Written by Babak Dehghanpisheh for CNN
In the afterglow of Baby Boomers’ growing idealism, suburbia sought to create a world that was safe, cute and safe again, after the dark fears and tragic events of the 1960s and 1970s. Immense efforts were made to repair our dysfunctional world, where we struggle between our families, our friends and our work life. And while we had aimed for a more harmonious environment, almost simultaneously we became more deeply embedded in the prevailing “The Matrix,” as Charles Krauthammer is fond of saying.
An insider’s view
Saying that the past 50 years has been “full of tragic developments,” not only in general but in our “distressed suburbia,” Julian Paul Marx, with a focus on the U.S., traces how we’ve come to this point in his new book “100 Greatest Events in The Age of Synthesis, 150 Years Later,” to be published in the US this week.
He begins his account at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, which re-invented the experience of the fair for adults, and before the Depression and WWII that would have saved the fair for kids. While the fair transformed a place of raw raw material into a highly successful, even alluring place for the youth, the 1920s went on to represent that standard linear narrative; the coming of age, of getting bigger, better and richer. In other words, the American dream through the ages.
Babak Dehghanpisheh discusses “Greatest Events: 100 Years after Synthesis.” Credit: Handout
Less on being healthy, and more on survival as an adult, it’s the 1950s that offer Marx the shift in our priorities. The Vietnam War, the McCarthy hearings and civil rights issues had all thrown our world into a period of, as Marx puts it, “darkness and persecution.”
At the height of this crisis, “we were forced to rethink the meaning of ourselves, and our collective ideas,” Marx says. Aiding our transformation from a scared, vaguely Marxist teenager to the open-minded consumer of our youth was the arrival of the university, and its “uncommon values.”
Frankenpunkt? Not at all
Although it’s a party with a singular, transformative success, the 1960s didn’t just offer an extended adolescence; they gave birth to the themes of the next 50 years. Few would be surprised to find out that rock ‘n’ roll, the first revolution for the own generation, was born there.
“After 1968 we could no longer stand idly by while our system was going down,” Marx says, referring to the anti-war movement that erupted after the Tet Offensive. So the loosely connected, young activists of the ’60s — Gloria Steinem, Michael Harrington, John Lennon — “didn’t stop there.” Their march through this man-made earth, launching a mountain-sized agenda that began with the civil rights movement and unfolded into the peace movement, the women’s movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and to the current day, the environmental movement.
“Did they actually smash the patriarchy?” Marx wonders, referring to the women’s movement, and how its “resistance was sold to us as the triumph of women against patriarchy.” The term Frankenpunkt comes into use: for this philosophical movement to defeat our “current system, man-made and industrialized” would mean to deconstruct the whole construct.
Just another version of the selfie?
This wasn’t new to the world. It was a centuries-old model — Lenin was right: the revolution was coming. But the power-hungry zealots that wiped out both the Soviet Union and the communist state of China in 1990, after the collapse of the eastern bloc, sent a chilling message to those who would ever organize a new revolution.
As Marx puts it, the ’90s have come to be known as the post-modern age: We have become “infinitely more complicated,” each individual “a social thought from different sources and in different languages, an ever-changing brand of person.”