Over, World War Two Generation, the Sixties Generation Has Arrived!
An Essay Review of the Movie, "Pleasantville"
November 18th, 1998:
What do these recent events have in common? The movies "Pleasantville"
and "The Truman Show"; the strong
showing of the Democrats in the recent elections despite the much ballyhooed
White House scandal; the popularity of shows like Ally McBeal and
The X Files; the recent nostalgia for Sixties and Seventies
cultural accouterments as exemplified by the new TV show, That 70s Show
, the resurgence of fashion items like bell-bottoms and, on women, clunky
high-heel shoes, and the use of the "peace sign" – two fingers extended in
a V-like shape, for those who don’t know – including saying "peace" while
extending it as a greeting (most often these days, when leaving); renewed
talk about and interest in the book, Catcher in the Rye; the sixty-some
percent approval rating that President Clinton enjoyed throughout almost the
entirety of the White House Sex Scandal alongside the pundits' complete and
total befuddlement as to the causes for it; the passage of medical use of
marijuana laws in a number of states in the elections earlier this month (I
may be wrong, but I
believe that the voters ruled that its use would be allowed, or would continue,
in every instance where this issue was on the ballot!); in the same
elections, in California the passage of Proposition 10 -- the ballot measure
that imposes a fifty-cents tax on cigarettes to fund programs for young
children (which ballot measure, significantly enough, was begun by Sixties-Generation
representative Rob Reiner – formerly Meathead from All in the Family
!); the return to ballad-style, Dylan-esque music embracing and expressing
social, philosophical, and extremely intimate personal views and experiences,
e.g., the hugely popular music of Alanis Morissette; the return to Joni
Mitchell-style personal, poetic, philosophical, emotional and feelingful
music, e.g., the hugely popular music of poet and songwriter/vocalist Jewel;
the release of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: The Film," based on Hunter
S. Thompson’s novel; . . I could go on.
PART ONE: THE KING MUST DIE
Most folks would see nothing in common among these. What I believe
we are seeing is no less than the ending of the "culture war" that has been
waging in our country since the 1960s between the Sixties Generation
– those whose adolescent and young adulthood, formative years were influenced
by the events of the Sixties – and the World War Two Generation –
those whose equivalent times of life were forged in the Forties, during and
around the time of World War Two.
Generation Gap and Counterculture
The huge ravine separating the views of these two generations was most
apparent when those of the Sixties Generation were in their youth, engaged
in the process of discovering and exploring their values and therefore expressing
them blatantly and with all the indiscretion, lack of subtlety, confrontation,
and rebelliousness that characterizes the inexperienced. Thus, terms
like generation gap and counterculture were bandied about, analyzed,
and fervently discussed. The differences were "on the table," in full
view; and because the views and values of the youth were so "counter" or
opposite to those of the WWII Generation, much debate and analysis was spawned
in the media to try to explain – for the most part to the WWII Generation
– how this could be so.
But these terms of generation gap and counterculture
, which highlighted the great disparity of views, would fade mostly into
disuse. This was because, later, the Sixties Generation would learn
to keep their private views and values more hidden, for practical reasons
having to do with making a living, advancing in their careers, being able
to raise their children, and so on; but this did not mean their values had
changed. They were biding their time, waiting – sometimes hopeless
that it would ever arrive – for a reversing of the pendulum and a return
in society to the ideals and visions of a better world that had so inspired
them in their earlier years. For the most part, they did not know about
the psychohistorical tendencies I will be describing here – as for example
in the evolution of child-caring and the triumphant phase of generations.
For most it was just an awareness that something so strong and so right could
not simply have completely vanished from the Earth, that with time comes
change, and therefore there had to be a time, again, when the mood of the
country would swing in the direction they felt to be healthiest and more
ideal. For some of these people their hopes were based on the simple
rules of gambling: Eventually, at some time or other, with the passage
of time, the dice just had to roll their number, if just out of pure chance
Others had a slightly more reasoned view buttressing
their hope for a return to idealism. These folks were those of the
Sixties Generation who had applied themselves to implementing the values
they learned in the Sixties in the jobs and careers they held, in whatever
small or not-so-small way that they were allowed by their older generation
superiors, bosses, managers, or supervisors. Never knowing that they
had allies among their generation that were doing the same kind of thing
in their separate fields, they followed through, the best they could, on
simple conviction, born of experience, of the rightness of the more idealistic
Lastly, there were those of the Sixties Generation who
identified themselves completely with their youthful idealism. In
putting themselves "out front" this way, in their values and beliefs, they
found others who were doing the same. They would together become the
"New Age" movement, actively engaged in bringing about the better world their
generation had envisioned in the Sixties (and early Seventies). They
would wonder, as decades passed, why it took so long for the rest of society
to catch on to what they felt was an inviting and appealing evolution – one
both necessary and therefore inevitable as well.
