What will we call them 40 years on? The Swinging Sixties? The Sick Sixties? The Era of Excess? We don’t know; but there was something about those 10 years, something that had to do with excitement and struggle for change. What was it? Here Macleans recaptures a taste of the fact and folklore that will make the decade as well remembered as the Roaring Twenties or the Gay Nineties.
First, the bad news
GI Joe, Major Matt Mason, et al: for the first time in history, U.S. toy manufacturers had little boys playing with dolls, and paramilitary dolls at that. Instant Breakfast: By packing enough calories in a glass to tide you over until lunch, this insidious powder speeded the decline of a civilized start to the day.
The topless bathing suit: Rudi Gernreich designed it, mostly for publicity, and contributed a memorable image of 1960s tastelessness.
Now ... the good news The cassette tape recorder made portable sound accessible to almost anybody. Montreal-London return for $ 165 : while almost everything else went up, air fares came down through charter and group rates, giving stayat-homes even less excuse for not seeing the world. Ralph Nader helped start a consumers’ revolution. Indirect results: safer (but not much more sensible) Detroit cars, supermarkets that poll their customers, a new and useful department of the federal government. Three inventions that made getting up in the morning less of a burden: stainlesssteel razor blades for men; for women, panty hose that stays up without garters and electric hair curlers that do
the awful job in 10 minutes or less. The miniskirt pleased everybody by not going out of style.
Women are people, too
The Barbie Doll was introduced by Mattel as the decade began; the success of Barbie, with her compliance, her glossy good looks, her insatiable appetite for new clothes, somehow told a lot about how women were regarded in North America. Hugh Hefner made a fortune with live Barbie dolls; the first bunny club opened in Chicago in 1960. The go-go girl was invented, too; significantly, she usually danced in some kind of cage. The backlash started with Betty Friedan, whose pro-feminist book, The Feminine Mystique, made a lot of women wonder why they weren’t “fulfilled.” It continued with the growth of the Women’s Liberation Movement, which takes a dim view of brassieres, and, in Toronto, disrupted a bikini contest that they felt was a prime example of male exploitation. A Canadian sociologist named Lionel Tiger had the nextto-last word: his book, Men In Groups, argued that men are dominant because of their biological inheritance from the animal kingdom.
“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no
Barry Goldwater, July 1964
“Shoot to kill! Shoot to maim!”
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, April 15, 1968
Notes on poverty
In Vancouver, city officials evicted vagrant Larry McNamara from a city works yard, where he’d been living for several years beneath some propped-up slabs of cement. In Toronto, where it was estimated that 93 percent of the people can’t afford to buy a house, police evicted Svetomir Kusmanovich from his home in a concrete pit at the bottom of a manhole.
“Let the word go forth . . . that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage —and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed...”
John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961
On a memorable night in 1966, a televised Batman walked , into a discothèque wearing cape, hood, tights, etc., and told the waiter, “A corner table, please; I don’t want to be conspicuous.” This, from the first episode of the big hit of the 1966 TV season, launched the great boom in camp, first defined in Susan Sontag’s article in Partisan Review, which described camp as a new, decadent sensibility that builds an elaborate aesthetic around corny trash such as Major Bowe’s Amateur Hour. In no time at all, camp was a major social force. Comic books of the 1940s enjoyed a revival on campuses, and you weren’t considered well - informed unless you knew the name of the Green Hornet’s chauffeur. One of the biggest things about the 1960s, in fact, was the 1940s.
Why Poles? Why Italians? Why Newfies? Nobody knows, but these groups were singled out for special and unflattering attention on the smoking-room circuit. The trend burned itself out with a sprinkling of WASP jokes. (What do you call a WASP girl who makes love once a year? A nymphomaniac.) The elephant jokes were gentler, more mysterious, and didn’t necessarily involve elephants. (What’s brown and wrinkled and hums? The electric prune.)
You figure it out.
There were great men and great moments. The New York Mets finally won the pennant. Canada produced Harry Jerome, Bill Crothers
and Bruce Kidd. Bobby Hull scored 58 goals in one season. But the real phenomenon was our girls, most of them young enough for teeth braces and training bras, who did most of the big winning for Canada. Nancy Greene. Elaine Tanner. Petra Burka. And let us not forget Violetta Nesukaitis, who won the North American table-tennis championship at the age of 14.
Perils of technology
In the American midwest in 1962, a man electrocuted his wife by short-circuiting her electric toothbrush.
At a medical symposium in 1963, Dr. Preston A. Wade of Cornell University described an unforeseen hazard of space travel: “If,
while in a room in weightless space, a man is unfortunate enough to pass flatus, the thrust thus produced is enough to hurl him to the ceiling with such force as to fracture his skull.”
New York doctors discovered that, nine months after the 1965 power failure that blacked out most of the eastern U.S. and Canada for several hours, the birth rate increased significantly.
A week after the computer riot at Sir George Williams University in Montreal, some data was being processed as usual. The university had duplicate memory tapes stored off-campus and, by using remote terminals, was running them through computers in Ottawa.
The slogan of the U.S. Air Force team in Vietnam that specialized in defoliation raids: “Only we can prevent forests.”
