December 5, 2012

Presidential shootings and mythos

My current Taki's column doesn't attempt to provide an all-around theory of the causes of the Sixties, it just offer a couple of ideas to help explain why there's a consensus that the Sixties didn't start until after JFK's assassination. For example, Charles Murray's Coming Apart starts with a description of what life was like in America in the third week of November 1963. In various statistical measures, you can see inflection points in 1964-65. 

This is important for assessing gradualist theories, such as Kevin Drum's not implausible idea that the long buildup of lead in the environment slowly undermined inhibition control. But we also saw a distinct hinge of a history in the mid-1960s that happened fast enough to raise doubts about purely gradualist theories being sufficient. 

By the way, my instant reaction when hearing that President Reagan had been shot in March 1981 was, "Oh, no, hear we go again." Disorder was winning over order again. But then, the President didn't die. 

I have this unprovable theory that the series of reassuring and humorously defiant jokes Reagan told between getting shot and going under on the operating table played some kind of weirdly powerful role in the national mood, even in why the Eighties turned out differently than the Sixties.


helene edwards said...

Tell me why lead wouldn't dull kids' ability/inclination to make melodic music. So if it's lead, then the "inflection point" would be punk, i.e. 1977 or so, right? At what point did most kids start sneering at melody?

Anonymous said...

I'm old enough to remember the Kennedy assassination and the profound shock it sent thru the country - for people who are younger, the closest thing would be 9/11, but accompanied by an even greater loss of innocence. But I can't believe that it alone was enough to account for all the dysfunction of the '60s. By the time of the assassination, my family had already fled from the urban "situation" in NYC. By the time Reagan was shot, MLK and RFK were dead and people were pretty cynical about these things so it wouldn't have had the same impact as JFK. Reagan was the luckiest man ever and if he had been shot in the head like Brady he wouldn't have been making all those sunny jokes.

Steve Sailer said...

"Reagan was the luckiest man ever"

Don't underestimate the power of luck, including the assumption: "This guy looks like he has luck on his side, so I want to be on his side."

Steve Sailer said...

"Tell me why lead wouldn't dull kids' ability/inclination to make melodic music. So if it's lead, then the "inflection point" would be punk, i.e. 1977 or so, right?"

Punk was promoted by smart people with little musical talent, such as, uh, me.

Anonymous said...

The sad thing about the Reagan shooting is that the time he spent hooked up to the heart-lung machine during surgery seems to have been the thing that kicked off his cognitive decline. White House insiders said Reagan was never really the same afterward, and for all of the guy's flaws, he appears to have been quite a bright, thoughtful guy in the 60s and 70s.

Simon in London said...

The '80s turned out a lot better than the '60s. But then we had the '90s, repeating the '60s as farce, with Political Correctness from ca 1989 bringing a crushing iron curtain down upon the 'Free World'.

Anonymous said...

I think Kennedy's assassination was a huge blow to faith in the Establishment. The competent-looking men in serious gray suits couldn't even protect the President of the United States, the Leader of the Free World from getting shot. In quick succession, we found that they also couldn't keep order in the cities, couldn't manage the economy and couldn't keep the nation's top universities from being overrun by New Left hooligans.

The Man can't stop you. The Man can't protect you. The Man is a sham. I think that's a big part of the story of the 1960s.


2Degrees said...

My late mother had a simple explanation concerning the situation in England. The parents of these kids were born in WWI and had lived through the Depression. The children themselves were born during the WWII which most Brits of a certain age remember as a time of rotten food (powdered egg), rationing and chillblains caused by leaking, worn-out shoes and threadbare bedding. Their parents were determined that their children would not have to suffer the privations they had and so spoiled them. This was also the era of the baby boom so hordes of spoiled brats reached adulthood at the same time.

Could this apply to the US? There was no rationing, but the US Depression was far more serious than in Britain which sensibly gave up on free trade and the gold standard, allowed the currency to slide and moved over to Empire Preference.

In Germany the situation was exacerbated by the fact that these kids could openly despise their Nazi-era parents and the parents had to meekly accept it. Ulrika Meinhof's daughter started an anti-60 movement about ten years ago, but I'm not sure it went anywhere.