But these last, the New Agers, would be marginalized
and scapegoated by the mainstream of society -- a mainstream whose outlines,
of course, were determined and inscribed by the mainstream media, which was,
in turn, controlled by the wealthy elite of the World War Two Generation (more
about this to come). Examples included Jerry Brown labeled "Captain
Moonbeam," the family dynamics in the TV show Family Ties, the burnt-out
hippie depiction of cabdriver, Jim, in the Taxi television series,
and thousands of other instances where those holding New Age views were labeled
Attack of the Body-Snatchers
Another reason these terms depicting cultural division (viz.,
generation gap and counterculture) went into
disuse was due to the mobilization of the World War Two Generation – after
their initial phase of somnambulant confusion over the events that were emerging
in the Sixties which left them paralyzed and watching, growing in irritation
and anger – into a comprehensive counterattack against the Sixties Generation,
using all the Nixonian-like tactics in their arsenal (understandably, since
Nixon was of that generation and his tactics were typical of the defensive
style of his contemporaries).
Lassoing the Universities.
In the early Seventies, the World War Two Generation used their power and
wealth, being themselves in the triumphant phase of their lives, to put
pressure on colleges and universities, nationwide, to discontinue the programs,
courses, and the professors that they felt were responsible for the youth’s
rebellion. Their targets for destruction included such noteworthy "dangers"
as liberal arts programs in general, and especially "highly revolutionary"
philosophy, religious studies, anthropology, and humanistic psychology courses.
A transformation of colleges and universities into "career mills" – whose
primary function was to prepare the young for practical and skill-oriented
jobs and professions – was called for . . . or else! Or else these World
War Two alumni would discontinue their contributions to these educational
institutions. The "bottom line" being threatened in this way, no university
administration, to my knowledge, withstood their demands for very long, if
The youth produced by these institutions would hereafter be dissuaded from
thinking for themselves and from "questioning authority" – as the previous
generation had been encouraged to do – so part of the lapse in the terms
of division between the generations (counterculture and generation
gap) had to do with the fact that the wave of youth that followed the
Sixties Generation would be molded, in their college years, into distant
replicas of World War Two Generation members. They would be termed
the "Me Generation," since selfishness, greed, money-as-god, and upward mobility
were characteristics of the WWII Generation that they were able to instill
in their youthful clones. Thus, we saw the rise of Young Republicans
on campus in the late Seventies, the return of ROTC to campuses, and the
seeding of fertile young minds with the values that would later be verbalized
– in the movie "Wall Street" – in the mantram "Greed is good!" At the
height of this phase, periodicals were declaring how similar the "youth of
today" -- meaning those of the late Seventies and Eighties -- were to their
parents, how close they were to their parents in the beliefs and values they
held, and how the generation gap had inexplicably closed. Such was
the success of the WWII Generation in cloning themselves in producing Eighties
In sum, beginning in the early Seventies institutions
of higher learning turned away from their idealistic goals of "bringing out"
from the students their inner truths and wisdom (the original meaning of the
term educate), which is the avowed role of liberal arts programs, and
instead turned hard, to the right, onto a path of churning out engineers,
MBAs, hard scientists (even in the field of psychology, where humanistic psychology
was shunned), medical professionals, lawyers, and the like. My liberal
arts, semi–ivy-league college – founded, by half, by Benjamin Franklin –
turned from the idealistic studies that typified Franklin and those of his
time and swung from being a bastion of energetic inquiry into all controversial
realms – political and spiritual and societal – a virtual "Plato’s Academy"
of inquiry, into being a career mill centered around a "pre-med" program.
Harnessing the Media.
Similarly, these frightened and wealthy WWII "conspirators" (however unconscious
their alliance) would use their leverage to ensure that books and the media
– TV, radio, magazines, and newspapers – would expound their views predominantly,
would present events through the particular psychological lenses and filters
with which they were familiar, and would eschew viewpoints, and even coverage
of events, that would in any way strengthen the stance of the, by this time,
scapegoated Sixties Generation. The media declared, with much fanfare,
in the early Seventies that a "conservative backlash" was occurring; and they
published books documenting this event. Meanwhile they ignored the
polls and the events (specifically the ongoing and growing antiwar and other
counterculture "demonstrations") that would show the lie to this idea, and
they rejected and refused publication of the kind of books and articles –
still being written – that would support the counterculture movement.
Controlling the media in this way, and saying it long and loud enough, the
"big lie" of the "conservative backlash" began to be accepted as truth.
And even many in the counterculture and among the youth began to believe it.
Interestingly, those on the extreme right did not forget
that the great divide in views was still with us. Pat Buchanan and Newt
Gingrich said a "culture war" was going on, as recently as in the last decade.
If asked, they would no doubt continue to assert as much. And though
they were ridiculed on this view, they are correct (on this point, anyway).