Go-go girls (starting with Carol Doda in San Francisco) who, in the finest traditions of competitive free enterprise, offered the customer more by having their breasts injected with silicone.
A girl named Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death in a New York street, while 38 people watched impassively, later explaining that they “didn’t want to get involved.”
In Montreal, two motorists ran over the body of a 12year-old boy after he’d been killed in a traffic accident, and at least seven others drove by without stopping.
Canada, which both deplored the war in Vietnam and profited handsomely by it, donated 460,000 textbooks to the Vietnamese school system for — yes — social studies.
“Washing machines and television sets abound . . . Superhighways devour uncounted acres of fertile land, and the second-highest incidence of automobiles achieves ... a second-highest air pollution. Ugly little towns prosper, all calling themselves cities and all looking like faithful copies of Omaha, Nebraska.
“This is not a Canada to call forth any man’s love. But just north of it still lies a different kind of land — too barren ever to be thickly settled, too bleak to be popular like Blackpool or Miami. There is no reason to doubt that it will always be there, and so long as it is there Canada will not die.”
Blair Fraser, Maclean's Ottawa Editor, 1967
The poisoned public
North America finally realized that, as a by-product of industrial progress, we’re methodically poisoning our environment and each other. Hopeful signs: steam cars; new companies that make a profit by “mining” garbage and industrial waste; emergence of a public (and even a few governments) determined to put a stop to it.
Scandals we have known and loved
A random listing of juicy — but highly forgettable — scandals. We’ve awarded stars to each on the basis of significance, shock value, titillation and general interest:
The instant-nostalgia quiz (test yourself)
An instant-nostalgia buff will score six out of ten on the following quiz: (Answers on page 7):
1. Name Roger Ramjet’s hometown.
2. Which one starred in the 1961 series Bus Stop: Bobby Darin, Fabian or Sal Mineo?
3. Name three girls who played Gidget.
4. Who was Odd-Job and what was his bag?
5. Name two of Tiny Tim’s previous pseudonyms, or his real name.
6. Name Batman’s butler or his house, or the police commissioner.
7. What is Dippety-Doo?
8. Who is Sir Roy Welensky?
9. What is a Thingmaker?
10. Why are you doing this?
At first they were just those four lovable mop-tops, a fleeting exercise in instant hysteria like Elvis, Sinatra, Valentino and all the rest. But then something unexpected happened. The Beatles not only endured; they revealed themselves as creators on the lavish scale of a Picasso, perhaps the ultimate prophets of the decade. It wasn’t just their lyrics, which have entered the language as surely as Shakespeare’s. It
wasn’t just their songs, which have been compared, favorably, with Schubert’s. It was more than anything their coolness, their searching, their liberated lifestyle, the very look of Paul, George, John and Ringo, that made them the icons of the electronic age. Social historians a hundred years from now will look at our time, and conclude that the Beatles were what really happened in the 1960s. “What do you call that haircut?” a newsman inquired. “Arthur,” replied the Beatle.
The life of the mind
A partial list of 1960s movements, chemicals, panaceas, etc., that were supposed to make you happier: Scientology; transcendental meditation; nude encounter; Tgroups; sensitivity training; behaviorist psychiatry; group grope; acid; communal living; macrobiotic diets; regression therapy; organic farming.
The rise of the lie
Ike lied about what the U-2 was doing over Russia. JFK lied about the Central Intelligence Agency’s plans to invade Cuba. His UN ambassador, Adlai Stevenson, lied some more when the deed was done. A Kennedy aide named Arthur Sylvester coined the term “news management,” which means lying to the press in the national interest. LBJ lied about the Gulf of Tonkin “attack,” which he used to justify the bombing of North Vietnam; it turned out the total damage was one small bullet hole in the funnel of a U.S. destroyer. Our favorite lie, though, was the Soviet statement that the Czechs approached Moscow and her satellites “with the request for urgent help to the fraternal Czechoslovak nation, including help by armed forces.” All this fibbing gave rise to something called the Credibility Gap. Norman Mailer, who ran for mayor of New York, tried to narrow it with a memorable (and unprintable) political slogan: “No More B.S.”
Starvation: According to Oxfam, 36.5 million people died through insufficient nutrition in the 1960s.
Biafra: Two million (est.) deaths since May 1967, mostly from starvation. Death rate still running at 2,000 a day, mostly children.
Traffic: About 44,000 people died on Canadian highways in the 1960s.
Vietnam: 560,308 North
Vietnamese and Vietcong killed up to October 1969, according to U.S. sources, whose body counts have been known to be inflated; 38,969 U.S. troops dead; uncounted civilians killed on both sides of the border.
Sudan: 500,000 (est.) in one of those obscure little civil wars that bothers nobody. Canada: Life expectancy of Canada’s 450,000 Indians and Métis is 34 years, vj. 71 for all Canadians.
4. He was the squat Japanese in a James Bond movie who killed people by throwing his metal derby at them.
5. Larry Love; The Singing Canary; real name: Herbert Khaury. 6. Alfred; Wayne Manor; Gordon. 7. A green jelly used for setting hair. 8. Former Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. 9. A kid’s toy that molds monsters out of liquid plastic. 10. This is your free point.
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