Fifty Years After Renouncing History, The Counterculture Made History With 'The Post', 'Detroit', 'The Deuce' & 'The Vietnam War'

12/31/2017 09:19 pm ET Updated Jan 17, 2018
<strong>Daniel Ellsberg, the American Counterculture’s hero of heros, the activist and former United States military analyst
Daniel Ellsberg, the American Counterculture’s hero of heros, the activist and former United States military analyst who leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers to The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Remember that history is written by the victors. That's why the Counterculture renounced history in the 1960s. It's also why so many of us who remain of the Counterculture are embracing history today, either by recalling history ourselves -- and thereby assuming victory in the history that we made -- or by being portrayed as protagonists in the dramatizations of the conflicts we faced. Although the term 'counterculture' originally referred to the youth culture that took to the streets in protest against political issues favored by the political establishment, in retrospect we can today recognize a greater cross section of the society that throughout the last half century organized efforts to open the society and culture to the lifestyles and political representation of all people as guaranteed by democratic principles. This includes the organizations and sites of sponsorship and networks of the free press, media and internet that operate outside and alternatively to and often against the governments of cities, states, nations and cultures formed by historical and cultural entities dominating policy and economics.

The values and issues that mattered most to the Counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s saturate three of this year's most socially relevant and artistically accomplished historical dramatizations: Steven Spielberg's The Post, set in 1971 Washington, DC; Kathryn Bigelows' and Mark Boal's Detroit, set in 1967; and David Simon's, James Pelecanos', Michelle MacLaren's and Janes Franco's The Deuce, set in early 1970s New York. And of course the Counterculture is depicted in its full glory by the documentarians, Ken Burns and Linda Novick, in their ten-episode PBS series, The Vietnam War, covering the years 1963-75. And all this despite that, or perhaps because, we Americans still haven't resolved all our differences over these and other polarizing histories.

<strong>Protesters in The Post demonstrating outside The Supreme Court building in support of full disclosure of what the gov
THE POST, TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
Protesters in The Post demonstrating outside The Supreme Court building in support of full disclosure of what the government knew about the Vietnam War and when they knew it.

For many of us who demonstrated in the streets in the 1960s and 1970s, or organized dissent through publications or community programs, there remain the unanswered questions. Is it more desirable for a society to be historically informed and dutiful, or to be spiritually creative and questioning? For us to be mindful of our inheritance and relations, or to be true to ourselves as individuals? To know why we do what we do, or to find out what else can be done?

The most obvious answer to the questions may seem to be "All of the above". But when painful social memories and the emotions attached to them intervene with such excruciating force, we become torn over making such an obvious and easy response, and the questions facing every generation identifying and evaluating what is shared and what is different between generations don't get answered.

<strong>Antiwar Protesters in The Post demonstrating outside The Washington Post.</strong>
THE POST, TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX, rephotographed by Grace Graupe-Pillard
Antiwar Protesters in The Post demonstrating outside The Washington Post.

But not just the questions between generations. Also between cultures, nations, perceived races, ethnic groups, faiths and enclaves. And, of course, between a group and an individual. In each case, we are critical of the history someone else has written for and about us. So much so that we refuse to face the so-called victors writing the history, even in the event that it is apparent to us that we should be doing at least some of the writing ourselves -- and thereby claiming some of the victory for the positive changes made.

As expected, social conflict over what is just and unjust in The Post pits the government against the press. In Detroit it's the white police and legal system that incite fear and violence within the black hood. In The Deuce, it’s not so much the Manhattan administrative system, police on the take, the mob and the pimps with their prostitutes and the seedy hotels and massage parlors competing for turf and the dollar, as much as all are continually negotiating the terms of their joint ventures. Finally, The Vietnam War brings the global struggles between Capitalism and Communism and Democracy and Imperialism into the equation, but in the journalists' lens, it's ordinary citizens who must struggle to survive the directives of the ideologues and generals in power on all sides that are made history's central focus.

<strong>The day The Washington Post joined the Counterculture, however briefly.</strong>
The Post, Twentieth Century Fox
The day The Washington Post joined the Counterculture, however briefly.

Ultimately, it’s we viewers whose histories are being narrated, or are being inspired by them, who are asked by the production's creators to consider whether we are living in a way in which we are true to ourselves, or instead are falling in step with what is expected, paid for, and demanded of us. It is a question that is most acute to the surviving Baby Boomers who lived the depicted 1960s and 1970s out, and who can verify or decry the accuracy of their historicization. But these histories also shaped the lives of younger American viewers who see themselves facing many of the same conflicts renewed by a new Constitutional threat within our national government today. As well as those nationals abroad feeling the negative ramifications of a retrogressive, defensive and undemocratic American nationalism on the rise.

Writers LIz Hannah and Josh Singer carved out The Post in stratified history, as the story not only depicts events in 1971, it reaches back through layers of chronology with each disclosure of The Pentagon Papers by the New York Times. I remember this episode distinctly as I was approaching draft age and partook with numerous friends in the demonstrations that erupted as a result of the disclosures. I was even expelled from my Jesuit high school that week for skipping school to demonstrate, as well as for refusing to cut my shoulder-length hair that would subsequently grow to my waist.

<strong>Detroit, home to Motown, was the mecca for black musicians who dreamed of a career in Soul. In the film Detroit, Jose
Detroit, Annapurna Pictures
Detroit, home to Motown, was the mecca for black musicians who dreamed of a career in Soul. In the film Detroit, Joseph-David Jones, Algee Smith, Nathan Davis Jr. and Jacob Latimore play the Dramatics, a soul group on the rise in Detroit, 1967. Two of the singers had the misfortune of being emotionally and physically tortured at The Algiers Motel at the time that three black men were killed by police.

Back at The Post, characters, including the paper’s affluent trustees, read the disclosures in agony over sons and daughters surviving or perished in a war they suddenly find out was willingly mischaracterized as winnable by Presidents Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy and Eisenhower, despite that The Pentagon informed each that there would be little likelihood the US could win the conflict. After Nixon and the Justice Department file an injunction against The New York Times to stop further publication of The Pentagon Papers, The Washington Post steps in to publish new disclosures from The Papers until they too are stopped by an injunction. At the end of The Post, The Supreme Court -- and thereafter history -- vindicate the Constitutional right of The Post and The Times to publish The Papers, with a 6-3 decision in favor of the press. As the film nears its end, we hear the majority opinion written and delivered by Supreme Justice Black, which itself reaches back to James Madison, who wrote the First Amendment clause stating that the press is to serve the governed, not the governors.

<strong>Neither side in the 1967 Detroit riot is entirely free of blame. Director Kathryn Bigelow portrayed a similarly shado
Detroit, Annapurna Pictures.
Neither side in the 1967 Detroit riot is entirely free of blame. Director Kathryn Bigelow portrayed a similarly shadowy and complex torture of al-Qaeda terrorists by the CIA in her film, Zero Dark Thirty. But this time the conflict is anything but even in terms of power, financing, weaponry and moral conviction, making the tortured victims that much easier to sympathize .

When we watch Detroit and The Deuce, we are made to remember or learn that there are other relevant social contests being waged besides war, and waged by less white and less affluent countercultural, counter-historical enclaves. They are also conflicts that stir memories of long, often ugly and destabilizing dynamics that destroyed neighborhoods in various cities of the US. The stereotypes purposely represented on the screen indict the long colonialist and racist history we have yet to throw off, while reminding us of the hatreds seething beneath our American demographics.

<strong>Kaitlyn Dever and Anthony Mackie find out how much some white men hate seeing a white woman with a black man.</strong
Detroit, Annapurna Pictures.
Kaitlyn Dever and Anthony Mackie find out how much some white men hate seeing a white woman with a black man.

And yet Bigelow and Boal seem to suggest that some of these stereotypes evolved with time into political, economic, domestic and artistic countercultures (the black Motown musicians; the white women eager to date black men; the black police officers and security) set on discrediting the bigotries that allowed the brutality, graft and poverty to ensue. Detroit portrays the dynamically evolving crucible that the Motor City had become, yet threatened the racists that dominated its governance. In this, the filmmakers recreate the moment that the racists win out by wrenching apart the black and white countercultures, as the riot and fires decimate the inner city communities and neighborhoods well into the 1990s. As viewers visiting the alienating streets of Detroit and The Deuce, we either identify with or are alienated by the people, places and periods. Another way to put the social equation is to ask which side of the history played out do we side with? The losers or the victors? Meaning, the exploited and impoverished or the impoverishing and exploiting?

<strong>History tells us that armed white police and unarmed black suspects far from public view too often enact a deadly che
Detroit, Annapurna Pictures.
History tells us that armed white police and unarmed black suspects far from public view too often enact a deadly chemical combustion. During rioting in the summer of 1967 Detroit, when several white officers come upon several black men in the willing company of two white women at the Algiers Motel, a night of torturous interrogation ends with three of the black men dead. Freed of the trope of suspense by HIstory, director Kathryn Bigelow is free to paint a picture of racial loathing that has no moral defense.