Obviously they could see that the world was turning from the "Pleasantville"
that they had imagined and wanted it to be.
The King Must Die
But the World War Two Generation could not maintain control forever.
For one thing, people die. And being older than the Sixties Generation,
eventually their numbers had to dwindle. Their numbers dwindling,
they had to be replaced by those younger – some of whom were of the Sixties
Generation and were now in what psychohistorians call the triumphant phase
of life – that is, the time of life when a generation is in its "prime,"
when it is most influential, when it takes over the reins of society, when
it gets behind the wheel of the cultural bus.
From this perspective, "Pleasantville" is a metaphorical
review of history from the early Fifties through to the present, one which
shows the Sixties Generation, in the end, finally realizing their vision of
a more colorful, alive, open-to-new-experience and to change, growthful,
changeful, passionate, unregimented, truthful, sensual, feeling and emotionful,
and less determined, ritualized, and preordained existence. More about
First let me point out that this change in power, evident
by this movie and the other recent cultural items I’ve mentioned, is a change
as old as our species. Every generation, at some point, leaves or is
removed from their seats of power when they are at or near the end of their
arc of effectiveness and prowess by a younger generation that is coming
into or (as in the unusual case of the Sixties Generation for the reasons
unique to this time to be mentioned below) is fully in the prime
of its life.
Myths, fairy tales, stories, historical tales, and legends
the world over depict this change of power. The myth that is most transparent
in its depiction of this change is the one in which a monarch, despot, or
ogre controls and rules the land, keeping the people miserable with oppressive
and selfish decrees and policies. A young prince emerges who, after
a period of trial (in the case of the Sixties Generation, an unusually long
period of trial) in which the prince proves himself worthy, takes up the cause
of the people and overthrows the old king and takes his place. Thus
the saying "The king must die. Long live the (new) king."
The triumphant phase of the Sixties Generation has been
delayed, however, longer than any other generation in history because of
the advances in modern medical science, which has served to keep the World
War Two Generation alive and kicking longer than any previous generation.
The average life expectancy in the last 50 years (since the time when the
World War Two Generation were in their youth or young adulthood) has increased
remarkably. Hence the Sixties Generation has had to wait longer than
the World War Two Generation to get a chance behind the wheel of society.
It is strange and ironic that at a time when the speed of cultural change
is greatest because of an ever increasing speed of technological change,
at a time when the elder generation's worldview becomes obsolete sooner and
faster than ever before, at such a time when it would seem the younger generation's
view would attain relevancy and effectiveness faster and sooner than at any
previous time, at such a time we have the reverse occurring, that is, the
younger generation's ascendancy is delayed and the older one's stranglehold
on power is extended.
But this rapid change and increasing rate of obsolescence
may just have something to do with the WWII Generation's desire to hang on
and their vehement struggle against change. For, as mentioned before,
there is a gap -- greater than ever before -- between the views of the younger
and those of the older. This gap is wrought of the different technological
worlds and the corresponding sociocultural worlds that each experienced.
So the WWII Generation might be said to be more threatened than any previous
one by the generation to succeed them, because the ascendancy of the next
generation would appear to overturn and oftentimes reverse so much of what
they believe, value, worked and sacrificed for. Because of the unprecedented
technological change and corresponding change in material culture, catalyzing
in ways too numerous to mention a myriad of sociocultural and psychological
changes in their successors, there is less overlap than ever before between
the worldviews of the generation handing over power and the generation coming
into power. It follows that it would seem to the generation in power,
even as they approach the end of their mortality, that less of what they are
and were will live on after them than has ever been the case in the history
of generational succession. This being so, this generational succession
represents a previously unheard of personal invalidation and undermining of
the self-esteem of those of the World War Two Generation and a corresponding
unprecedented attack on the usual delusions of immortality (themselves living
on in some fashion in their successors) that older generations are allowed
in exchange for their relinquishing power.
At any rate and whatever may be the reason, the fact
remains that the World War Two Generation has used their longevity for all
their worth to block the ascendancy of their successors. They used
their longevity to amass wealth and power – wealth greater than any previous
generation before and, because of their actions, likely to come (e.g., their
actions have led to a situation, currently, wherein they are being taken
care of in their old age by a Social Security and Medicare system funded
by the work of the Baby-Boomers, aka Sixties Generation, at the same
time that predictions abound that that same Social Security and Medicare
system will be depleted when it is the Baby-Boomers time to belly-up to the
bar. One might also note their environmental and ecological decisions
making it that no generation after them will enjoy anywhere near the benefits
-- health and quality of life among them -- of clean environment, abundance
of natural resources, and ecological balance that they enjoyed. Finally,
their decisions regarding arms buildup and proliferation may deny life itself
to the generations following them. Other unprecedented ogre-like --
greedy, selfish, and uncaring-of-succeeding-generations -- actions can be
numbered against this generation). And they used that wealth and power
to wage a war against the generation who would be taking over from them,
keeping them and their values under attack and away from the centers of power
and influence in society as long as they possibly could.
