Friday, May 25, 2007

late 60s poster construction by Bonnie MacLean in
Whitney Museum exhibt on Psychedelic Era. NY Times.
Posted by Picasa
Free Your Mind: Late 1960s on Display

For me and many people I knew when we were students, there was no real conflict between the politics and culture of the late '60s. They seemed to spring from the same sources, and we reconciled them in our lives as well as our approach to the world. But there was a certain distance--and sometimes tensions-- between political activists and "cultural" activists (otherwise known as hippies) at various times in the '60s, probably more extreme in cities and bigger universities than on our small and relatively isolated campus.

I still see a continuum, and certainly a common dynamic in the worldview that accompanied antiwar and pro-Civil Rights and liberation politics, and the psychedelic "mind expanding" culture of rebellious ideas, electric music and desperate yearnings for new relationships to nature, human and otherwise. "Free Your Mind" (as I recall being shouted at the beginning of a Beatles song) is total. But even in retrospect, the politics vs. culture controversies continue.

I draw that conclusion from Holland Carter's terrific New York Times essay concerning the Whitney Museum's exhibition, "Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era." It's in many ways an authentic summary of the era. And it does fault the exhibit for ignoring the political context:

Tear gas, pot and patchouli were the scents of the 1960s. You can almost detect the last two, spicy and pungent, wafting through “Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era” at the Whitney Museum of American Art. But tear gas, with its weird-sweet burn, is missing in a show that remembers a lot, but forgets much more, about what was happening 40 years ago, when America was losing its mind to save, some would say, its soul.

Carter admits that "for anyone who wasn’t around then, the period is all but impossible to know," but in a few eloquent paragraphs he suggests it, in ways that resonate with me. Yet his judgment also reflects his belief that for "anyone who was around, it’s hard to describe without sounding either nostalgic or bitter." Like many literary boomers, he tends towards the bitter. In that, I think he goes a bit far. I don't think the counterculture was, as he says, originally just a commercial venture, though he's right that it rather quickly became one, at first for promoters and record companies, and then in the larger commercial culture of the 70s.

And he's also right that as young people we were hopelessly self-centered, but contrary to his view, I believe there was altruism and "love" in the larger sense, as well as concern for the future, and even some interest in the past (just not the one packaged for us by the larger culture.) It was in fact that larger culture that considered the past irrelevant and the future not worth considering. That the larger culture continues to feel that way I don't believe is itself a byproduct of that era.

Anyway, anyone who lived through the decade will find this a stimulating piece, and those who didn't will find it informative beyond the usual iconic images and simplistic distortions. And armed with this essay, the Whitney exhibit sounds like a trip worth taking if you're in New York.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Boomer Evangelicals: Expanding Soul

An intriguing article in the NY Times Magazine suggests that the American Evangelical movement is changing--moving away from obsession with gay marriage and God's Own Party to different and in some ways more traditional concerns. Though the issue of abortion continues to unite conservative Christians, some of the newer Evangelical leaders are also talking about poverty, health issues such as AIDS, and the chief illness of the earth: the climate crisis:

Members of the baby boomer generation are taking over the reins, said D. G. Hart, a historian of religion. The boomers, he said, are markedly different in style and temperament from their predecessors and much more animated by social justice and humanitarianism.

One example was the call to see the climate crisis as a moral issue which brought together some "mainstream conservative Christian leaders with prominent liberal evangelicals, such as the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners and the Rev. Ronald J. Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, who have long championed progressive causes."

Though some observers caution that this is only the beginning of a shift (and one Evangelical leader was forced to step down because of his climate crisis advocacy) and that it may take a generation to become dominant, it does suggest there is less enthusiasm for automatic party line GOP politics, which includes climate crisis denial and contempt for "bleeding heart" efforts to address poverty, disease and injustice. Within the Evangelicals (roughly a quarter of the U.S. population), this new "centrist group" is roughly equal in numbers to the far right group (according to Pew Research) and it is the centrist group that is growing.