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There's a good reason they're called the "Stormy Sixties."
Come mothers and fathers Throughout the land And donít criticize What you canít understand Your sons and your daughters Are beyond your command Your old road is rapidly aginí Please get out of the new one if you canít lend your hand For the times they are a-changiní
The Swingin' Sixties hold a special place in popular culture, mostly because the people who came of age in that decade cannot stop talking about how great it was.
The Theme Park Version of the Swingin' Sixties includes: "free love" and beehive hairdos, hippies and southern sheriffs, Psychedelic Rock and girl groups, marijuana and the pill, sexy male spies in tuxedos and sexy female spies in leather catsuits (or in miniskirts withgo-go boots, or in leather miniskirt catsuits), the Charlie Brown Christmas special, Peter Fonda dropping acid in a graveyard, prim newscasters speaking in clipped tones about those wild youngsters having too much fun, and everybody doing "The Twist".
In Britain it includes the rise of Carnaby Street (inevitably accompanied by The Kinks' "Dedicated Follower of Fashion"), Mary Quant (the Mother who Made Miniskirts Mainstream), Harold Wilson, the satire boom, and a bunch of Buccaneer Broadcasters demolishing The BBC's radio monopoly. It was all about the music: Mop-topped mods and cock-walking rockers all the rage, and the British were cool for the first time in recorded history. Except to the British, who were way into India. The Sixties gave us Woodstock, three days of peace and music. And then a little later, Altamont, roughly six hours of skull-cracking brutality set to music.
Of course, much of this great music was made in the context of political unrest: Escalation of The Vietnam War was met with a powerful protest movement, admired (or vilified, depending on your viewpoint) to this day for stopping the war dead in its tracks just nine years later. President John F. Kennedy narrowly averted an end-of-the-world nuclear showdown, then was shot dead. Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X gave voice to the Civil Rights Movement, and then were shot dead. Robert F. Kennedy renewed the country's spirits with a message of hope and unity, and then was shot dead. Really, the only important political figures who survived the 60s alive were LBJ and Tricky Dick (Ronald Reagan was also on the rise, but he didn't count just yet). This was the era of COINTELPRO, with Government Agents surveilling, infiltrating and discrediting Anti-War and other groups to the point of sowing distrust and paranoia among these groups to Philip K Dick levels. This was not limited to the United states. France nearly had a revolution in May of 1968, with West Germany having massive protests as well. Social unrest in Italy balooned into the Years Of Lead in the 1970s, as well as the Red Army Faction in Germany. Czechoslavakia attempted a Velvet Revolution, but the Soviet Union invaded to suppress the social change in 1968. In China, Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution in 1966, and the country soon fell into chaos.
The Sixties were also the time of The Space Race - Following the launch of Sputnik in 1957, the first manned launches took place in 1961 (First Russian Yuri Gagarin in April, followed closely by Alan Shepard in May.) The idea of people actually entering space for the first time led to a new fascination with Science, and a corresponding boom to Science Fiction. John F. Kennedy ordered the seemingly impossible - putting men on the Moon. After his death, America's resolve was steeled, and the course was set. The route to the Moon was very nearly derailed by the disastrous Apollo 1 fire, claiming the lives of 3 American astronauts in a test. Over a year of unmanned testing went on, trying to repair the mistakes. A return to space flight in late 1968 led to an epic Christmas flyby of the Moon by Apollo 8, one of the most watched television broadcasts in history. Finally, in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon, fulfilling Kennedy's mission and marking the first time a human being had walked on another celestial body.
That's what you learn watching TV and movies about the Sixties. No Sixties Montage is complete without them. If not set to Jimi Hendrix playing "All Along the Watchtower" or "The Star-Spangled Banner", then "Get Together" by the Youngbloods.
But if you watch TV and movies from the Sixties, it's as if half of that stuff never happened. Some of the decade's landmark events, such as the Stonewall Riots in 1969 that kicked off the gay rights movement, were barely acknowledged until the 1990s. Our cultural memory has selected The Grateful Dead and Aretha Franklin from a musical landscape that had a lot more Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass than seems sonically possible; and the squares of the first half of the decade actually dressed a lot cooler than the hippies of the latter half, who frankly come off as a little grimy. A standout example of this is The Andy Griffith Show, whose title actor portrays a Southern sheriff and in which not a whisper of the civil rights movement is mentioned.
Nonetheless, the sheer volume of memorable songs, shows, books, and movies from the Sixties is testament to the creativity of its artists. The decade did give us Star Trek: The Original Series, Doctor Who, James Bond (the films, anyway), Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Woody Allen, The Graduate, The Prisoner, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Motown... the list goes on. Their continued popularity ensures the Sixties will be around for a long time.
Politically speaking, it more or less started with the escalation of The Civil Rights Movement at the beginning of the decade and ended with the Kent State Massacre in 1970. Culturally speaking, it started with the release of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in 1960 (though some argued it was with John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963 that triggered the "Swinging Sixties" part) and ended with the Altamont Free Concert in 1969 (or the breakup of The Beatles in early 1970).
See Also: The Roaring Twenties, The Great Depression, The Forties, The Fifties, The Seventies, The Eighties, The Nineties, Turn of the Millennium and The New Tens.
Dangerously Short Skirt: Initially knee-length during the dawn of the decade, then rose to 'mini' by mid-decade, then alternatives like 'micro', 'midi', and 'maxi' arrived late in the decade. The rising hemlines reminisced The Roaring Twenties, when skirts rose or fell just as economy rose or fell.
1968 stands out as being one of the most Grim Dark years in recent American history: MLK, Jr. and RFK were both gunned down, riots in more than 100 cities, anti-war protests, Vietnam was at its lowest point, and the chaos at the Democratic National Convention.
Greaser Delinquents: Very common in Real Life and to a much lesser extent, pop culture, although nowhere near as common as they were in The Fifties, in both the real 1960's and portrayals of it in later fiction.
Marvel Comics: While it's true that the company that would later be known as Marvel (Atlas) existed before then, the Marvel universe proper didn't exist until 1961. And once it did, Marvel would prove to be one of the most well-known, influential, and (at the time) ground-breaking comic companies not just of that era, but decades later. Even today, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who hasn't at least heard of Marvel.
Zot! is set in a world where the year is always 1965.
The first five episodes of the Philippine television drama Ikaw Lamang are set in 1964.
Inspector George Gently uses the social upheaval of the sixties as the basis of some of its plots, such as how birth control was only legal if one was married.
Jimmy Macdonald's Canada, which dealt with the mental breakdown of one of the aforementioned newscasters in the face of change.
Mad Men, which sort of charts the transition from the '50s to the '60s. The series starts in March 1960, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was still President and the cultural vibe was very much '50s. At the end of Season 3, JFK gets shot, and Season 4 (starting on Thanksgiving 1964 and going into 1965) features SCDP in a very Sixties office (much of the furniture and interior design looks like it was done by Eero Saarinen) with at least one character doing some very Sixties things.
Not to be outdone, DC Comics revived many of their characters in this era as well. The Barry Allen Flash, Hal Jordan Green Lantern and Ray Palmer Atom were new characters sharing only the names and powersets of their predecessors, but many other DC characters were simply retooled for the new era, including their Long Runners like Superman and Batman.