Monday, February 27

Once More Unto the Breech, Dear Typists!

I had a busy weekend, by which I mean I didn't do anything, so here, as Lévi-Strauss said about modern painters, is the sort of post I'd have written if by chance I had written one:

Some days I'll read an NRO link, some days I'll hit command-W the minute I see one loading, so after a couple of false starts I finally started nosing around Rod Dreher and the Crunchy Bunch, courtesy of Roy. It's a gold mine and I've barely unpacked my pick, but regulars won't be surprised to learn that this was the first glint to catch my eye:
The Fifties [Rod Dreher 02/22 08:05 PM ]

A reader extrapolated from my discussion of 1950s magazine propaganda aimed at telling women that big business knew better for housewives than tradition that crunchy cons must somehow despise the 1950s. Nope. I prefer the Fifties in most every way except for the institutionalized racism. The music certainly was better (I’m thinking of jazz). And except for the civil rights revolution, I have the same general distaste for the 1960s that most conservatives do. I invite readers of the blog to read the book, and not make sweeping generalizations about what we believe. It’s a lot more nuanced than what you might think.

In any case, one thing I’ve always had to keep in the front of my mind when thinking about how things went to hell in the 1960s is this: if things were so great in the 1950s, they wouldn’t have collapsed so swiftly. It’s real easy for us on the right – especially on the Catholic right, seeing what happened to the Church in the 1960s and 1970s – to idealize and romanticize the 1950s. Shouldn’t happen.

As we have pointed out a few times here, enough that we're tired of deciding whether to use "the 60s" or "the Sixties", that favored decade of the social moralist who isn't writing science fiction did not spring full blown from the head of Bob Dylan, or from the full-blown head of Timmy Leary. The panoply of moral decay and unseemly sexual activity "conservatives" so love to hate traces right to the Golden 50s: desegregation, youth culture, soaring divorce rates and unwed births, drug use, declining church attendance, feminism, anti-Big Business leftism, moral relativism, ban-the-Bomb, "obscene" literature, you name it. Only gay rights lacks much of a connecting thread; we can argue about when porno films went from backroom smokers to store shelves, but it's obvious that the introduction of home video, and not the invention of the Love-in, was responsible for its explosion. A "nuanced view" of the 50s is not all that convincing from someone offering a cartoon take on what came next.

But it was the gleam of our old friend, that "except for the institutionalized racism", that caught my eye. I haven't read enough of Mr. Dreher to know how nuanced his view there might be, so I take that merely as a starting point (I wonder, though, if he's aware of the sort of racism that greeted Be-Bop).

There may be an echo in here. But how easy it is forty or fifty years on to denounce institutionalized racism while ignoring, if not outright opposing, what it took to overcome it to the extent we did! How far would the movement have gone with an "originalist" Court? With the assertion that property rights always trump the personal? What would have happened in this country in the dreaded 60s if Lyndon Johnson hadn't thrown his weight behind the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts? There was a twelve month open season on Negro Troublemakers in the South. If Johnson hadn't forced Hoover into sending the FBI into Mississippi in the wake of the murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, the non-violence of King, now so admired at a distance, would have found its own shallow grave. There were Republicans and Democrats on both sides, to be sure. But where would today's young conservative, so troubled by our racist past, stand if he had to decide today? If it were Bush, not Goldwater, tossing out the generations-long Republican support among those blacks empowered to vote for the sake of white Southern support?

That sacrifice was on my mind when I read World O'Crap's piece on the brave young college Republicans who are fed up, aren't going to take it anymore, and are manning battle stations in the 21st Century Blogosphere. Easy enough to say--as I suggested there--"why aren't you in Iraq?" But maybe an even better question is why, with all the liberal indoctrination you had to endure in public schools, don't you have an inkling of the kind of raw courage in the face of real obstacles people displayed in this country just forty years ago? Why are Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain more real to you than Medgar Evars and Sheriff Clark? Why aren't you marching two abreast, after emptying your pockets of pocketknives and coins and combs, into the lair of the oppressor? I think I know the answer, but I'll happily listen to your explanation.


T.H. said...

dan wakefield wrote a book about the 1950s as the prelim for the 1960s, btw.

Anonymous said...

Man, you harsh the mellow of their historic view with your committment to the obfuscation of perception via reality. Love to see that!

Anonymous said...

Why aren't you marching two abreast, after emptying your pockets of pocketknives and coins and combs, into the lair of the oppressor?

I'm a wanker.

teh l4m3 said...

"Other than that, how did you like the decade, Mr. Goldwater?" Sheesh...

Henry Holland said...

Only gay rights lacks much of a connecting thread

Actually, the roots of the US gay rights movement are directly traceable back to the end of WWII. Homosexuality was prevelant in the military, especially in the Pacific, as it always is in the time of war (as Aschenbach sings in Britten's glorious opera Death in Venice: When heroes flourish/Eros has flourished too).

So, you have a mass of gay/bi/questioning people of both genders coming back from Europe and the Pacific theatre. They had to go through New York, San Francisco and (to a lesser degree, Los Angeles) for processing on their way back to Keokuck, Iowa.

So, you're a shirtlifter and not ashamed of it, you're going back home to Kennawunkosha, Wisconsin through San Francisco. When the choice was stay in San Francisco and live free from family pressures and small town morality or go back to Keokuck Iowa and live in the closet, which do you think they chose? The classic definition of a "no-brainer".

The thread kind of got snapped a bit in the 50's but as bad as the McCarthyite thing was for us mo's, it also provoked a tiny back lash and lead to the first real organizing of homosexuals in the is country via the Mattachine Society and The Daughter of Bilitis. Thanks Joe, you closet case drunk!

One of the major turning points was The One Institute here in Los Angeles winning a landmark case about "sending smut through the mail". Their magazine is highly prized among collectors of gay history and it's not pornographic in any way. In fact, it has a lot in common with women's magazines--shut up, just shut the hell up--in that it was things like "What to do if you're arrested for loitering" mixed with poetry and stuff.

Anyway, the One Institute won their case and that was the real kick start to the Gay Liberation Movement.

History is always so much more interesting than the way the wingnuts paint it.

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