The abusive French term for boomer is a soixante-huitard attarde. Dabiel Cohn-Bendit has been a national pain-in-the-XXXX ever since. There is a who caste of sixty-somethings in France who are just like him.

This was also the era of the COld War and it is easy for Americans to forget the huge influence Communism had in Western Europe, including Britain where the Labour Party was thoroughly infilitrated. They saw hiipies as a way to undermine their ideological enemies.

I am very ignorant of the US, but my mother's observations are very true of britain and Europe.

WMarkW said...

John Hinckley's was also the last high-level assassination attempt, after two decades of them: Oswald, Sirhan, Ray, Byck, Bremer, Fromme, Moore. Then after Hinckley, there just stopped being succesful ones or close calls.

Steve Sailer said...

Taking a bullet while you are in your seventies isn't going to do your body or brain much good.

Anonymous said...

Same could be said of Obama.

Son of Brock Landers said...

The JFK assassination was the end of that Ike-JFK era. Isn't a big key socially and politically the fact that the main beneficiary of JFK's death was a master politician who used the power of the federal government to change how families function, formed and lived forever, Mr. LBJ? Everything he pushed through that seriously unhinged American politics and life started in that '64-'65 period.

Let's not forget that roughly 60 days after that, the Beatles premiered on the Ed Sullivan Show. As my dad said, people left school Friday looking like Elvis and came back Monday looking like John. I've alwasy thought the overemotional response to the first Beatles performances was just pent up emotion from the young people in America who did not mourn JFK properly.

Jon Claerbout said...

Unique about that time were (1) Viet Nam war draft, (2) arrival of "the pill", and (3) lack of knowledge of the effects of many drugs.

Anonymous said...

The fifties were more wholesome than the 20s, 30s, and 40s, not just the 60s.
Just before antibiotics, but after everyone knew the germ theory disease, cleanliness was REALLY next to Godliness for middle-class women. Ask any woman who was around in the fifties. Women who grew up after antibiotics were taken for granted think Mom = Soap Nazi. Mom thought: My lazy slut daughter will die in her filthy house with her dirty family when Spanish Flu returns. If lockjaw don't get them first.
Speaking of lockjaw, nothing spreads it like road dust up your nose and coating your sandwich and any random skin cuts you pick up: Except giant piles of horse poo on every street corner: going after WWI, gone by the late 30s). Still lots of horse/mule feces road dust in small towns through the forties. Respectable milkmen were still publicly flogging old horses to death on icy roads through the thirties and into the forties: respectable families still exposed their innocent daughters to the sight of male horse genitals as they saluted any mare in the mood. Or, your mom during Eve's Curse.
Cars, antibiotics, and (pace Derb) TV cleaned us off. Notice how nice and wholesome gasoline smells?

alonzo portfolio said...

determined that their children would not have to suffer the privations they had and so spoiled them ... could this apply to the US?

In fact, this was my parents' expressed attitude in 1960's (had kids late) San Francisco. On the other hand, somehow I was never influenced by any aspect of the Left. Probably most kids who grew up merely middle-class (think Van Nuys) rather than upper middle (Palo Alto) escaped it.

Skeptical Economist said...

One more data point. A long time ago, I looked at health care cost inflation. Historically, health care prices tracked the general CPI. Health care prices appear to have taken off, the instant Medicare was passed into law (1965).

If we attribute Medicare to Johnson and Johnson to Lee Harvey Oswald, then the assassination of JFK did indeed have some very far reaching effects.

Anonymous said...

Taking a bullet while you are in your seventies isn't going to do your body or brain much good.

Its not a bed of roses for anyone else either.

irishfan87 said...

I think the weirdness of the Hinkley had something to do with it to mostly because for the first time people saw just how seductive and Dionysian movies could be and recoiled a little bit. Not just the religious right (who lets face it was probably more right about Elvis than we like to admit) but even the bobos who at least sociological didn't exist yet.

