March 22, 2008

The Sixties and Seventies vs. the Double-Oughts

In the context of the possibility that Denver will see violence at the DNC, Stacy McCain is dubious:

I don't think so, mainly because the parallels don't work. In 1968, you had a Democratic president, Lyndon B. Johnson, who was chiefly responsible for "escalating" the war in Vietnam. LBJ's vice-president, Hubert Humphrey, had become the Democratic presidential nominee almost by accident. The early anti-war candidate, Eugene McCarthy, had faded after Robert F. Kennedy jumped into the race. Then RFK had been assassinated, leaving the pro-war candidate Humphrey to claim the nomination despite a strong anti-war presence among the delegates.

None of those political conditions is duplicated for the Democrats who will gather at Denver this year. Most importantly, there is no military draft, which was the basic factor that made the anti-war movement of the 1960s as strong as it was.

Finally, the protests at Chicago turned violent because of a hard core of SDS/Yippie radicals who actively provoked confrontations with police. Today's protesters don't have the numbers, don't have the leadership, and don't have the discipline necessary to pull off anything remotely like what happened in 1968.

I've seen these latter-day protesters in DC at anti-globalization rallies in 1999-2000 and at anti-war demonstrations held regularly since 2001. The protesters come in two varieties: Over-the-hill hippies out for a little nostalgia, and spineless young punks.

Still, the situation between the Clinton camp and the Obama camp has gotten quite severe. For the record, I don't expect violence, but the rift is going to set the DNC back on its heels for a couple of years, until someone can bring the mainstream folk, the feminists, and the whites into some kind of dialogue with the left wing of the party and much of its African-American component.

Also, see Ross Douthat has a great feature in April's Atlantic about why the film industry has attempted in some ways to go back to the filmmaking style of the 1970s—and why in doing so it is misreading some of the cultural zeitgeist:

The Vietnam War was a cultural phenomenon in part because it couldn’t help being one—there was no way for Americans to keep the war at arm’s length, not with more than 50,000 dead, a million deployed over the course of the war, and every able-bodied teen and twentysomething at risk of conscription. In contrast, the Iraq War, a lower-casualty conflict fought by an all-volunteer military, takes place at a greater distance from the everyday lives of those Americans who don’t have a family member deployed overseas. The objective correlatives needed for a truly pessimistic era simply don’t exist for many Americans today. The last time around, we were participants; this time, we’re voyeurs.

This doesn’t mean that the current paranoid, doom-ridden mood in cinema and television was manufactured in Hollywood and foisted on an unwilling public. Up to a point, at least, Hollywood is meeting Americans where they are. Mistrust of government and disquiet about the country’s future have risen to Vietnam-era levels, and reviving ’70s-style paranoia and pessimism is a natural way for the culture industry to connect with a public coping, once again, with a military quagmire, rising oil prices, prophecies of ecological doom, and corruption in high places.

But the ’70s revival isn’t simply a case of supply responding to demand; it’s also a case of Hollywood giving the audience what Hollywood wants to give it. The ’70s were in many ways dreadful years for America, but they’re remembered much more fondly in the film industry. There’s no surer way to establish your artistic (and political) bona fides than to name-drop a ’70s movie—whether it’s George Clooney bringing up All the President’s Men (1976) while promoting Michael Clayton, or Stephen Gaghan remarking that of course he was “thinking about The Parallax View and also Three Days of the Condor” while making Syriana. The suggestion is always the same—that the age of leisure suits and sideburns was also the high tide of politically engaged filmmaking, before the studios embarked on the relentless pursuit of the blockbuster and the Reagan reaction pushed American culture steadily to the right.


The paranoid style of filmmaking . . . is defined in both its Vietnam- and Iraq-era incarnations by the insistence that villains at home are more dangerous than any enemies abroad. This was a plausible point of view when the enemy abroad was Ho Chi Minh: the Vietnam War didn’t begin with “Charlie” bombing downtown Manhattan, and there was little chance that VC cadres would follow America back home. It’s a tougher sell in the age of Osama bin Laden, and as a result an air of omission, even denial, hangs over this genre’s contemporary incarnations.

Yup. Read the whole thing(s).

Posted by Attila Girl at March 22, 2008 10:35 PM | TrackBack

Re: the mistrust of government issue. When there is a Democrat in the White House, only those who espouse lunatic views are allowed to mistrust the government on TV.

When a Republican is in the White House, the lunatics fringe is carefully hidden, but the respectable mistrusters of government are allowed to speak freely, and the Libertarians are given the microphone from time to time.

Posted by: John at March 23, 2008 10:08 AM

Two things. If the film makers are meeting America where they are, how come so few people are going to see these films?

There will be violence at both conventions. The lefty websites are preparing for it.

Posted by: Peter at March 23, 2008 10:25 AM

There will be less violence at the Dem convention, and probably less at both, than at the global trade conferences earlier in the decade. At bottom, the Left favors government, any government, over prosperity and commerce.

Posted by: The Sanity Inspector at March 23, 2008 06:07 PM

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