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The social and (counter)cultural 1960s in the USA, transatlantically

By GA McKay


In this chapter I want to look at the counterculture of the 1960s, primarily at the American phenomenon, with specific reference to political, social and cultural questions. I am conscious that these are not so easily distinguished—that, in fact, for many involved in the movement, it was a project precisely to blur or merge these categories. I hope to illustrate and interrogate some of those connections and tensions. More widely, of course, the 1960s were a time of contestation, activism, experimentation, energy, and I set the context for this. A good deal has been written about that mythicised and hyperbolic decade (if decade is was it was) and I—with my own attitudinal subcultural baggage of having been a 1970s punk—am wary of myself contributing to its pervasive nostalgising. George Lipsitz has written that ‘the enduring hold of the 1960s on the imagination of the present has been pernicious’, while Andy Bennett, following Lawrence Grossberg, writes of ‘how 1960s nostalgia airbrushes out of youth cultural history the strident political statements of punk rockers and rap artists’ (both quoted in Bennett 2004, 51). At the same time, though, a danger of not adequately historicising the period is that we end up being careless with our own radical cultural history—post-1960s, for instance—history which, as I have pointed out elsewhere, ‘is not even always that old’. While Peter Stansill and David Zane Mairowitz may be correct in their description of events ‘between 1965 and 1970 [are] clearly not a “Movement”, although full of interior motion’, it is not the case that ‘[a]ll that remains is the ephemera’ (1971, 13). Much of my own work over the years has been concerned with the social possibilities and political limitations of what might be perceived of as radical culture—in music, ways of living, youth and other social movements, protest campaigns, for instance. Such phenomena are always present, usually as more than simply utopian traces, residual strands or apparently ephemeral artefacts. What Michael Heale has called ‘the decade’s schizoid reputation’ seems markedly persistent (Heale 2001, 8)

Topics: HT, M1, E151, mem_text_and_place, other
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
OAI identifier:

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