War Over. Opposing Army
But they could not continue this war forever. Their ranks were
more and more depleted, even with the advances of modern medicine.
John Wayne, Dean Martin, Richard Nixon, Frank Sinatra – cultural icons of
that generation – are all gone. In the last year alone, Gene Autrey
and Roy Rogers ("happy trails to you" Roy, by the way) have ridden off into
the sunset. Bob Hope, however, is hanging on by his nosetip, and he
can be said to exemplify all those of the World War Two Generation who are,
due to modern medicine, hanging on and hanging in there, using their power
and influence to throw monkey wrenches into the engines of frightening (to
them) change, which they see all about them.
Stand: The Battle of the Bill (Clinton)
Which brings us to the persistent attacks on Bill Clinton (and Al Gore
and Hillary Clinton) – the first Sixties Generation U.S. president – ever
since he has been in office. The Monica Lewinsky scandal is a typical
example of the extent to which the World War Two Generation has so effectively
controlled the views and values expressed and subtly expounded in the media
ever since it took conscious control of the society’s "collective consciousness"
in this way in the early Seventies. By this I mean that in the entire
time of the scandal, it has been assumed that sex is bad, or at least that
sex outside of marriage is bad. It has been assumed that Hillary must
be horribly pained and angered by the revelation of her husband’s affair(s).
Make love, not war.
It is as if the slogan "Make Love, Not War" was never a generational
outcry. I don’t believe you will ever find mention of the fact that
slogan was used in the history books paid for/ published by World War Two
Generation owned publishing houses. Indeed, with all the talk by pundits,
analysts, and commentators on literally hundreds of TV shows in the ten months
since the Lewinsky scandal broke, that slogan, "Make Love, Not War," has
not been mentioned – to the best of my knowledge – except for one time –
when I heard it slipped in unnoticed by a participant in the middle of a
talkin’-all-at-once brouhaha on the TV show "Politically Incorrect," whereupon
it was totally ignored. Even more astonishing, those same pundits discussing,
ad nauseum, this scandal and all the myriad ramifications
of it have never, to my knowledge, made note of Clinton’s generational status
and the views, exemplified by "Make Love, Not War," which we espoused.
It has simply been assumed that all of the Sixties Generation "grew out"
of that kind of "nonsense" and had adopted the views of the WWII Generation
(again, polls on values and viewpoints be damned).
Neither did the pundits point out that Bill Clinton is of a generation
who made a book on "open marriage" a bestseller. The clinch on the
media by that older generation is so complete as to have, apparently, completely
dismissed or erased from the minds of the pundits the facts that those ideas
and books ever existed. Another thing erased from recent history:
the "sexual revolution." Remember that? When was the last time
you heard that talked about? All of the energy that had surrounded
these controversial ideas has, because of media manipulation and repression
of these views, been channeled into and reduced to a fight over a woman’s
right to choose, i.e., the abortion issue.
Incidentally, it is no coincidence that the issue of
abortion has taken on such importance for so many in the electorate, for
it is the last and only battle still openly being waged in the "culture war."
And your position on it is the closest thing to a military uniform indicating
on which side of the culture war you have enlisted. Specifically,
I am saying that there are few of the Sixties Generation who would not classify
themselves as "pro-choice." Meanwhile, the anti-abortionists are found
to be comprised primarily of those of the WWII Generation, their Eighties
Generation clones, and the Eisenhower-Presley-McCarthy -- and now we might
add "Pleasantville" -- Fifties Generation. (For a definition and explanation
of Fifties Generation see "Drugs, Consciousnesses, and Generational Cultures, Part One: Generational
World War Two Generation just
doesn’t get it . . . never has, and never will. Of course,
I am saying that the War on Clinton is, in its essence, the one last desperate
battle in the Culture War going on (despite its not being framed or talked
about this way) between the World War Two and the Sixties Generations.
The World War Two Generation, especially after the elections of November
1998 now know clearly that they are way off in some of their assumptions,
that their analysis of what has been happening in this country is woefully
miscalculated. They are like the deluded schizophrenic who has believed
passionately in the world he has himself created coming up against some of
the hard, harsh, and indisputable facts of existence which undermine his
world. How the World-War-Two-Generation–minded (whatever the individual’s
age) will deal with this harsh reality remains to be seen. But we shouldn’t
be surprised if we see some of those in their ranks – wealthy and facing
their inevitable demise – merely increasing the ferocity of their war waging
. . . humiliating themselves and seeming ever more pitiful in the minds of
the majority of observers, who increasingly, as time continues to decimate
their WWII ranks, are younger than they and thus do not share their delusions.
Comments? E-mail me by clicking on: