Sunday, April 04, 2004

1968: the year that changed the world . . . for a few months

Does anyone understand what Morag Fraser – a perennially under-achieving fixture of Australia’s boomer-Left hegemon – actually means by this:

It's no part of Kurlansky's brief to comment on the implications of 1968 for 2004. But it is also impossible not to see the links: an intractable conflict, the US and Europe at loggerheads, violence ongoing in the Middle East, public unrest finding a conflicted voice. Read the book for its own exhilarating sake, but also as a chapter we should understand and not repeat.

“Kurlansky” is Mark Kurlansky, whose book 1968: the year that rocked the world, Fraser was reviewing. As far as I can tell, there is bugger-all similarity between 1968 and 2004. Apart from the ongoing Israel/Palestine border dispute and Iraq (= at a stretch, Vietnam), 1968 was largely about the West’s most-privileged generation ever flexing its coming-of-age muscle, just for the sake of it. It was a fucking undergrad party, in other words – no more, no less. The only thing different about this party, compared to countless other rites of middle-class-emancipation piss-ups, is that there was no hangover to deal with the next day, or the next decade - or ever. So goes the soixante-huitard mythology, anyway.

In fact, there was a hangover, of course, and one of the same legendary proportions as the party. Previously, I had dated this hangover to the mid-to-late 1970s, particularly the summer of 1979, with its twin fundamentalist revolutions of Thatcher/Reagan and Khomeini. Thanks to a book review* in yesterday’s Age, though, the date which effectively ended the 1968rs juvenil-ocracy can be wound right back, all the way to 1969, when Kevin Phillips’s The emerging Republican majority was published. Phillips’s book (which I haven’t read) seems to have correctly assessed the flower-power revolution as amounting to fuck-all in the scheme of things. Indeed if the 1968rs sowed the seeds of anything (lasting), it could only have been of the economic fundamentalism so beloved of (as they say on classic rock radio) the 80, 90s and today.

Coming back to Morag Fraser’s parting admonition, then, that “1968” is “a chapter we should understand and not repeat”. Huh? Even if today’s youngsters wanted to, and could afford to**, repeat 1968’s epic feats of middle-class wastrelling, I think you’ll find, Morag, that today’s crew are pretty up with basic cause-and-effect – for every party there must be an equal and opposite hangover. After all they, as GenX were and are before them, are still cleaning up your generation’s hangover, Morag – while you pathetically pretend that the party is still going.

* Bruce Wolpe "America’s imperial family"

** The 1968’rs “rebelled” against a background of full-employment

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