Of the three chronicles of history -- The Post, Detroit and The Deuce -- only The Deuce fictionalizes the facts, people and places, and then only to facilitate a history bereft of biography, given that the sex industry in the 1970s was illegal yet operated freely — so long as there was a police force eagerly on the take and a mob to underwrite and orchestrate the distribution of proceeds. To quote the 1960s television police drama, Dragnet, only the names in The Deuce have been changed to protect the innocent -- but very unlike Dragnet, also the guilty. And from what we see unfold on screen, by 1971 the guilty had no less than transformed the straight free-love-on-the-run and the mano-a-mano Sexual Revolutions, into one big and profitable walk-on-the-wildside enterprise. An enterprise that capitalized on the squalor of the Times Square thoroughfare by making squalor glamorously bad in offering on-the-streets, off-the-books, unincorporated pan-sexuality, black-sploitation, teen-sploitation — everything that the “alienated” affluent society found simultaneously appealing and dangerous about slumming, at $30 + $10 for a room. (As for the alienating, not-so-affluent society, the offerings could be had for a mere $10 + $1 for a booth. If not, as episode 1 displayed, a phone booth on the street.)

Perhaps, most significant of all, in both Detroit and The Deuce we find ourselves in the middle of an ongoing racial, sexual and economic contest that still separates today's audiences, whether by choice or by the redlining designs of city planners that prevented people of color from getting mortgages in designated neighborhoods, or by political gerrymandering the electoral constituency so to favor one party. (The 2015 HBO miniseries, Show Me A Hero, by Paul Haggis and David Simon, and based on the 1999 nonfiction book of the same name by Lisa Belkin, excelled at conveying this.) The artists and producers of both Detroit and The Deuce expertly navigate the spiritual/moral and sexual/racial/physical terrains dividing the characters in the productions. The result is we find ourselves against our wills drawn into contests of survival for which there is no simple act of dissent.

<strong>The three police officers accused of killing three black men execution style, in Detroit&#39;s Algiers Motel during t
Detroit, Annapurna Pictures.
The three police officers accused of killing three black men execution style, in Detroit's Algiers Motel during the 1967 riot. Actors Will Poulter, Jack Reynor and Ben O’Toole played the racist police that took their lives.

Taken to a higher plane of speculation, the three dramas represent such divisive crises confronting governing bodies at all levels, crises too often favoring politicians, judges and officials acting in accordance with, and thereby perpetuating, present obstructionist historical institutions and legacies. At this moment in history -- New Year 2018 -- the stakes are raised even higher, given that all four productions are made to remind us that the infringements on social rights, provisions and protections being ravaged by the current President of the United States and the Republican Congress, are infringements seen by its citizens as having occurred in other historical incarnations -- as The Post in particular points out. Then, too, Detroit and The Deuce remind us of the rippling effects of such obstructionism plaguing states and cities left in the lurch by Congressional self-interest in conjunction with the racism and poverty of voters.

With race baiting and police brutality on the rise — or made to seem to be on the rise by smart phone recordings and internet streaming — watching Detroit is made even more difficult than it would have been under the Obama administration. Similarly, watching the rough, brutal and fatal handling of women, and the entrapment and arrest of consenting gay men in The Deuce, after hearing of our current President's handling of women, and concurrent with today's media's outing of real-life and high-powered sexual offenders, and the Religious Right’s unyielding intransigence on issues pertaining to LGBT issues and birth control, all together raises the function of The Deuce to a call-to-action for social activists of all stripes.

<strong>The Deuce, Episode 1. No, this is not a vintage photograph. It&#39;s a computer simulation made with background actor
HBO
The Deuce, Episode 1. No, this is not a vintage photograph. It's a computer simulation made with background actors, authentic vintage picture cars, and photographically reconstructed marquees made under Michelle MacLaren's detailed direction. This two-block strip of 42nd Street and Times Square was nicknamed The Deuce by the police and the local counterculture.

