Civilized discourse in the age of Mad Men

Dave Barry:

  I miss 1960. Not the part about my face turning overnight into the world’s most productive zit farm. What I miss is the way the grown-ups acted about the Kennedy-Nixon race. Like the McCain-Obama race, that was a big historic deal that aroused strong feelings in the voters. This included my parents and their friends, who were fairly evenly divided, and very passionate. They’d have these major honking arguments at their cocktail parties. But unlike today, when people wear out their upper lips sneering at those who disagree with them, the 1960s grown-ups of my memory, whoever they voted for, continued to respect each other and remain good friends.

  What was their secret? Gin. On any given Saturday night they consumed enough martinis to fuel an assault helicopter. But also they were capable of understanding a concept that we seem to have lost, which is that people who disagree with you politically are not necessarily evil or stupid. My parents and their friends took it for granted that most people were fundamentally decent and wanted the best for the country. So they argued by sincerely (if loudly) trying to persuade each other. They did not argue by calling each other names, which is pointless and childish, and which constitutes I would estimate 97 percent of what passes for political debate today.

  What I’m saying is: we, as a nation, need to drink more martinis.

I agree.

By the way, Dave Barry and I are not merely of the same generation; we were born about 20 miles apart in July 1947, were raised as Presbyterians, went to suburban New York high schools, went to Quaker colleges, registered as conscientious objectors with our draft boards, and became journalists.

By now I’ll bet I’ve heard about 40 hours of my kid reading Dave Barry out loud from the back seat of our car. Beats reading out loud from this blog, no?

10 comments

  1. Julian Bond’s avatar

    Watching Mad Men, it’s astonishing not just how much they smoked but how much they drank. It seems to be a common factor in people who grew up in the late 40s and 50s.

    One of the more interesting scenes was the tension between the lead character’s culture of alcohol and that of his beatnick girlfriend’s culture of jazz and weed. It seems to pre-figure the cultural battles of the late 60s and early 70s. Perhaps the lack of civility of current political discourse is a by-product of Red Bull, coke, speed and ritalin; the drugs of choice of people who grew up in the 80s and early 90s.

    Makes you wonder what the politics and political discourse will be like when the current Ecstacy generation hits 40 and has two kids.

    But there again, maybe I’m stretching the “culture reflects the dominant drug” metaphor too far.

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    When my comment here got too long, I made a post of it and continued.

  3. John A Arkansawyer’s avatar

    Julian,

    The Beats most certainly prefigured The Sixties (which, oddly, ran from around 1964 through 1979, near as I can tell). But don’t kid yourself–they did drink a lot, too. It’s what killed Kerouac, or at least was the physical cause of death.

  4. Karoli’s avatar

    I don’t have such lovely memories of adults at cocktail parties arguing politics while 3 sheets to the wind. All too often I was the kid in the back seat while the drunk guy was driving home.

    However, having married a Republican, I must have learned somewhere along the way to keep the discourse civil. We’ve been married for 20 years without separating over politics, though prop 8 very nearly undid us both.

    What we found is that in some areas we agree, in many we disagree, and since we usually cancel each other’s votes out, we don’t need to fight about it. :) This is the first year ever that we have voted for the same candidate for President. May the trend continue.

  5. Doc Searls’s avatar

    For what it’s worth, I believe the Sixties ran from ’64 to ’74. They came in with the Beatles and went out with disco. They coincided with the duration of the Vietnam war, and the decade it took to build the Twin Towers.

    The Fifties ran from ’47 to ’63. They came in with the baby boom and went out with the JFK assassination. Their look was Dior and Brooks Brothers. I remember vividly being a little kid amidst women with narrowed waists and wide skirts, and men with sharp creases in their pants and fedoras on their crowns. The first concerns of these adults were raising families and putting food on the table. Suburban growth exploded then, fed by a burst of highway construction. In the Fifties, the military industrial system moved into he civilian domain, and soldiers went to work for giant corporations, glad for whatever faustian bargains they made, because at least the Depression and the War were long over, and they were living the American Dream, or close enough. The contrast between that dream and the realites of social injustice — especially segregation in the South — festered in the Fifties and burst the country’s seams in the Sixties, when all those early boomer kids were reaching the ages of rebellion and military service.

    I’m not sure we’ve had any eras as sharply defined as those in the years since. I suspect that the period we’re entering now — the Obama one — will be as distinctive as those. But I don’t know. I hope I live long enough to find out.

  6. John A Arkansawyer’s avatar

    Naw, the Sixties ended in ’79 with the hostage crisis and the assassination of Harvey Milk. Now, you could put the end of the The Sixties with the assassination of John Lennon or the erection of Ronald Reagan or the onset of AIDS, but it was well past the end of Nixon. The disco scene, which I misunderstood as badly as I did Lynyrd Skynyrd, was part of the payoff from the hard work of the sixties: People got to spend some time partying and dancing and screwing and generally having a good goddam time.

    One could say The Sixties really started sometime during the Civil Rights Movement and the Beat Generation, but I think that’s conception or gestation. They were birthed between the Kennedy killing and the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Blood and screams and joy.

  7. Catherine Raymond’s avatar

    I agree too.

    I’ve been thinking for awhile about starting a blog that would not discuss politics, exactly, but would discuss metapolitical issues about *why* political discourse in this country has discarded the assumption that “most people were fundamentally decent and wanted the best for the country.” For that is what I believe has happened.

  8. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Hi, Cathy! Good to see you here. If you start the blog, let me know and I’ll both follow and point to it.

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