When I wrote about the inaccuracy of the “You weren’t promised flying cars, you were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia” meme, I elided over a few things. One of which is our collective tendency to misremember and oversimplify.
The flying cars vs cyberpunk dystopia dichotomy is a great example. Given how many friends felt the need to point out to me that Blade Runner, clearly depicting a cyberpunk dystopia, also had flying cars, I’m not the only one to notice this oversimplification. Flying cars and dystopias are not mutually exclusive.
I chose to into interpret “flying cars” as short hand for “utopian future which includes flying cars,” which is why I kept referring to a “flying car utopia” throughout the post. Since “oppresive cyberpunk dystopia” was clearly presented in the original meme as a contrast, I didn’t think it was much of a stretch to assume they meant the two choices as mutually exclusive notions of the future.
The issue I focused on was the age which the meme asserted one must be to have been “promised” the one over the other. I didn’t talk about what prompted so many people to think that the age assertion was reasonable.
The clear implication of choosing 60 as the cut-off was that all that optimisim about the future was only happening in the 1950s. Clearly, such shiny hope couldn’t have existed during the 1960s, when everyone was either protesting the Vietnam war, or rioting over civil rights, or dropping out and tuning in, right?
If that’s what you think the entire 1960s was like, you’ve fallen prey to a massive rewrite of the collective memory.
For instance, the first protest march against our presence in Vietnam was in 1964, but the anti-war movement didn’t become a large scale phenomenon until 1966. Even then, it wasn’t until 1969 that a majority of college campuses had seen protests.
On the other hand, major civil rights events were happening from the mid-50s. Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott were in 1955, not during the 60s. The lunch counter sit-ins and boycotts got underway in 1958 and had given way to other activities by 1960. Yes, the Freedom Rides, Selma, the March on Washington, and the horrors of Freedom Summer in Mississippi (where local authorities teamed up with the KKK using arrests, beatings, arson, murder, and more to drive out the civil rights volunteers and prevents blacks from registering to vote) all happened during the first half of the 1960s, that’s true. But there was plenty of racial civil rights unrest in the 50s, as well.
A lot of the popular culture trends that people ascribe to the 60s didn’t really become widespread until the very end of the decade. As late as 1974, for instance, most public high schools still forbade boys from having long hair. A lot of the clothing styles people think of as 60s is really early 70s.
And what about those 70s? It was all disco fever, with people snorting cocaine between dances, or popping quaaludes while organizing their omnisexual orgies, right? Well, briefly. There is a lot of proto-disco music running from the mid- and late-60s, but the first indisputably disco songs to chart in the U.S. were in 1974. It wasn’t until ’75 that disco music really starting holding its own in popularity, and not really until ’77 that it and the associated styles were dominant. And by that point, the “Disco Sucks” movement was gaining steam, culminating in an anti-disco event that was organized at a baseball double-header, but turned into a riot in 1979. Disco’s time as a defining characteristic of pop culture was only about three-and-a-half years.
Club drugs had always included both cocaine and pills such as Quaaludes, but they definitely were most strongly associated with disco for a while. And while it was true that the enormous gay dance clubs came into being—and straight people going to those gay clubs hit its peak when disco was king—New Wave was the music scene that was most accepting of bi and gay people, not disco.
Another way to look at it: it was no accident when the creators of That 70s Show began their nostalgic recreation of what being a teen-ager in the 70s was like with the week that Star Wars was released (May 25, 1977).
My point is that the entire 1950s wasn’t an idyllic, innocent Pleasantville time. The 1960s wasn’t all strife and discord and a clash of cultures. And the 70s wasn’t all a decadent time of dancing and drugs and hedonism as a reaction to all that seriousness in the 60s. A bit of each was true throughout all three decades.