Winner 2013 Webby Awards for Best Political Website
Top Banner, Site wide
Apr 17, 2014

 Choose a size
Text Size

Top Leaderboard, Site wide

Star-Spangled Baggage
Science Finds New Routes to Energy

Paul Robeson: A Life

Truthdig Bazaar
Fidel Castro: My Life: A Spoken Autobiography

Fidel Castro: My Life: A Spoken Autobiography

by Ignacio Ramonet and Fidel Castro

more items

Arts and Culture

The Myth of the ’60s

Email this item Email    Print this item Print    Share this item... Share

Posted on Nov 16, 2011

Excerpted from “What Really Happened to the 1960s: How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy” by Edward P. Morgan. This excerpt is adapted from the published book by the author, with permission.

I begin the book with a discussion of how the unending “battles of the 1960s,” as candidate Barack Obama put it, were a significant and at times poignant backdrop to the 2008 presidential campaign. Such is the nature of political discourse in the American mass media culture. Something called “the Sixties” is alluded to again and again at regular intervals: presidential campaigns, repeated acts of war by the United States, outbursts of mass protest, episodes of racial unrest, abortion battles, charges of “political correctness,” to say nothing of media-saturated anniversaries of iconic sixties events, from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech to Woodstock.

I maintain that the mass media’s “sixties” discourse is chiefly one of ghosts, accusations, and smoke and mirrors that has long played on audience emotions and diverted public attention to what is essentially a symbolic form of spectator politics. In a commentary that represents perhaps the archetypal media culture representation, commentator Andrew Sullivan referred to these as the “debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us.”1 [See footnotes at end of article.] Sullivan is right in one sense; this media discourse is debilitating if we aspire to a democratic way of life. On the other hand, the archetypal media argument is also wrong in two respects. These “battles of the 1960s” were not, and are not, a generational quarrel. Notwithstanding media representations, sixties battles were about racism, poverty, war, meaningful education, the rat race, sexism, and ecological destruction. But, second, these political concerns are not even battles of the sixties. Lo and behold, while minorities and women have made great gains within the social mainstream, contemporary American life is marked by wars the people oppose yet cannot stop; poverty and a racially identifiable underclass that lives without hope; the growth of an obscenely wealthy class of the super-rich combined with an eroding middle class; an educational system increasingly driven by the bottom line that leaves young people more trapped in a rat race than were their sixties forebears; ongoing violence toward women in a society that continues to bombard us with images of pumped-up militarism; and an ecosphere that is showing far more fundamental signs of deterioration than it did in the earlier era of Earth Day environmentalism.


book cover


What Really Happened to the 1960s: How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy


By Edward P. Morgan


University Press of Kansas, 405 pages


Buy the book


I revisit this past because it can tell us a lot about where we are today and why we are there. It can also shed important light on the kinds of complex issues we face if we are to strengthen rather than lose our democratic way of life.

“The Sixties” in Mass Media Discourse

Presidential campaigns have for more than forty years exploited symbols, images, and personalities from the 1960s era as a means of mobilizing political support for their candidates and political agendas. For the most part, these campaigns have come from the right side of the political spectrum. Over time, they have blamed “the sixties” for just about everything they see as wrong with America. Beginning as far back as Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, political forces on the Right have used sixties-era media images to tap into the fears and resentments the spectacle spawned and thus to buttress their political agendas aimed largely at what they like to call “Big Government.” During the 1960s, these attacks began to pull significant populations—most notably the white South and portions of the Catholic working class—out of the Democratic Party’s New Deal coalition into the Republican camp.

With the economy floundering in the early to mid-1970s, capitalism’s elites sought to redress what they saw as the “excess of democracy” or “democratic distemper” of the sixties era in order to move public policy to the right.2 Rightist and corporate agendas converged with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, a turning point that not only produced the neoliberal (or what is misleadingly called a “free market”) regime that has dominated American politics ever since,3 but has succeeded in transforming American political discourse in the process. The Reagan agenda implemented earlier corporate calls for a sharp reduction in liberal government, a major shift toward privatization and free-market policies, and a new surge in military spending coupled with a more aggressive U.S. foreign policy—a reversal of the so-called “Vietnam syndrome.”

Despite policies geared to the interests of corporations and the wealthy, neoliberalism enjoyed wide electoral success because it was ushered in by rhetoric that effectively played off public images of the sixties—threatening black militants, rebellious students, Viet Cong flag-waving antiwar protesters, self-indulgent and stoned hippies, and “man-hating” or “family-hating” women—that had alienated significant portions of the population. Via a process I call “visual thinking” or visual association, the conservative “Machiavellians,” as Tom Hayden has labeled them,4 produced a populist spin for policies that favored economic elites by blaming the images on an “Eastern liberal elite.” The folksy, avuncular Reagan persona became a kind of nostalgic commercial for traditional verities and “family values” that allegedly flourished in a visually mythologized past before the era of “riots, assassinations, and domestic strife over the Vietnam war,” as Reagan described the 1960s.5 All things “liberal” —permissive parenting, indulgent campus authorities, domestic government programs, and the media—were blamed for the generational unrest of the past.

