Watching TV with the kids is always an interesting learning experience. They’re both old enough now that we’re past worrying about anything they might see, but still stuck in the phase of explaining it. Life was easier for our parents because of all the things that simply weren’t allowed on TV, so they didn’t have to explain it to us (I’m still waiting for the sex talk). I remember when “Hill Street Blues” broke the “scumbag” barrier, which surprised me at the time and still surprises me today, but I guess it’s abstract enough that many people didn’t think much about what it literally meant. I forget what we were watching the other night, but thank the technological gods for DVR and the pause button, as Rebekah suddenly asked, “What exactly IS a douchebag, anyway?”
We’ve watched a lot of ’60s stuff in the last couple of years, documentaries and movies and TV shows from the ’60s, and have tried to explain the Cold War, the assassinations, the riots, the Generation Gap, and of course the drugs. The other night we were watching “Grace of My Heart,” a sweet little film that follows a Brill Building songwriter of the Carole King mold (played by the vastly underused Ileana Douglas) through the late ’50s and the ’60s. When we got to the part where the always-a-little-spooky David Clennon was playing a freaked-out spiritual guide to the broken-down Brian Wilson character, it suddenly occurred to me that the only way to explain the ’60s is this: They were a national psychosis. We went absolutely insane, coast to coast. We believed that drugs wouldn’t kill people, that the Pentagon could be levitated by the power of the mind, that everything from the past had to be thrown out (unless it involved Eastern philosophy). We lost our fucking minds.
As a kid growing up in the middle of that psychosis, it was often truly scary. It was hard to understand why cities were on fire, and there was definitely the fear that it could happen here. We were told all the time (by reassuring grown-ups) that our town was a nuclear target, and like everyone practiced hiding from atomic war under our desks or down in the school basement with our jackets over our heads. I remember being about 7 years old and terrified, riding along with my father in the car and listening to someone on the radio proclaiming that the end of the world was near. I didn’t believe it, but I couldn’t be sure, and I was so scared at that moment that I wouldn’t see my father again.
So now when we watch movies like “Easy Rider” or “The Wild Angels” or “The Party” or “Dr. Strangelove,” instead of trying to explain the intricacies of the hundreds of social upheavals that were going on in that crazy decade, I’m just going to say, “It was a national psychosis. There’s no other explanation.”