same since. It’s not that I’m completely pessimistic, but just more aware of all their flaws.

  8. Risa says:

    I have many thoughts on this subject, so I’m glad you opened the door here. It’s far too easy to “sign a petition” and hit Send and think you’ve accomplished something. The young men in my generation were eligible for the draft, so if you were against the war, you had a good reason to protest in public places and have your voice heard. People marched, led demonstrations and heeded the call, a few years earlier, when Mario Savio said,” There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop!” This is a far cry from hitting Send and feeling like it means anything. As for the rest of it, I think kids had to be more self-reliant in those days. We weren’t catered to as much as I think kids are catered to today. When I was working as a high school counselor, dealing with the parents of entitled teens, I realized the wisdom of the great philosopher Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” As for the loss of innocence after living through the assassinations of men we admired, the war, Nixon, etc–there will never be a way to go back to the way things were. Impossible. We’re all too cynical now. And so we have to accept the fact that we’ll know too much, more than we want or need to–but also think about how impossible a Watergate-style break-in would be today! Thanks for this excellent post. I’ll hit “Like.”

    • I think the biggest surprise to me is that the real significance of the era is only evident to those who went through it. I guess I thought it was more obvious, but no. Younger generations marginalize it, in a way that we never marginalized our parents’ suffering through the Great Depression or WW2.

  9. Joan Stommen says:

    I agree that family togetherness was at the core of us back in the 60’s. We didn’t have 24 hour info from so many sources, and we trusted/believed in everybody..whether the butcher, the baker, the US President. I hate the distrust and anger the world has now; but it’s up to each of us to embrace kindness and goodness and acceptance in our own little worlds to ensure our younger generations can hopefully stem the ugliness and cynicism rising up. I try to embrace new things….and new ideas, but never let go of good ol’fashion/old school ways either. Because I’m a grandma? A teacher? A sensitive, caring soul? You are spot on here, Carol…..its sad and it hurts. I thought the same thing about the happy crowds of people who lined thd streets of London for the Queen, the Olympics, the Royal Wedding….and was naive when I read/heard Americans making fun or belittling them. Were they all raised to be so unpleasant? Perhaps it boils down to families again….the core of decency, humanity, empathy.

  10. kim tackett says:

    I agree that perhaps we have become jaded. But as someone with access to a wide-eyed 20-year old and her friends, I am delighted to report that they are hopeful, passionate and energetic. They do still believe they can change the world, and they are intending to do so.

  11. I don’t know if it’s jaded as much as overwhelmed — where do we begin to solve these huge problems? I do feel nostalgic for the passion of the ’60s, for people working together and fighting for what they believed in – together, in person. Electronics and the internet have certainly changed things — I hope we can figure out how to use them for the better.

  12. I think we see things too much now and too quickly. We’re desensitized to a lot. When I was a kid we didn’t say things like “rape” or even “sex” at the dinner table. In some ways it’s good that these things have come out into the open for some healthy discourse. But, having so much available at our fingertips is overload. Great post.

  13. Myke Todd says:

    People love to romanticize about “the sixties” to the point of skewing reality. Take the British Invasion, for instance… The Beatles were the next big thing in the U.K… Their record label decreed, they would not release any Beatles records in the U.S. for a period of one year. That gave so many other acts over there, time to catch up. Subsequently, it appeared they all arrived on our shores and our airways simultaneously. A couple years later, it was gone with the wind, but it was fun while it lasted.

    I am not familiar with any programming on the network you mentioned. I do not watch them. But, I am hear reading you, and happy to be doing so,Carol.

  14. I’m one of the last baby boomers, 1964. It makes me sad to watch your child stick their face in an iPhone rather than look up. Now I just walk away. Lost opportunities to get to know each other.

  15. Lana says:

    So much to think about here Carol. I’m a little younger and spent my limited time in the sixties as a baby/toddler, so I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment! There is no question that our current generation is less innocent than the ones before – it remains to be seen if that will be a good or bad thing.

  16. It makes me sad to think of my grandchildren being brought up in today’s world.

  17. Wendys Hat says:

    Our simple and innocent way of life is gone forever. I notice that and think about it often. Sad but true.

  18. So much food for thought Carol. In so many ways growing up in the 60’s and 70’s was the best of times. I love my naive childhood and wouldn’t change it for the world. Today is such an exciting time with technology but I still feel that kids today aren’t the same goofy kids we were. They are exposed so early to so many adult things. Your childhood is such a short time of your life and it saddens me that it’s become so popular to act grownup when you’re just a kid.

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