Bashing the Sixties in the Trump Era?

by on November 18, 2019 · 8 comments

in Election, Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

Mike Wise hates the Sixties.

Last week in an odd, contextless opinion piece in the Washington Post , Wise let loose his word hoard in a strange screed bemoaning what he sees as a wave of naïve nostalgia about the much maligned and romanticized decade.  In sum, the piece is his chance to “tell everyone to stop the revisionist history and shut the hell up.”

What seems to have set him off was a Janis Joplin revival and a 60 Minutes feature on research into psychedelics.  A sample:

Interest in hallucinogenic drugs has rarely been stronger. The Oct. 13 episode of “60 Minutes” featured Johns Hopkins University’s ongoing psilocybin research studies. The report made a good case for magic mushrooms’ ability to cure depression and addiction; many control-group patients in the study swore the drug took them on some of the most profound “journeys” of their lives.

The Sixties have been dead for 50 years this January. It’s long past time to bury them for good because we’ve severely overrated them. Those years left deep marks on our culture while still leaving us in a perpetual daze about their exact meaning. Meanwhile, the nostalgia bus just keeps rolling on. For those who were there, the sensory overload never ends: Jimi Hendrix’s wailing Stratocaster; Peter Max’s Crayola-inspired pop art; the brittle back seats of Volkswagen bugs; Sensimilla buds, empty Coors cans; the acid-trip comedowns; people losing themselves in the sound, the substances and, really, the feelin’-groovy zeitgeist. “Never trust anyone over 30,” Jack Weinberg, a student-activist at the University of California at Berkeley famously said in 1964 — the year I was born.

As one reads further, we discover that the roots of Wise’s disdain for the Age of Aquarius is his own horrible family history with two young, drug abusing parents who made his childhood miserable and abusive.  They took psychedelics and did terrible things, overdosed on other drugs, and never learned the error of their ways.  Wise somehow survived this and is here to tell us that the “indulgence and experimentation” of the era which “tore his family apart” should be enough to toss the Sixties into the dustbin of history, so everyone just needs to move on and put that hateful decade “down for good.”

After I read Wise’s piece, I was struck by what an odd historical moment it is to be Sixties bashing.  In the midst of the Trump era, as we rush toward ecocide and other dystopian outcomes that will murder our children’s future, I find it puzzling that Wise (who is my age) thinks it useful to suggest that his individual family history somehow stands in for the whole of the experience of the Sixties in any way that tells us anything other than the fact that he was unfortunate to have had such stupid, reckless parents.

I had a father who didn’t do psychedelics, hated the politics and counterculture of the Sixties, and ended up divorcing my mother, breaking up my family, and began drinking himself to death in the halcyon days of the Reagan era.

Big deal.

It doesn’t tell us anything of any significance.  The individual example doesn’t prove the rule.  At base, all broad generalizations about “generations” and decades are bullshit despite the large amount of ink spilled analyzing them in the press and elsewhere.  Inevitably, we oversimplify.

But, since we are at it, why not?  Perhaps what we are suffering from today is not the legacy of the heedlessness of the Sixties but the cultural and political backlash against the openness and experimentation of that era and the social uncertainty that followed it.  Indeed, what ails us now is not our lack of boundaries but our fear of crossing them.

We are Making America Great Again by building walls and foolishly trying to insulate ourselves from each other and the facts we hate in a futile effort to return to a Golden Era of the past before the cultural disruptions of the Sixties that never really existed.  Ban the “Other” and make things safe and “normal” again.  This is the fantasy world of the present authoritarianism.

Ultimately, I have to say that I’d rather be tripping on mushrooms than watching Fox News.  As Hunter S. Thompson suggested of Las Vegas (and capitalism by proxy), some things are so twisted that you don’t need psychedelics to blow your mind.




{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris November 18, 2019 at 11:08 am

Well there is a sort of an anti boomer sentiment that’s become pretty vogue these days. Some justified, some not. All needs to just be taken with a grain of salt. I remember bashing on the 60s in the early 80s for no other reason other than it was the punk rock thing to do.


Geoff Page November 18, 2019 at 1:30 pm

What defined the 1960s like no other since was the Vietnam War. The author cited in this article, Mike Wise, said he was born in 1964 so he did not experience what all of us, men and women, experienced in the 60s. Fear of being drafted and made to kill people we had not quarrel with affected all of us. Men entered branches of the service they never intended to enter to avoid the draft. That meant three to four years out of their lives surrendered to the military. Some left the country forever. Some went to jail. Some went and fought and were never the same again. And this affected all of the women in their lives as well.

We also witnessed the assassination of a president, a spiritual leader, and an aspiring presidential candidate. We saw cities go up in flames as black people finally had enough. We hid under our desks to avoid atomic bombs. We had to bring food and clothing to our schools in case the bomb came so we’d have supplies. We were told to build bomb shelters at home. We endured the Cuban Missile crisis.

The 60s were not a fucking picnic at all. The good that came out of it was that we all learned not to trust the government blindly and to question everything. If Mr. Wise thinks that is a bad legacy, then he must be a t-rumper.


Christopher Thomas November 18, 2019 at 6:04 pm

Maybe maybe not (A t-rumper) but obviously he had some shitty parents so I do have pitty for him.


Chris November 18, 2019 at 6:51 pm

But yeah (whether or not he supports Trump) I imagine he probably leans right if nothing else than as a reaction to his family situation and the time period he associates it with.


Arthur Salm November 18, 2019 at 4:18 pm

Yes. Perfect, and perfectly said.

Another line of ‘60s-bashing goes something like “Hippies and anti-war protesters were phonies. By the ‘80s they’d sold out (or bought in?) to Corporate America, and were driving Mercedes with ‘Whoever dies with the most toys, wins’ license frames.” All of which is crapola: Hippies and anti-war protesters — and I was one — were a small fraction of that generation; most young people were disengaged, just going about their lives … and some of them ended up driving Mercedes. Activists I knew then are activists now.


Tom Cairns November 18, 2019 at 5:22 pm

OB in the 60’s was great: the Strand on Saturday afternoons, the Duke at the world surfing championships, sailors and marines fresh out of boot camp on weekend passes, the palm trees were small, Good Morning Teaspoon, Long Branch parties and cop riots, the pier dedication and Gov. Brown, the Swindle double homicide, Homer’s and Coronet, the typewriter shop, Boss Radio giveaways, the Calypso, Spaceman, and the beach.


Frank Gormlie November 18, 2019 at 7:44 pm

Hey Tom! How goes it? You missed this year’s chili cook-off (so did I).


Geoff Page November 19, 2019 at 1:23 pm

The best years of the 60s for me were ’65 and ’66 when my dad was stationed at the Naval Base Pt. Loma. We lived in Coronado, before the bridge and I learned to surf. Coronado was a sleepy little beach town back then. But, I spent most of the 60s in Arlington, Virginia and that was very different. I remember the black cloud of smoke over D.C. and the cars streaming out of the city when Martin Luther King was assassinated. I was in the 7th grade there when I heard about John Kennedy and on a school bus there when I heard about Bobby. I walked in the largest anti-war demonstration to date through D.C. in ’69 and saw snipers on the rooftops and D.C. city buses parked nose to ass all around the White House. I would have much preferred OB, you were lucky Tom.


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