Curiously, this long-standing campaign against the “bad sixties” succeeded with considerable help from the very “liberal media” the campaign persistently attacked. Like the ideological backlash, the commercialization of the sixties began during the sixties era as news media and advertisers began to zero in on images of what they saw as new and increasingly provocative behaviors of a large baby boom population. News media coverage of sixties-era protests began to frame public understanding of protest around the most common visual denominator, a seemingly “rebellious generation,” around mid-decade—roughly the same time that protests began targeting national policies and institutions, and the same time that the national backlash began. Commercial interests responded by adopting the language of youthful alienation and a stance of “cool” skepticism as they began to transform the “youth culture” into a “hip” youth market.

Over the same time period, entertainment television and popular movies began to air themes popular with sixties youth. By 1971 CBS had introduced Norman Lear’s sitcom All in the Family, which juxtaposed two stereotypical sides of the popularized sixties divide—young liberals versus their working-class parents, presented in the familiar generational frame. Twelve years later, NBC’s Family Ties, a sitcom that President Reagan claimed as his favorite TV show,6 played off another generational clash, this one between the young Reaganite Alex P. Keaton and his liberal sixties-generation parents. With musical scores and themes that evoked baby boomer nostalgia, films like the Reagan era’s The Big Chill (1983) and the 1994 blockbuster Forrest Gump provided audiences with representations of the sixties era that confirmed everything the Right claimed. Advertisers appealed to hip consumers by using rebellious sixties songs to sell everything from sneakers to raisins to accounting firms. More generally, as documented by Thomas Frank, advertisers and the business world widely appropriated the values of countercultural rebellion for their own commercial purposes.7

This political culture is both hyper-political and depoliticized; hyper-political because it is dominated by blame-them rhetoric heightened by imagistic media, yet depoliticized in two important ways: the nation’s political institutions too often serve up essential symbolic solutions that fail to resolve deep-seated problems that have over time become worse, and a correspondingly disillusioned and disempowered public is drawn into a culture of consumption and entertainment that provides them with a compensatory but ultimately erosive sense of empowerment.  This political culture is one of the two legacies of the mass media’s “Sixties” that popular social movements like Occupy Wall Street or the Wisconsin-Ohio state protests have to contend with.

New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, January 14, 2012 at 9:57 am Link to this comment

No one was actually spat upon, however.

Report this

By John Poole, January 13, 2012 at 10:14 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To MPLO:  I was “spat upon” in an interesting manner. My LA studio career was
interrupted by the draft in 1967. The Army upon recognizing they had drafted a
professional was thrilled to not have to spend any more to have me qualify for
02N20 (pianist) after basic training. When I returned in 1969 all my colleagues
shunned me.  I might mention that the professional musicians my age with busy
careers in the music businesses had never served. They were either gay, manic
depressive with a doctor’s letter, were heavily into narcotics (how convenient!)  or
had kept their IIS deferment by going to grad school and then marrying and then
having a kid. Even my best friend shunned me when I returned from two years
stateside duty as a pianist in an Army band at Ft. Lewis. It was a strange feeling to
have to start all over again. I doubt it was the same for professional musicians
who had been drafted or volunteered to serve during WWII.

Report this

By Ted Morgan, January 12, 2012 at 8:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I appreciate the comments on the excerpt (well most of ‘em anyway!) and would note that the book is now in paperback.  I wanted to assure Anarcissie that the civil rights & black power movements figure VERY prominently in the book, as they did in helping to ignite and shape the 60s. You might find the half-chapter on the Panthers and the media particularly interesting.  These were excerpts taken mainly from the preface and the concluding chapter.

Report this

By gabenowandthen, December 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm Link to this comment

Looks like an interesting book, thanks for the post. 
This may also be of interest:  we’re a new [url=“”]digital
publisher[/url] and have a great nonfiction title on the
roots of the counterculture.  Take a look.

Report this
Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, November 18, 2011 at 10:17 am Link to this comment

Is corporate control of the media the significant event of the Sixties, the cause of the Sixties, or of the memory of the Sixties and the use of that memory?  I would guess rather that demographics altered popular culture, and the corporate media followed, with due care to adhere to certain political lines (for example, everthing was always going wonderfully in Viet Nam, unions were always bad, etc. etc.)