The Deuce also makes clear in scenes brilliantly portrayed by Maggie Gylennhal as Candy, the streetwalker-turned-porn director -- but just as essentially by Dominique Fishback as Darlene, Pernell Walker as Ruby "Thunder Thighs", Kayla Foster as Barbara, and Emily Meade as Lori -- that women sex workers, then as now, suffer the brutality and even death inflicted as much from their male pimps as from their male clients. Their most crucial scenes were co-written by Lisa Lutz and Megan Abbott, and in addition to MacLaren, directed by Uta Briesewitz and Roxann Dawson, to ensure a woman’s point of view kept the scenes from veering toward objectification or seeming overwrought. It is also, no doubt, essential that African-American director, Ernest Dickerson, took the helm of episode 3 to keep the portrayal of the black pimps and police credible and as free from stereotyping as possible. If there is a subtext here relevant to a wider cross-section of women from lower-income brackets that has gone without comment by the media, it's that the decrease in social benefits in store under the current GOP Congress, considered in tandem with the economic pressures on unskilled women seen on The Deuce, forewarns us that single mothers in desperation can soon be forced onto the streets in numbers not seen in decades.

<strong>The Deuce, Episode 1, directed by MIchelle MacLaren. Maggie Gylennhal as Candy (also Executive Producer), Pernell Wal
HBO
The Deuce, Episode 1, directed by MIchelle MacLaren. Maggie Gylennhal as Candy (also Executive Producer), Pernell Walker as Ruby "Thunder Thighs", and Emily Meade as Lori. As sex workers, they suffer the brutality and risk death as much from their male pimps as from their male clients.

Of course, beside the old Countercultures seen in the The Post, Detroit, and The Deuce, the dramas reflect the emergence of new countercultures that have emerged since the Occupy, Black Lives and Pussy March demonstrators of the last decade evolved their own demands of government, commerce and educational institutions. And to large extent it's been these mostly youthful demonstrators that have been raising the visibility and voices of the new Counterculture. But to understand what the generations share, we must first understand why we who called ourselves the Counterculture all those decades ago chose to value moralism and the moment at hand as being more authentic than the lessons that history "teach" us.

In 1967, Susan Sontag articulated that moralism best for the Counterculture she represented when she asserted the truism that "every era has to reinvent the project of 'spirituality' for itself". As the opening salvo of her influential essay, "The Aesthetics of Silence", published in The New York Review of Books, and later her book, Styles of Radical Will, both concerning the art and culture of what could then still be called the avant-garde, Sontag intended that her pithy, if not entirely original, observation modeled the youthful striving for authenticity that in the 1960s was imagined to be achieved by "dropping out" of establishment society and/or dissenting against the authorities of the day.

<strong>The Deuce, Episode 3 directed by James Franco. As their sex workers risk life and limb on the street in weather fair
HBO
The Deuce, Episode 3 directed by James Franco. As their sex workers risk life and limb on the street in weather fair and foul, pimps lounge inside. Actors Chris Coy, James Franco, Dominique Fishback, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Matthew James Ballinger and G. Roger Denson.

The enemy of this spirituality and authenticity, is identified by Sontag in "Thinking Against Oneself", an essay she published in the same year as "The Aesthetics of Silence", and made the third chapter of her book. In it, she makes clear her bias, and the prejudice of the generation as she saw it, is decidedly set against historicism — that referencing of History we use to compare to, buttress and serve the present. Although it is 1967, she is referring to the Modernist century leading up to and informing both sides of the ideological divide when she writes, "Ours is a time in which every intellectual or artistic or moral event is absorbed by a predatory embrace of consciousness: historicizing. Any statement or act can be assessed as a necessarily transient 'development', or on a lower level, belittled as mere 'fashion'."

<strong>Episode 3 of The Deuce, directed by James Franco. The hotspot in 1971-72 where everyone in the Sexual Revolution coun
HBO
Episode 3 of The Deuce, directed by James Franco. The hotspot in 1971-72 where everyone in the Sexual Revolution counterculture can meet, regardless of their kink, courtesy of the mob. And where the scriptwriters various threads entwine. James Franco and Mustafa Shakir shake in the foreground.

A few paragraphs later, Sontag moves in for the ideological kill, with historicism bagged, tagged and pronounced dead.

"We understand something by locating it in a multi-determined temporal continuum. Existence is no more than the precarious attainment of relevance in an intensely mobile flux of past, present and future. But even the most relevant events carry within them the form of their obsolescence. Thus a single work is eventually a contribution to a body of work; the details of a life form part of a life history; an individual life history appears unintelligible apart from social, economic and cultural history; and the life of a society is the sum of 'preceding conditions.' …The becoming of man is the history of the exhaustion of his possibilities … And yet the equally incontestable result of all this genius is our sense of standing in the ruins of thought and the verge of the ruins of history and of man himself."

