3:00 A.M. in America

In Decade of Nightmares, Philip Jenkins considers how the progressive and “forward-looking” decade of free love, drugs, and cultural revolution led to the reactionary “counterrevolution” of the 1980’s, personified by Ronald Reagan.  The author gives fair play to both sides of the various debates, which makes for interesting reading.  It is often difficult to tell, through his choice of words, whether he sympathizes more with the former or with the latter.  In fact, Decade of Nightmares is basically a collection of studies of various aspects of American life in this period, with the common thread of reaction and social concern unifying everything from popular culture to government legislation.

Jenkins persuasively argues that the 1970’s are, essentially, overlooked and underappreciated.  The roots of modern “conservatism” stem in large part from the debates on crime, foreign policy, and questions of morality that raged in American society during that decade.

Throughout the book, Jenkins places heavy emphasis on the media and popular opinion in accounting for the changes wrought in American society since the 60’s.  News stories and documentaries throughout the 70’s made use of legitimate concerns such as rising crime rates, predatory criminals, and religious cults to scare parents into voting for draconian laws and ordinances. ...

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