Reflections on 1968 and Environs

Reflections on 1968 and Environs

Nineteen hundred and sixty eight came prewrapped in a mythic version of itself. At every moment, one was aware that this was 1968. The whole year was written in italics.

Everything lent itself to media melodrama, but this was not the fault of the events: they were born melodramatic. At the remove of a quarter-century, the list boggles the imagina- tion: the Tet offensive, the Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy campaigns, Lyndon Johnson’s stepping down, the King and Kennedy assassinations, the French utopia of May and its whiff of student–worker revolu- tion, the Columbia rebellion, Prague Spring and the Russian invasion, the Chicago Demo- cratic Convention confrontations; the Mexico City massacre, the Black Power fists at the Olympics, the election of Richard Nixon. Everything seemed stripped down to elements: life and death, raw violence, grandeur and wretchedness. The Vietnam War by itself was such a towering evil that everything attached to it, and to the movement against it, had scale and extremity. The sense of worlds in collision, apocalypses now, the giddy slide (or rush) toward the edge was everywhere in popular culture, from the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” and “Sympathy for the Devil” or, if you preferred, the Beatles’ “You say you want a revolution.”

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