<strong>It’s still the early 1970s when we meet Candy&#39;s (Maggie Gyllenhaal&#39;s) queer and suicidal brother-in-denial. C
HBO
It’s still the early 1970s when we meet Candy's (Maggie Gyllenhaal's) queer and suicidal brother-in-denial. Committed to a sanitarium for ongoing shock therapy by their abusive, homophobic father, both siblings blame their, in Candy’s opinion, closeted father, for their dysfunctiion.

Let's put this summarization in its political context. 1967 is the year that President Lyndon Johnson escalated the war in terms of tens of thousands of men and women on the ground and proportionate strikes from the air. In response, the protests against US engagement in Vietnam grow by hundreds of thousands. Then, too, 1967 is the year that the media coins the name "hippies" for the segment of the counterculture in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York that chose "dropping out" of, rather than agitating against, the so-called Great Society. In the same year, Detroit is only one of 59 US cities that burned amid race riots. 1967 is also the year that the newly-formed National Organization for Women (NOW) persuades President Johnson to issue an executive order banning discrimination on the basis of sex in hiring and employment. Culturally it is the year that Jefferson Airplane releases White Rabbit, The Beatles sing Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds, and Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin are introduced to the world at The Monterey Pop Festival. Artistically, it is the year that Andy Warhol fuses popular culture with high culture in his silkscreened immortalization of Marilyn Monroe. And around the modern world, a new artists movement called Conceptual Art called for the complete dematerialization of the art object.

<strong>Weaponizing the women of South Vietnam was the kind of issue that polarized the ranks of both pro and antiwar demonst
PBS, The Vietnam War
Weaponizing the women of South Vietnam was the kind of issue that polarized the ranks of both pro and antiwar demonstrators.

And so, Sontag and other leading, if diverse and divergent, social critics of the day -- Paul Goodman, Hannah Arednt, Lionnel Trilling, Herbert Marcuse, Germaine Greer and Noam Chomsky -- along with the army of activists of the 1960s and 1970s -- were disseminating a new social moralism which became the spirituality of authenticity and dissent. It was an authenticity that white kids saw coming not from white culture, but from the politicization of blacks in the Civil Rights movement, whether led by a moderates like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson and Shirley Chisholm, or by radicals such as Malcom X, Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver and The Black Panthers. Or on a wider playing field, from the black music of Jazz, the Blues, Rhythm and Blues, and -- relevant to Detroit - Motown Soul.

Along with the authenticity and dissent of Native Americans (who amazingly won unprecedented treaties and land through their negotiations with Richard Nixon), Black culture was perceived to be the least historicized by white civilization — and thereby the most authentic — yet also the best organized in terms of dissent. And so it informed the strategies and tactics of use to the subsequent formation of the Antiwar, Sexual and Feminist Liberation and Latin American Farmworkers movements. It is this spirituality of dissent that still informs NFL players who in 2017 took the knee during the National Anthem -- and for many, recalls the medal ceremony in the 1968 Oympics in Mexico City, where, as The Star Spangled Banner began to play, the African-American bronze and gold medal athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists in solidarity with black power.

<strong>Left: San Francisco 49ers&#39; Colin Kaepernick (7) and Eric Reid (35) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL
Left: Grant Halverson/Getty Images. Right:
Left: San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick (7) and Eric Reid (35) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. Right: 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. When The Star Spangled Banner began to play, the African-American bronze and gold medal athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists in solidarity with black power.

In many senses, the white protestors of the 1960s co-opted the tactics developed by the Civil Rights demonstrations strategists. This notion of ‘co-option’, in fact, became a major concern of the student demonstrators, a concern that Marcuse wrote about as a result of being on the front lines of the campus protests. It’s on the front lines that Marcuse heard of ‘co-option’, a word that the students invented and bandied about when they found that one of their ideas had been lifted by someone identified with the establishment — a reporter or a politician — using Left terminology and ideas to the Right’s advantage. Marcuse and the students made a major issue out of who co-opted what idea from whom, usually blaming the establishment, and the media in particular, for co-opting, and thereby diluting or demeaning the idea’s original and true value.

<strong>Mario Savio, an early member of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, delivering his &quot;Put your bodies upon the gear
Robert W. Klein/AP
Mario Savio, an early member of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, delivering his "Put your bodies upon the gears” speech at Berkeley University in December, 1964.

