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When did “the 60s” begin?

“The 60s,” it is sometimes said, didn’t really commence until late in that decade, with many of the worst excesses actually taking place in the early 1970s. But Terry Teachout identifies 1962 as the year when the popular culture began to change.

When did the world in which we now live take fully recognizable shape? I suspect that most middle-age Americans would point to 1968, the annus horribilis when Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. But it was in 1962, not 1968, that the curtain first started inching up on our age of full-color anxiety. Turn the clock back exactly a half-century and you’ll find yourself in a different America—but one fraught with subtle signs and portents of what was to come.

“The caldron of change was already bubbling away” in 1962, Teachout says:

Take a. . .glance at the guest list for Carson’s “Tonight Show” debut [in 1962] and you’ll note the unexpected presence of Mel Brooks, whose raucously, unabashedly vulgar movies would soon help to undermine Hollywood’s long-established sense of the appropriate. Nor was Mr. Brooks the only portent of things to come. Nineteen sixty-two was also the year when Bob Dylan cut his first album. Andy Warhol’s first solo show, an exhibition of Campbell’s Soup cans, opened in Los Angeles in 1962, and Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” opened on Broadway. As dissimilar as these now-venerable objets d’art may seem to us now, they all had in common the iron determination of their creators to break decisively with the earnest, self-confident tone of postwar culture.

If Teachout is correct about 1962, and I think he is, then we should question the familiar narrative that views baby boomers as the driving force behind the rise of the counterculture. Baby boomers were too young to drive cultural change in 1962, nor at that time did Mel Brooks, Edward Albee, and Andy Warhol have much appeal to boomers. Their appeal was to older generations, including portions of the one dubbed “the Greatest.”

At a minimum, then, we should conclude that the cultural disconnect between baby boomers and older generations, including that of their parents, has been overstated. But we should have suspected this all along, considering how little resistance the youth culture of the late 1960s encountered, by and large, from the would-be guardians of the pre-existing culture.

Via Emily Esfahani Smith at Ricochet.

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