This is probably an overwrought point but I think people adopted an intentionally controlled and clean culture (if nonetheless ostentatious and decadent)because it kind of shocked America that a thirteen old fictional hooker could lead someone to seek her attention by shooting the president. I mean you had your Vance Packards in the fifties and sixties of course Hidden Persuaders and all that but that stream of thought had always assumed that the seductiveness of visual media altered rational decision making rather than creating a new reality for the target. It was like the second element of the Manchurian Candidate, the brainwashing as opposed to communism, which was absent in Oswald's crime had come to life again and again tried to assassinate another president. In response, it seems that American culture tried to reach back at first for a kind of Baroque style (which in Europe was a fusion of the cult of emotion and political reaction as such a kind of half way point between Reformation anarchism and Catholic reaction) which had prevailed somewhat in the fifties, but only found itself capable of rococo which reached its apogee in Whitney Houston's half time american flag track suit.

I think what the arts crowd took for soulness (think the constant jabs at Huey Lewis in Am Pschyo) were a culture trying to become less gritty and wild whil at the same time refusing to ask itself questions about said culture's core

Hinkley was just weird enough that his loserdom didn't just make the establishment look inept like the poster above suggests about Kennedy's shooting. Of course you can't test this, but I wonder if Hinkley had been trying to get the attention of Cher from Starstruck or Farrah Fawcett if this admittedly hypothesized rally effect would have emerged.

Possible support for this idea comes from just how staid Jodie Foster turned out. I get that she is a lesbian and many lesbians seem predisposed staidness, but she was one of the first to opt for the single mom by insemination route and has kept a real low profile in terms of personal life. I mean since the insemination baby about the only thing ive heard about her was her defending Mel Gibson.

This is way to long but oh well that's my two cents.

Anonymous said...

Is it there have been no close calls on Presidents since Hinckley, or that we don't hear about them-that they are defined away? I suspect some of that has happened. Especially with Obama where the MSM would do anything the Praetorian Guard (SS) asked.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous wrote: Just before antibiotics, but after everyone knew the germ theory disease, cleanliness was REALLY next to Godliness for middle-class women. Ask any woman who was around in the fifties. Women who grew up after antibiotics were taken for granted think Mom = Soap Nazi. Mom thought: My lazy slut daughter will die in her filthy house with her dirty family when Spanish Flu returns. If lockjaw don't get them first.

Very good points. I would add that the biggest medical advance of the Fifties, with the most profound effect on culture, was development of the polio vaccine.

cmcoct said...

Even Pat Buchanan conceded in Death of the West that the JFK assassination was a critical turning point for the USA. While he's no conspiracist, he agrees that a whoooooole lotta bad stuff ensued.
The academic evidence (that not only had JFK refused to put combat troops into Vietnam, but had decided and was actually withdrawing our support from South Vietnam) is clear and convincing.

The lies of the Warren Report, the lies about progress in Vietnam, the MLK and RFK assassinations, the deepening cynicism, etc. all made 1968 inevitable in America.
Combine that with the failed Prague Spring, and the sense that oppressive forces would use any means necessary to remain in power,
all made an inarticulate but real rage a certainty among thinking young people world-wide.

Why are all US Presidents such interventionists since then?

Because they are afraid (rightly) of assasination.

We live in a client state, not a democracy.

Londoner said...

Before Obama's first election there was a substantial volume of "assassination porn" circulating in the liberal media that was commented on here - screeds lamenting the near-certainty that the numinous president-assumptive would be murdered by hate-filled white bigots. Considering what a great career move getting assassinated was for Kennedy, I suspect there was a kernel of hope in these fantasies that Obama would indeed be assassinated, and could become an eternal martyr and endless source of shame for what remains of white America. And it would avoid the One's political career ending in failure (as all political careers do).

The MSM leapt with glee on the two internet fantasists who "planned" to shoot Obama wearing dinner jackets, but when it became obvious what a joke that was it was quietly memory-holed.

Londoner said...

I don't know if this is too mundane and banal a comment to make, but in both the assassination of Kennedy and the attempted assassination of Reagan, applying Occam's Razor and asking "cui bono?" leads one fairly directly to Johnson and Bush respectively.

