End of Modem America

186 The Sixties and the End of Modem America
cooperation, and tolerance. “There are no ‘tough guys’ among the youth of Con-sciousness III,” he fantasized. “Hitchhikers smile at approaching cars, people smile at each other on the street, the human race rediscovers its need for each other.” In the new world, “people all belong to the same family, whether they have met or not. It is as simple as that.” No doubt the society of consumer abundance was undermining the traditional restraints on sex and the acquisitive drive, but no one was clear why it would give rise to Reich’s utopia. Indeed, it is curious that Rozsak, Reich, and Slater all published their defenses of the new culture at the end of the sixties, at a time when such claims were so clearly exaggerated that one had to wonder what they were looking at. Perhaps they should have been with Todd Gitlin at Altamont, who came away from that new-culture spectacle with a far more realistic conclusion: “Who could any longer harbor the illusion that these hundreds of thousands of spoiled star-hungry children of the Lonely Crowd were the harbingers of a good society?” Perhaps they neglected to note how Charles Manson, the unnerving mass murderer, clung to the values of “Consciousness III.” Maybe Reich was not talking about Weatherman, who followed Bernardine Dohrn in adopting a three-fingered salute in praise of the fork that one of the Manson children had stuck in the stomach of a pregnant victim. Those who confused cultural rebellion with political change misunderstood the nature of both, but most particularly how the United States’ consumer culture easily made use of the most basic elements of the avant garde. It was wrong to think that the power of the nation’s political and economic establishment rested on cultural repression, and that power would change hands, and even its very nature, once that repression was blasted away. The U.S. establishment could ultimately accept cul-tural revolution because sex and rock-and-roll were so eminently marketable. Par-ticularly in the country’s strange political culture, it was easy for establishment figures to use new cultural themes for their own ends. John Kennedy was not just king of Camelot; he was also the tough-nosed Irishman whose sexual escapades were no secret. And Richard Nixon, the born loser, saw himself as an anti-hero who wanted power more than dignified respectability. What other president would have appeared on Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh-In,” a new-culture comedy hour, to say “sock it to me”? It helps to remember, in this regard, how the age ended: with Richard Nixon, embroiled in the Watergate scandal, looking for momentary distrac-tions, sitting down to a special viewing of Clint Eastwood’s Magnum Force.

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The Urban Crisis
In the early hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967, a Detroit police vice squad raided a “blind pig,” an after-hours liquor joint on Twelfth Street, the “nastiest street in town.”•During the hot, muggy night, a crowd of, eighty-five people or so, all black and about half women, had gathered to toast some local soldiers. At 3:00 A.M. on a Sunday morning the police force was at minimum manpower; nevertheless, the officer in charge decided to arrest all of the revelers. It took well over an hour to load everyone into police vans. Meanwhile, some two hundred spectators gath-ered. The crowd was a varied lot: ordinary folks on their way to work, “drunks and drifters,” gamblers and prostitutes. There were also some angry young men, who whipped up the crowd. One young man issued a call to arms: “Black Power. Don’t let them take our people away. . . . Let’s get the bricks and bottles going.” When police loaded up their last wagons and pulled away, the crowd sensed that it had driven the police out of the neighborhood, and thus emboldened, began a week of rioting that claimed forty-three lives, led to 7,200 arrests, and did $45 million in damage. The Detroit riot was noteworthy but hardly unique. U.S. cities during the sixties became cauldrons of recurring and violent “civil disorders.” Beginning with the 1965 Watts riot in Los Angeles through July 1968, over one hundred cities experienced riots. According to survey statistics compiled by the Senate Subcom-mittee on Government Operations, 189 people were killed, 7,614 were injured, 59,257 were arrested, and nearly $160 million in property was damaged. Erupting at a point when the civil rights movement was floundering, mostly confined to African-American neighborhoods of northern cities, the riots mocked the integra-tionist promise of Martin Luther King, Jr. The riots were only partly a result of the nation’s legacy of racism. They were even more a consequence of the nation’s accumulated urban woes, which collected as the cities underwent a uniform process of decay in the years after World War II. The vast postwar construction of suburban housing had directed new building away from the areas where it was most needed and drew middle- and upper-income people out of urban cores. The tax base of the cities declined while the shortage of decent housing worsened. Industries that first had beckoned working people into the cities near the beginning of the twentieth century reduced their dependence on

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