Back in 1998, Mark Lilla wrote an interesting article in the New York Review of Books proposing the theory that Reaganism was more of the same cultural tendency that produced the hippies and the New Left.  (This does not mean that each and every hippie and New Leftist turned into a right-winger like David Horowitz and Eldridge Cleaver.)  Unfortunately it’s behind a paywall, so I won’t frustrate you all with a URL.  It would not be surprising to find that people in their 20s were rebellious but became increasingly conservative or right-wing in their 30s and 40s.  And the media would follow, looking for customers.

Report this
D.R. Zing's avatar

By D.R. Zing, November 18, 2011 at 8:17 am Link to this comment

I can imagine Mr. Morgan reading some of the comments below and
questioning the reading comprehension level of Truth Diggers. 

This article is not a book review; it’s an adapted excerpt from the
book. There’s a difference. 

Below are some of my favorite quotes from the article that only a few
seem to be reading and comprehending:

“I suggest that two systemic characteristics of the emerging postwar
media became crucial to the contestation and maintenance of hegemony.
First, what the media, by their behavior, consider to be legitimate
discourse for public consumption encompasses a range of viewpoints
that embrace rather than challenge the system’s foundational myths,
ideological beliefs, and institutions. Second, as commercial
enterprises, the mass media must aggressively seek and engage readers
and audiences. The ideological commons of mass media discourse can be
traced back to their origins as mass-market enterprises, while the
imperative of attracting and engaging audiences took on new intensity
with the postwar rise of television.”

That’s an academic way of saying the media stages fake debates that do
not address core issues and problems arising when a single country
attempts to rule the world.  The media does this because they don’t give
a shit about humanity.  Their sole goal is to attract as many viewers
as possible.

Now check out this polite fusillade:

“At great cost to our public discourse, the mass media exclude
critical conversation about fundamental flaws in the nation’s policies
and institutions. Democratic discourse should also enlighten and
inform the people so they achieve a level of understanding that
enables them to act as citizens. The mass media’s main function
clearly should not be to distract the public from engaging in and
learning about their society and its institutions.”

That one brings to mind a line from a great song:
“I may going to hell in a bucket, babe, but at least I’m enjoying the
ride.” (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia “Hell in a Bucket”)

Report this

By rumblingspire, November 18, 2011 at 1:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)



Report this

By rumblingspire, November 18, 2011 at 12:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


Magic Mixture - Living On A Hill

Report this

By rumblingspire, November 18, 2011 at 12:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


Faine Jade-On The Inside There’s A Middle

Report this

By mapol, November 17, 2011 at 9:11 pm Link to this comment

The book being reviewed here does sound like an interesting book.  I did see the
excellent documentary called “Sir, No Sir”, which definitely debunks the myth
about how Viet Nam Viets returning to the United States after their tours were spat
upon by average anti-war demonstrators, especially since, by the time the late
1960’s rolled around, many of the anti-war demonstrators were Viet Nam Vets
who’d turned against the war by the time they got back to the USA, or even before

Report this
D.R. Zing's avatar

By D.R. Zing, November 17, 2011 at 8:33 pm Link to this comment


The headline for this great article does not do the article justice.
“The Myth of the Sixties,” that’s it? Good thing you weren’t naming
fish. You would have called them all swims.

This article nails it. Corporations have systematically bought and
controlled all forms of free speech in this country. 

And, like Chris Hedges said in a recent post, eventually there will
have to be mass protests against the news media.  They are a huge
part of the problem.  They must be broken up and wrenched from the
hands of the corporate titans if our democracy is ever going to function. 

Thank you, Edward P. Morgan, for writing this book.

Report this

By mplo, November 17, 2011 at 8:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I saw the movie “Sir, No Sir”.  It’s an excellent documentary that certainly debunks
the myth of Viet Nam Vets who returned home to the United States being spat
upon by ordinary, average citizens who demonstrated against the war at that time

If Viet Nam Vets were spat upon by anybody, it was the United States government
who spat on them, by totalling abandoning them in time of real need of help with
various problems resulting from their having been involved in military combat,
affordability of housing, etc.  Inotherwards, Viet Nam vets were exploited by our
government to carry out wrongheaded, illegal and unnecessary policies in a
foreign land, and then tossed aside like trash when they were no longer needed. 
This same policy, I’m sorry today, is still going on right now, only the names are
changed to Iraq and Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya.

Report this
Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, November 17, 2011 at 3:05 pm Link to this comment

I don’t see anything much about the Civil Rights movement.  The Civil Rights (and Black Power) movement drove most of the other things that happened.  Interestingly, it has been largely divorced from its context and hagiographized, whereas the ‘other’ Sixties has been ignored, trivialized, demonized—or quietly coopted and absorbed.  I wonder if this book continues this—well, we might humorously call it segregation.

