Getting Here From There

If you can remember the 1960’s, the old line goes, you weren’t really there.  “There,” of course, means the counterculture represented by Woodstock, hallucinogenic drugs, antiwar protests, and Haight-Ashbury.  “The 60’s” didn’t actually begin in 1960, but by the “Summer of Love” in 1967 they had clearly arrived.  The Beatles eventually became counterculture icons while using LSD and recording psychedelic anthems, but when they first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 they were wearing jackets and ties and singing about holding hands.

The clichéd oversimplification of the two decades that began in 1950 portrays the first as a time of conservative conformity, and the second as a tumultuous period of social revolution and individualism.  This simplistic notion falls apart for the obvious reason that no special change occurs at midnight on January 1 in a year ending in zero.  But one notes also that the supposedly bland, conformist 1950’s witnessed the publication of Lolita and Howl, while the 1960’s begat The Sound of Music and The Brady Bunch.

In The Permissive Society, Alan Petigny argues that the cultural revolution that people commonly associate with the 1960’s actually began much earlier, and the era maligned (or praised) as staid and conservative was anything but that.  Petigny describes...

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