When it all started
0 comment Sunday, July 6, 2014 |
In discussing popular culture, we often identify the 1960s as the decade in which everything began to change, and countercultural (leftist) ideas began to flood the media and particularly Hollywood movies. However, thinking back on the overall picture, I think a case can be made that the Left was at work over many decades, not just circa 1960 and onward.
Today, an oversimplified view prevails in which ''the hippies'' or the baby-boomers (for many they are synonymous) were the fount and origin of all the bad trends which flowed together to form the upside-down world we inhabit today. The baby-boom generation played their part, but they were mostly just picking up the torch passed on by their elders, who, if not liberal themselves, failed to recognize the liberal incrementalism that transformed things gradually .
Karl Marx and his ideas date back to the mid-19th century, and even before Marx, we can look back to the Jacobins of the French Revolution, who were the forerunners of today's leftists. However the ideas that we call leftist or Marxist or socialist became more popular particularly around the time of the Great Depression. This is understandable, given the harsh economic conditions of the time; people were then more likely to listen to pseudo-populist radicals who preached redistribution of wealth.
The 'hippies' or counterculturists came along in the late 60s, not the early part of the decade. By the way, I don't remember ever hearing the word ''hippie'' until 1966, and the San Francisco 'flower child' movement appeared in earnest circa 1967.
The direct predecessors of the hippies were the beatniks, who were into Zen, existentialist philosophy and a freewheeling lifestyle. They differed somewhat from their hippie successors in being more intellectual and less interested in 'back to nature' movements.
But when both these groups were either not yet born, or wearing diapers, the Old Left was busy trying to bring on the Revolution, the uprising of the Proletariat, and usher in the socialist worker's paradise. The Communist Party had been active earlier, around the World War I years, and mass immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe brought many people with radical anarchist or communist ideas into this country, thus strengthening the leftist ranks.
During World War II, one can see how the government began to emphasize the proposition nation idea: we are all Americans if we believe in freedom and tolerance. And the war effort demanded that people of all races and creeds be united in order to win the war. There was considerable effort made towards integration of the races, and the promotion of what has become a shibboleth of our time, 'tolerance.' We can see this in some of the wartime movies and posters. We see the beginnings of multiculturalism in some of the images and rhetoric. See a video here illustrating what I mean.
While on the surface, the ideas seem benign, we can see around us the extremes which are pushed in the name of 'tolerance'. The idea that we are all the same, and differences don't matter, except to 'Nazis', is not true.
The movies of the 1940s seemed to show an increase in ethnic characters -- especially the war movies, in which every platoon or ship's crew had to be a cross-section: an Irishman, a Pole with a name ending in '-ski', an Italian, a plain generic 'American'. Optional: an American Indian talking in slang, a wisecracking Jewish character or a Southerner with a funny drawl, any of which provided 'comic relief.'
The postwar years saw movies dealing with interethnic 'prejudice,' like Gentlemen's Agreement.
The 1950s brought an increase in movies which dealt with the seamy side of life, specifically drug addiction, such as The Man With the Golden Arm, Monkey on My Back, and A Hatful of Rain, the latter two being released in 1957.
At the time, movies on such subjects were touted as 'frank, honest' or 'shocking.' Perhaps they were more reality-oriented than the relatively wholesome entertainment of the previous few decades, but this fixation on sleaze and ugliness became a permanent one in Hollywood as time went on.
Much as we think the 1950s were the decade of Sandra Dee and Doris Day, wholesomeness personified, Hollywood was leaning more towards the 'frank' type of film, with increasing portrayals of the dark side. Even teen films began to focus on illicit sex, pregnancy, and abortion, such as Blue Denim, in 1959, or A Summer Place in that same year.
Films involving bigotry became quite the vogue in the 50s. There were movies about racial deception, or ''passing for White'', films like Pinky, (which actually was a 1949 movie), Imitation of Life, and Showboat.
