Terry Teachout says it wasn’t 1968 that began the big cultural shift, but 1962. ’62 is a good year to zero in on indeed—Cuban Missile Crisis, early SDS days, right before Philip Larkin’s beginning date for “sexual intercourse,” Dylan’s Freewheelin’ gestating in the womb, the gathering bohemian trends Walker Percy noted in The Moviegoer (published 1960) coming to be felt , etc. I’m linking to Emily Esfahani Smith’s excerpting of the Teachout essay over at Ricochet, because it has a fine thread, featuring James Lileks especially.
Teachout’s column has two drawbacks, however, as does the Ricochet thread.
First, there’s no discussion of the big P, the pill. (P.S., anybody here read the new Mary Eberstadt book yet?)
Second, Teachout doesn’t really deal with the fact that a good deal of the cultural shift had begun earlier, particularly in the 1920s, and that the really fundamental changes began with modernity itself, going in the American case right back to Ben Franklin and the Revolution.
They’d understand that second point particularly if they read my cinema-and-song-studded posts on Three Stages of Modernity and Intermediate Modernity. The framework I provide in those essays allow one to admit the revolutionary character of the 60s, while not denying its precedents and forerunners. David Bowie said in “Changes” to the old conservative types who resist change that modern civilization itself had seemed to be about perpetual revolution, particularly from the mid 1800s to the 1960s, and so it was hypocrisy to oppose the more fulsome 60s changes: where’s your shame you’ve left us up to our necks in it.
Here’s the nuts and bolts of my framework:
“…for American society there seem to be three main stages:
1) quasi-modernity –approximately 1776 to 1918
2) intermediate modernity –approximately 1919 to 1965
3) full modernity –approximately 1966 to the present”
Teachout gets to this stuff by noticing the fact (is this right?) that Americans under 30 regard pre-1962 movies as showing an alien America, whereas I get to it more via rock. My Rock Songbook began, after all, with considering the arrival of the sexual revolution, as it looked from the vantage point of a particular song from 1968.