Fast-forwarding to 2017, in The Post, Spielberg could be accused of co-opting the activism and words of several sources. For instance, in the scene in which a group of demonstrators are assembled outside a park, a male voice heard over a megaphone recites a famous speech, nicknamed the “Put Your Bodies Upon the Gears” speech, (sometimes called “The Machine” speech) delivered by the late activist Mario Savio, an early member of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. In it, Savio told students, "There's a time when the operation of the machine become so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can't take part, you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears, and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus and you've got to make it stop." In the film, the demonstration takes place in 1971, New York. Savio, however, gave the speech at Berkeley University in December, 1964. It’s the kind of co-option that Marcuse and the students were fearful about, though it can be argued that Spielberg is essentially on the same side as Savio, and after the same ends. And as I can recall from personally participating in the antiwar demonstrations of 1971, Savio's speech was, and had been, a favorite recitation by the students who lionized him years afterward.

<strong>Two shots from The Post’s protest scene during which Mario Savio’s famous “You&#39;ve Got To Put Your Bodies Upon the
THE POST, TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX, REPHOTOGRAPHED BY GRACE GRAUPE-PILLARD
Two shots from The Post’s protest scene during which Mario Savio’s famous “You've Got To Put Your Bodies Upon the Gears” speech is recited.

We see such burning convictions throughout Burns' and Novick's The Vietnam War, which, when watched concurrent with the three dramas, almost acts as a metronome keeping the dramas in time with a greater design of human events in mind. In providing us the factual details articulating where and how the disparate societies portrayed in the three dramas overlap, The Vietnam War in tandem with Detroit gives us an idea of how much more brutally black demonstrators were treated than white demonstrators, despite that they were asking for less from their leaders and representatives. Similarly, in watching The Vietnam War consecutively with The Deuce, it becomes obvious that the famed Sexual Revolution facilitated by the newly available Pill was a revolution with more liberties bestowed on men, as poor women, often single mothers of all colors, were forced into becoming sex workers at unprecedented rates.

Such historicism, however, was not the lesson plan of the Counterculture on the streets and even the campuses of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Left chose instead to deliver the death blow to historicism when they accused the historicists -- both the Capitalists and the Marxists -- of 'co-opting' their criticisms of bourgeoise-liberal society with the intent to trivialize, if not suppress, their popular revolution. In their coinage of the term 'co-option', the youth culture abandoned history as a platform for correcting militarism, racism, sexism and homophobia. Which is why it is ironic that, fifty years later, we activists who survived are deriving considerable satisfaction in watching the current spate of dramatizations centering around our reformation of society.

<strong>Rescue in South Vietnam , 1967.</strong>
PBS, The Vietnam War
Rescue in South Vietnam , 1967.

In the relationship to the present day political crisis brought on by President Trump and the Republican Congress, we Boomers may have an advantage when compared with our younger counterparts. In our youth we saw the proof that we were being lied to about the motives, strategies and fatalities of one imperialist war waged overseas and another imperialist war waged against the nation's own citizens at home by the news media that served them. It was that very vision of an autocratic government in contempt of the populace it governed that infused the new spirituality of the 1960s that Sontag essays. It is a spirituality defined by secular, moral and individualistic aesthetic terms disseminated through the arts, entertainment and dissent waged against the political establishment that was then undermining the monumental democratic rights, checks and balances guaranteed by the American Constitution and its Amendments.

<strong>Chicago demonstrators dance with riot-breaking police during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, where the Yippi
PBS, The Vietnam War
Chicago demonstrators dance with riot-breaking police during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, where the Yippies and The Chicago Seven are born from the love.

And why shouldn’t we have abjured History as a teacher when the victors who wrote the histories had perpetrated genocides on all six populated continents. And ultimately it was to be the authenticity of our dissent that compelled others to observe (as opposed to being told) that the political demonstrations of the 1960s and 1970s as having a considerable impact on the American public for the Civil Rights, Native American, Farmworkers and Antiwar movements, in large part because they drew the attention of the news media.

<strong>Left: Donald Moffet, He Kills Me, 1987. Right: Gran Fury, Read My Lips (Boys), 1988. Women Don’t Get AIDS, 1991. One
Left: Donald Moffet, He Kills Me, 1987. Right: Gran Fury, Read My Lips (Boys), 1988. Women Don’t Get AIDS, 1991. One Million (People with AIDS), 1989. Like the best advertising campaigns, the Gay Countercultural artists plastered America’s cities with iconography that stopped people in their tracks.

