Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Children of the Sixties

August 23

They are all around us now; overgrown children of the revolution we lived through, the social upheaval that occurred approximately between 1968 and 1975. Another blog triggered a comment about this generation, from one in the generation younger, likening the children of the sixties to the hero of Dr. Faustus. This reminded me of one of my lost posts from the great muddled deletion day, so I decided to re-post it here.

Not that I haven’t thought about the children of the “60’s” much before now. My late husband had three daughters who were in high school during the period, and all three were affected by the shift in standards that took place before their eyes. My daughter’s husband also is very much a child of his times.

Before moving from Atlanta to New York City in 1964 I had to pick up some things at a little corner "gas and go" type grocery in the part of the city known as Decatur. I was struck by a boy in the store, a nice, middleclass-looking kid about 12 years old with brown hair cut below his ears. The reason I took note of him was that his hair was long and literally all the other boys his age I had ever seen wore the brush cuts of the '50's. I remember being somewhat amused that there was actually a kid in this neighborhood in Atlanta with the guts to wear a haircut inspired by the Beatles, that happy group of English guys whose picture was on every magazine cover that month. They had not yet landed in America, but here was someone who was already willing to copy them. I never would have believed the impact that haircut was to have on the world, even Atlanta.

I’ve observed several things ever so many people of that boy's generation, all grown up now, have in common. For starters, there is a sense of entitlement, a sense of their own importance, combined with the lack of a specific purpose, one might say the lack of empowerment. That overgrown sense of entitlement combined with a shrunken sense of empowerment seems paradoxical, but who among us is not a paradox? In these people it often takes the form of an almost pathological need for self-sufficiency, sometimes causing them to relocate over and over to find a personal safe place.

Most children of the late 60’s were raised by affluent parents, indulged with all their families could give them – in a way, perhaps as overcompensation for their own deprivation in the Great Depression. It was also known that the post-WWII babies comprised the largest population boom in the history of the known world, and these babies grew up with that awareness. Sheer critical mass would overwhelm whatever (or whoever) got in their way.

This attitude gave them the feeling that it didn’t matter how they came at the world, the world would have to make room. They had to get what they wanted, simply because they always had. And why not? It’s the dream of every adolescent.

They were convinced there was no music as good as their music. No one had ever had principles as strong as theirs. It had to be an exciting time to be growing up.

The message we envious grownups handed out all too often was that we were not as smart as they were. That’s got to have compounded the already conflicted sense of self. I’m entitled, but you have the power. What are you going to be when you grow up? Maybe nothing. It’ll still be better than what you were.

And we took it. We were outnumbered, and we were never sure that the Eisenhower values of the 1950’s – holding security, prosperity and conformity sacred above all else – were truly eternal. It was time to reexamine. And by the mid-sixties, with a bad war on our hands, new music at the door, and young people bursting to get into things they rejected without quite understanding, the world was forced to change.

I enjoyed the discourse that took place. I am proud that we all survived, and that some of us grew. But I think the era took its toll, and that only now are we able to begin to measure that toll. There will be more on this transition as I write more, get input from my readers, and join the many who experienced the period known as the 60’s (but actually less than a decade, and not bounded by the beginning of the 70’s) in a myriad of ways.

There is too much to deal with in one morning. There is our reality, the reality of the generation I am writing about, and there is the matter of how it changed us and our future. The impact was in more than numbers.


Bert Bananas said...

I always thought of the 60s as permissiveness gone bad, but within the full light of day. All the sins, both of omission and commission, that humankind is heir to and which had ALWAYS been part of what we are, came out of the closet. Oh sure, Baptists still pretend not to recognize each other at Hooters, but most of the rest of us in the fat and happy nation pretty much do what we want, when we want and we have plenty of company doing it. ('doing it' being a really key phrase, if you know what I mean.)

goldennib said...

Extreme, mass selfishness was born in the 60's.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Golden, I think it was born before then, but I know what you mean. Don't forget, we wuz trying to wake up the world, send a message to those in power, and make things better. Sometimes things just don't work out the way you expect.

As for bert bananas, I suspect he never really needed an excuse for doing it.

jon said...

Rebellion against individual control by big business/government coupled with Puritanical/Victorian notions of the then prevalent religious groups, was what happened in the 60's. The rebellion has not stopped and has evolved to unreasonable proportion. Out of reason to the extent that it is exploited by the very entities which brought it on. What with political, religious,ethnic, and gender correctness every faction is always 'right' therefore engendering chaos. From chaos grows reform. The current government is leading us right back to where the 60's rebellion started by creating more control. And, as before the control is through money (oil, not manufacturing this time) and is backed by religio-patriotic morality. 60's? An age of enlightenment. Today's condition seems to mirror past and fallen civilizations.