Literary Journalism & the 60s

Literary Journalism & the 60s is the title of a class I am taking this summer. It’s an online course in which we are required to read and write essays on what we have read. As far as master’s level courses, it is pretty easy. But, as far as beach reading for the summer, it’s definitely a cut above.

The truth is, I don’t know much about the 60s. (I was born in 1974.) Any study of events/eras like the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the sexual revolution, the counter culture was done when I was in high school or early college. Let’s face it, the American high school doesn’t exactly light it up when it comes to teaching the realities of that era and the facts. And, when it was glossed over in college, I’d had no life experience of which to speak to compare.

The reading list includes In Cold Blood (Truman Capote), M (John Sack), The Armies of the Night (Norman Mailer), Slouching Towards Bethlehem (Joan Didion), The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (Tom Wolfe), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S. Thompson) and Thy Neighbor’s Wife (Gay Talese).

I had read some of those books before, but am now half way finished, having read and written essays on the first three in that list and am currently into Didion’s collection of essays (articles, really.)

What a time to be a writer. The world was shifting and Americans — particularly young Americans — cared. Imagine the passions of the Civil Rights movement that gurgled to the surface and then exploded. How would I have felt about people burning draft cards? How would I have felt about feminism? Would I have “feared” Communism, or embraced it? Would I have supported Lyndon Johnson, cared about the middle-working class religious folk in Kansas, or the American dream in the desert of California? Would I have been self-involved, selfish, at a march, raising a family, or raising hell?

Conversely, I wonder what these writers would have thought about — and written about today’s political climate. Mailer had a serious issue with power.  He was unsettled with President Johnson’s power, with the power of the trembling MPs at the march on the Pentagon (and, conversely, the power of the brains at the top of the military), with the power of the protesting mass, and with his own power as a literary figure. The political climate in America was getting ready to explode (or so it seemed), and his comic relief over such people and their power – in a really weird way – captured his anxiety of such a major issue. (Maybe I am, in fact, a dumb, self-centered Philistine because I cannot think of another way to describe it except “weird” … which is exactly how I put it in my essay on this book. I’m sure my professor will love that.)

Today it seems we are stuck on a political merry-go-round with lots of pretty-painted horses, organ music, and flashing lights to keep us entertainingly occupied while we go around and around in the same stagnant circle while the fair operators occupy themselves with the gate money and staying in front of the controls.

I hope someone is writing.

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