Decades later, our conceit to having paved the way to alleviating discrimination on the basis of class, race, gender and sexual preference through legislation and litigation blinded at least many of the white Counterculture to the persistence and insidiousness of bigotry. And with the 1980s, the media lost its fascination with the political demonstration, so that the mainstream audience awareness of the radical front diminished -- accounting for why the demonstrations for The Equal Rights Amendment, LGBT equality and AIDS activism never achieved the same public exposure, or until recently, legislative protections.

<strong>Less than a decade ago, with the Occupy protests circling the world, it seemed that a progressive Left globalism was
Less than a decade ago, with the Occupy protests circling the world, it seemed that a progressive Left globalism was on the ascendancy. Today, with totalitarianism again on the rise, it all appears as no more nor no less than the eternal cycle of resistance and domination at work.

Only in the largest metropolitan centers did the AIDS activists of Act Up in the 1980s and 1990s impact at least the cultural elites with visually and linguistically ingenious campaigns as compelling as anything that the big advertising firms dreamed up. But unlike the issues of national and personal freedom and the right to refuse conscription, the movements founded on sexual issues faced, and still face, the formidable stigmas of a nation founded on Puritan morality. To combat that puritanism, and with it the lingering legacies of colonialism that separated white Americans from appreciating the rest of the world, History had to be addressed and grappled with by the Countercultures that had entered the mainstream of government, the media and commerce.

<strong>In April 2017, Law &amp; Order: SVU took on both Trump&#39;s Muslim ban and his discrimination against Hispanics in
Law & Order: SVU
In April 2017, Law & Order: SVU took on both Trump's Muslim ban and his discrimination against Hispanics in featuring rival demonstrations outside the New York Supreme Court, where violence erupts between the two groups. (Season 18, Episode 20)

The chief difference between the youth culture we were then and the senior culture we remaining Boomers have become, is that the utopian visions we dreamily clung to fifty years ago we believed to have come not from our inheritance of history, and written by the imperialist victors in power, but from our own unrestrained and original experience, creativity and freedom to think for ourselves (or so we thought). So ecstatic was our imaginarium (our delusion?) of unprecedented originality, that millions of us romanticized it, and the musical HAIR immortalized it, also in 1967, as "the dawning of the Age of Aquarius". What is most relevant today about that unbridled, utopian and new age optimism, an optimism lost in many long bouts of political uncertainty over fifty years, is that after having struggled to attain and later retain our vision of social harmony in government, education, the media, the environment, the social welfare and ultimately the global community, that it would take no more than one short year for our traditionalist opponents in government to threaten all that we built, and as it has never before been threatened. But reflection on history tells us it wasn't really one short year. It was every one of fifty years that conservatives and libertarians fought us.

Looking back now, we can see ourselves forging our own history. And it is that vision which softens our resistance to historicism. Although the US still waged military interventions, we saw to it that our government and media would not vilify the peoples living in those nations as one seamless, faceless enemy, as had been done by our forebears in their wars with Germany, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. There are also our historic achievements. We twice elected the Vietnam resister, Bill Clinton, and twice elected the Vietnam evader, George H. Bush, as Presidents. We twice elected a black American. And we for a year foresaw ourselves electing a woman as President. All of which made liberals and progressives high on the History that especially we Boomers saw ourselves designing and implementing.

<strong>The last four episodes of the 2017 cable series, Homeland, hid assassination forces targeting the incoming President
SHOWTIME, Homeland
The last four episodes of the 2017 cable series, Homeland, hid assassination forces targeting the incoming President of the United States among a city-wide demonstration against her.

This is why the Left (especially the white Left) remains in shock over the rise of a retrograde and open bigotry, irrationalism and obstructionism being pursued by all three chambers of the 2017-18 US government. And more than shocked, we are mortified by the revelation that it has all been made possible by a deeply racist and puritanical American voting demographic that we had presumed to be in decline, yet has long dreamed of recovering a confederacy of white suprematists. The Age of Aquarius had gone retrograde and no one told us. And as Spielberg’s The Post drives home, we find ourselves in the trenches of American cities we haven’t visited since 1974.

And so, in our defense, we who once turned our backs on History for being fearful of being duped by the authorities who wrote it, now look to the reassuring tropes of our own historicism (however dramatized) that remind us that we can rise up again to defend democratic values. Only this time we reach back to a true history, even a patriotism, that rests on The American Constitution and Amendments to secure our new faith in freedom’s longevity. Though we also hope that our own countercultural history fifty years ago may inspire new generations to rise up in dissent. And yet, all this we know not from History, but from our own authentic experience and shaping of our history.