And what was it, Neil Bush had dinner with John Hinckley's brother the night before Reagan was shot? Now I know sometimes coincidences do happen, but hang on, that is just too extraordinary isn't it?

Then there's GHWB's alleged involvement in Kennedy's demise - based on pretty circumstantial evidence, sure, but kind of noteworthy, especially if you accept the possibility that there was some kind of Bush-Hinckley axis in 1981. GHWB was presumably a CIA man long, long before he was appointed director. If Stone had waited until after Bush was out of office to make JFK, would he have had the courage to work him into the story? The Bush connection was better documented than some of the speculation that Stone did include in the film.
The Bushes are known for their stupid, repetitive behaviour (most obviously the family naming conventions, both of offspring and boats). 9/11 being pulled within a few months of GWB's election does rather echo the shooting of Reagan being pulled with a few months of his own election.

Lastly, Nixon was the president who was assassinated without being killed. The chain of events in the mid-1970s was a funny old carry-on - Agnew and Nixon forced out of office in quick succession, on largely trumped up and inconsequential charges, and Ford and a member of the Rockefeller dynasty being fast-tracked into the two top jobs (and immediately appointing Rumsfeld and Cheney to significant offices, not to mention GHWB himself). Pre-echoes of Cheney's and Rumsfeld's takeover in the early 2000s, via a Bush whom they actually could manipulate.

Harrison, Taylor and Roosevelt died in office - Harrison and Roosevelt seem to be fairly clear cases of death by natural causes, but Taylor, hmmmm.... sad for him that he's one of the legion of 19th century presidents who is now completely forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Why were the 1980s not like the 1960s / Sixties?

1) No Baby Boom.
2) Economy wasn't so hot.
3) What to rebel against?

Point one is simple enough; there was no baby boom in the 80s. The youth of the 80s was the Baby Bust Generation. There was no sense of generational solidarity.

Point two may be surprising, but no less true. The 1980s economy simply wasn't so great, especially during the beginning and end of the decade, and doubly so for youth. Even the good times of the Reagan Prosperity Decade were from 1984-87. YMMV depending on region. And unlike the "G.I. Bill and Unions Era", prospects were always worse if you had no college degree or family connections.

Point three: What to rebel against? For most kids, nothing. There was no generation gap; kids and parents largely shared the same values. Of course there were exceptions: punks, goths, skinheads, metallers, Satanists, and the like. And of course the handful of fascist fundie parents.

Anonymous said...

"Charles Murray's Coming Apart starts with a description of what life was like in America in the third week of November 1963."

Peter Hitchens' excellent The Abolition of Britain does a brilliant comparison between the Britain of Churchill's funeral and Princess Diana's funeral. He writes that "many of the pillars of the old order fell at once" - which in the UK they did - the change in criminal justice from retribution to (attempted) rehabilitation, the abolition of the death penalty, the legalisation of abortion and homosexual acts, the change in education from fact-centred to child-centred. Combine that with the transformative effects of the Pill and of TV and you have a revolution.

Anonymous said...

the change in education from fact-centred to child-centred

You mean from church-centred to tard-centred.

virgil xenophon said...

Late here, but the best description of the early pre-JFK assassination 60s was once put by Bentley Alexander, President of Student Government at LSU when he said: "The early sixties was an era of great good-will and optimism: The conservatives thought everything was going to stay the same and the liberals thought everything was going their way." Years later circa 1985 I heard a program moderator (can't recall his name) on a CBS Special on the era characterize it by saying of those who were for the status quo: "We didn't want to change anything, we just wanted to IMPROVE everything."

And tho I agree that JFK's death and the arrival of the Beetles provided the demarcation line that began the "change" I would argue that this was an uneven development in the various parts of the nation, with things in, for example, the conservative South staying pretty much the same until the 66/67 time frame. If pressed I'd say the "Summer of Love" in 1967 marked the end-point of the transition into the full-blown druggie/hippie "60s" era.

Anonymous said...

Sexual intercourse began. In nineteen sixty-three (well never for me I'm a anonymous isteve poster) - Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban. And the Beatles' first LP.