Saturday, September 08, 2007

One Giant Leap for Steve Holden

Have you ever noticed how the Baby Boomers distort the history of the 1960s so that it conforms to their sylvan utopia stereotype? For example, we heard a lot this year about the anniversary of the totally inconsequential “Summer of Love” and very little about the Newark riots that happened at the same time yet whose consequences are palpably evident to this day.

This morning’s New York Times has a particularly laughable example of wishful recollection in a review of the new Apollo 11 documentary, “In the Shadow of the Moon.” Times reviewer, Stephen Holden, sets the context by describing 1969 as an innocent time compared to our current state of events.

The good vibes are gone. The tone of international political discourse has toughened, and the United States is increasingly viewed as an arrogant, dangerous superpower. The concept of a cooperative multinational “we,” working together for world peace, with America leading the way, is almost as quaint as the cozy concept of “the global village.”

The “good vibes?” He must be thinking of My Lai, the campus rioting, the Manson murders, and Ted Kennedy’s midnight drive on Chappaquiddick which – in convincing proof that God looks out for drunks and fools – happened just hours before the biggest news story in history.

Good vibes? Sure, if you had just joined the Weathermen.

“The tone of international discourse has toughened”? That’s a laugh. With so much saber rattling going on back then I don’t think anyone could actually hear the international discourse. Discourse doesn’t get much tougher than Mutual Assured Destruction with the latest Soviet technology guaranteeing that no thermonuclear missiles get fired by mistake.

“The United States is increasingly viewed as an arrogant, dangerous superpower.” Again, I would draw your attention to a world literally divided between two nuclear armed camps. One based on a barbaric 19th century ideology that murdered hundreds of millions of people in an attempt to eliminate poverty and the other on ancient Greco-Judeo-Christian concepts of self-determination and individual liberty. An existential struggle featuring for the first time the actual means to extinguish human existence.

I know many Boomers are still torn up about which side to support in that struggle but here’s a hint: it's over and the political Left was vanquished.

As for the concept of a “cooperative multinational ‘we’ working together for world peace with American leading the way,” I suppose he means something like an idealized United Nations. In reality, it’s more like a coalition of the willing with the United States as the leader by default because of its superior resources and because waiting for the “global village” to act is an exercise in creative inertia.

If today’s world is even more strife-torn than the world of 1969, when theVietnam War was raging, one reason may be that the same technology that produced Apollo 11 has since come under a cloud.

Since the world is demonstrably not more strife-torn than it was in 1969, this baffling observation is moot. Still, what does he mean?

I think the technology that produced Apollo 11 will be the one thing historians will remember about the 1960s. Everything else was froth. Aerospace technology lead to miniaturization and semiconductors and binary computing and digital communications and the internet and MySpace and lonelygirl15. Some cloud!

Is this Holden guy typing his reviews on an IBM Selectric with a bottle of Wite-Out close by?

Let’s see, Holden was born in 1941 making him 28 at the time of the moon landing. So he’s too old for Woodstock and too young for Korea. He falls into the awkward Paul Anka, Dick Cheney generation and probably has regrets about being the dork at the groovy kids’ party, sipping martinis at the happening, wearing a turtleneck and blazer at the orgy, comb-over and handlebar moustache looking for action that never would have lived up to his heightened expectations had he ever be lucky enough to have found the fountain of free love.

For the rest of us, Apollo 11 was out of sight. It was the only thing anyone was thinking of for months before and after July 20th. From the perspective, the 1960s was all about miraculous technology in the service of American hegemony and nothing at all about the “good vibes” Holden thinks he can recall.

Any you know what? Things are a lot better now.

The movie looks great, btw.

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