Other movies that explored the racial theme (from a leftist, politically correct angle, of course) were, oddly, a couple of science fiction movies, notably The World, The Flesh, and The Devil, from 1959. That movie had three survivors of a nuclear attack -- one White woman, played by Swedish actress Inger Stevens, one White man, and one black man. Dilemma: who gets the girl?
I had incorrectly remembered Sidney Poitier as the black man, but reading the IMDB page shows that it was calypso singer Harry Belafonte who played the role.
This comment from IMDB shows the typical PC reaction:
A very thought provoking movie that was not accepted at the time, but in retrospect, way way ahead of its time. In a racially charged world it put forth the premise that race, in the final analysis, is superficial and meaningless. Once you strip away the layers of conditioning and socialization, you find, at the core, good and evil and the age old struggle as to which will prevail. A simple story, told directly and honestly. On a scale of 1 to 10, its an 11.''
Yes, so even in 1959, those Hollywood writers (who were not really communists, honest) were busy little bees promoting radically different ideas, ideas which were in sharp conflict with traditional America. But it was all done with noble motives, you see, so it was for our good that our brains have been washed.
Another movie dealing with 'bigotry' was Pressure Point, in which singer/actor Bobby Darin played some kind of right-wing extremist. His performance was hailed, but the message was sledge-hammer subtle.
Stanley Kramer was kind of a one-man message-film industry in the 50s and onward, with movies like The Defiant Ones, with Sidney Poitier (or was it Belafonte again?) and Tony Curtis handcuffed together in mutual hate, but they learn to get along to survive. Very subtle symbolism there; about as subtle as Star Trek's "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield."
Movies of both the 50s and the early 60s had pushed the envelope regarding sexuality, and there were early explorations not only of illicit heterosexual relationships (adultery, incest, even 'child brides' as in Baby Doll) but the subject of homosexuality was brought in in movies like Suddenly, Last Summer.
All of this was done under the guise of 'frankness' and 'honesty', and much was written and said about how the Europeans were ever so much more advanced and enlightened than the inhibited and repressed Anglo-Saxon Christian countries. The Scandinavian countries in particular were much admired by the left and the sophisticated urban set for their open and loose sexual mores.
I can remember, as a teenager, reading articles about how in Denmark and Sweden, sex crimes were few and far between, so if we adopted their free-and-easy sexual attitudes, we would have few to no sex crimes. Everybody would be so free of inhibitions and Victorian repression, and thus nobody would feel the need to commit rape or to molest anybody. We all know how that worked out.
I can't leave out the other prominent them of movies in the 50s and 60s: atomic warfare or nuclear annihilation; World War III. These were the days of 'mutually assured destruction', of talk of nuclear strikes and red phones and the possibility of a mistaken launch of nuclear missiles. Those themes were explored in movies like Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe, On the Beach, and others.
Science fiction movies of the time often dealt with post-nuclear holocaust scenarios, or 'atomic mutations' with human beings exposed to radiation becoming giants ("The Amazing Colossal Man") or monsters of some sort.
The Day the Earth Stood Still, a favorite of liberal peaceniks, has a benevolent and wise alien coming to teach erring humanity to behave themselves, and stop all that fighting, or else -- or else the benevolent, peaceful aliens will blast us all to smithereens, which is no more than what we human warmongers deserve. There is a little irony in the message of that film which seems to escape the lefties. Actually, I enjoy the movie, despite its odd message.
Most of the trends and ideas which have come together to make our present-day world the crazy place that it is are present and very visible by the 1950s, and in fact had their origins much further back than that.
1960, however, is sort of an identifiable turning point for popular culture, in which we see things taking shape much more clearly, and by the mid-60s, around the time of the JFK assassination and the emergence of the Beatles, we see the budding counterculture coming into position.
When it comes to watching movies, I find the 1960s, if not the latter 1950s, as being the time when the old America truly began to vanish, bit by bit, and the new 'America' began to take its place.
I tend to avoid movies made from the 1960s onward. I often find it hard to understand how anyone who is not a dedicated leftist multiculturalist can endure watching much of what has been produced in recent decades. I admit to being a purist, but too often I detect the scent of decay about popular culture after the early 1960s.

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