Report this

By LT, November 17, 2011 at 2:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

One of the main reasons the same battles are being fought over and over
again is because movements in the USA won’t face and name outloud
exactly what it is they keep having to fight: FASCISM.

Admit that this is a fascist country. Tell the truth to yourself first.

Report this

By John Poole, November 17, 2011 at 1:21 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The reference to “the sixties” misleads all of us. We should instead use perhaps the
term, “broken sixties”. It was only in the second half (1966 at the earliest) that
events and attitudes happened and appeared which are now considered the
“counter culture”.  I should know- I was there. I would distrust anyone writing
about that time who didn’t actually live them.

Report this
EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, November 17, 2011 at 7:57 am Link to this comment

@ rumblingspire

I was experimenting with symmetry. It was an accident.

Not a personal thing, please understand.

Report this
EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, November 17, 2011 at 7:44 am Link to this comment

@ rumblingspire

Did I just say that???

It was an accident, please believe me.

You are awesome rumblingspire.

Report this
EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, November 17, 2011 at 7:40 am Link to this comment

@ rumblingspire

You (((((suck))))) !!!

Report this

By rumblingspire, November 16, 2011 at 9:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

goodness.  i supply the data.

in further support of the study i will note that institutions like Time magazine, by putting a subtle positive spin on the counter-culture, lent proof to my young mind that the counter-culture’s ideas would soon be the new norm.  in many ways the hippies won.  but yes, not the larger battle.

I remember when suddenly blacks started shoping at our local mall. like it happened over night.  somewhat after kings assassination.  i witnessed white cashiers appear to bend over backwards with black customers.  it was pleasing and mysterious.  one of the two blacks in my high school told me much the same, but the “bending over backwards” “bugged” him ,he said.

it wasn’t soon after that all the kids started looking like elton john and to be cool you had to be bi.  rocky horror picture show played the midnight seen for months.

yes, some of the chains that bound society were broken.

I remember it all!  maybe i did not inhale deep enough.  i assure you i did.

p.s. the 60’s died in 1972, when the hippie station started advertising the previous uncool Beer and declared themselves the K-SHE PIGS and sold PIG shirts.  ( no decent hippie admitted drinking alcohol.  i’ve always wondered if the PIGS had something on the station and it was blackmail.  K-SHE had to declare themselves PIGS.  i was the only one the minded.  all the other kids thought K-SHE PIGS was cool.  i remember.

another thing happened around 1972.  the groups that used to beat us up started growing their hair long too.  long hair was no longer a reliable badge.

Report this

By rumblingspire, November 16, 2011 at 8:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

before i read the article i will comment.

i was 13 during the summer of love.  the tv news and the magazines were peppered with flower children and peace and communes.  i looked for Time magazine every week to read about free love and a counter-culture.  (remember that word, counter-culture).  i was looking forward to avoiding the draft in a phony war.  i would move to Canada as Time magazine assured me i would find fellows.  the schools taught me Equality while the news displayed southerners beating on negros for swimming at the same beach.  Like Holden Caufield i wanted to fart and blow the damn roof off.
i was a wanabe hippie waiting for the revolution that was most assuredly coming soon.

the 60s has been lied about.  it was not about drugs and sex.  hippies were not dirty, not at my middle class suburban high school.  and despite the drugs, i remember it all. 

i am so friggin tired of the joke that if you remeber the 60s you were not there.  i was assuredly there.  i am still there.  i remember it all.

Report this

By gerard, November 16, 2011 at 6:59 pm Link to this comment

“In addition to enabling people to see the forces that impinge on and repress their full humanity, it awakens in people the awareness of possibility—the possibility that things can be done differently, the possibility that people of very different backgrounds and orientations can come together and discover their common humanity.”

This vast and important accomplishment, so necessary to the life of democracy as a system of self-government, is precisely what Occupiers have modeled and reinvigorated.  (Why else do you suuppose the included the homeless and refugees from addiction in their camp life to the extent possible—even though of course they knew they might be “betrayed.”???

Report this
EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, November 16, 2011 at 4:09 pm Link to this comment

A brief excerpt from Jodorowsky’s “The Holy Mountain”...

Report this
EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, November 16, 2011 at 4:02 pm Link to this comment

This book sounds very interesting.

There is a wonderful documentary called Sir, No Sir about the G.I. revolts in the late sixties and early seventies.

This segment….

... touches on how this aspect of history has has been effectively suppressed and replaced with the bogus myth of returning veterans being spat upon and called “baby killers” by ant-war activists, a myth clearly designed and propagated to create division.

Report this

sign up to get updates

Right 1, Site wide - BlogAds Premium
Right 2, Site wide - Blogads
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network

A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion   Publisher, Zuade Kaufman   Editor, Robert Scheer
© 2014 Truthdig, LLC. All rights reserved.