<strong>Animal Rights activists scuffle with a corporate security force in South Korean director Bong Joon-ho &#39;s 2017 Fil
Netflix, OKJA
Animal Rights activists scuffle with a corporate security force in South Korean director Bong Joon-ho 's 2017 Film, OKJA.

Now in our sixties and seventies, we have another, perhaps last chance to make everything right in terms of instituting the egalitarian society that we dreamed of despite our fumbling over the last half century, and after we failed to foresee the oligarchical greed of unprecedented capacity, all in disregard of our favorite, if aging dystopian fictions -- 1984, A Handmaid's Tale, A Clockwork Orange -- which have outlived our utopian visions.

Perhaps we stalled in 2016-17 because our creative visions in the past -- that self-invented spirituality that Sontag described fifty years ago -- never brought the pragmatic results we craved and demanded. On the other hand, that failure makes us turn in 2018 to a review of our history issued by the most compellingly high-minded enclaves of the entertainment industry. But all that tells us is that there have always been men and women in power willing to lie under oath; commit felony break-ins; take bribes from mobsters; knowingly send soldiers into unwinnable battles; withhold protection from minorities; conspire with enemy governments and then coordinate coups against them; beat minorities, women and LGBT people to a pulp or worse; privatize prisons so to profit off the imprisonment of the minority and impoverished population, and obstruct justice to protect murderers loyal to them and their kind.

<strong>Uprising in Mr. Robot, Series 3, Episode 5, </strong> <strong>2017.</strong>
Mr. Robot
Uprising in Mr. Robot, Series 3, Episode 5, 2017.

It can encourage us to remember that between the 1960s and today, we found the dream ebbing away with Ronald Reagan's trickle down economics and star wars militarization of space, and after that the imperialism of two Bush family wars, at the same time that these administrations failed to fund research to mitigate or cure HIV-AIDS. Ryan Murphy's and Larry Kramer's 2014 historical drama, The Normal Heart, reminds us that we, the public, can pride ourselves for circumventing the pathways of the HIV-AIDS virus without the help of these administrations, proving that at least two generations of Counterculture (recall Act-Up) were now conjoined to advance the spirituality of the Left right up to instituting the Affordable Care Act. And that is not just Obamacare, but Ourcare, for finally covering prexisting conditions and women's reproductive concerns.

It is this history of grass roots organizing that grew out of, but exceeds, the sophistication of the Counterculture, which reminds us that if we disallow ourselves being distracted from the project of truly reinventing the United States as the utopian mecca we dreamed of, at least these advances, like small but well-calculated chess moves, reveal that representation in Congress is not our only venue for social change.

<strong>The catharsis of viewing.</strong>
The Post, Twentieth Century Fox
The catharsis of viewing.

Throughout the past five decades, spiritual growth may not have ever been far from our Countercultural minds. But in one year that changed as we found that spirituality was farther from our government than it's been since 1929 -- which means that all the moralizing and high-mindedness in the world would be of little asset in righting the legislation of self-enrichment just ensured this past month by the Republican Congress’s passing of its tax bill. At such times it is history and its precedents that lend us their force of conviction and example. And it is historicity -- the referencing of history to compare to, buttress and serve the present -- that is on the minds of socially committed artists.

At the very least, the combined effect of this year's television programming and movie releases seem to be enabling us to ease out of the shock that overtook so many of us -- if not yet in the real world of polity and economy, certainly in the catharsis of viewing. In fact, some of the year's best dramatic programming -- Mr. Robot, Law & Order: SVU, and Homeland — featured protest demonstrations in its better episodes, with Homeland devoting four episodes to one big protest engulfing much of Manhattan. And who can forget the animal rights activists battling with security forces in Bong Joon-ho 's summer release of Okja. All accounted for by dissenting Americans in the urgent search for catharsis, if not retribution, for a year of graft, bungled diplomacy and lying from what is supposed to pass for our national and world leadership.

<strong>Happy New Year. And Happy 50th Anniversary, 1968: The Year The World Fell Apart.</strong>
PBS, The Vietnam War
Happy New Year. And Happy 50th Anniversary, 1968: The Year The World Fell Apart.

Listen to G. Roger Denson interviewed by Brainard Carey on Yale University Radio.

Read other posts by G. Roger Denson on Huffington Post in the Archive.

Follow G. Roger Denson on facebook and twitter.

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
CONVERSATIONS