"What does it all mean?" was ubiquitous in the late night college dorm rooms of the '60s along with the sweet smells of post coital sex and marijuana. It was tantamount to the "What? Me Worry?" soubriquet underneath the face of Alfred E. Newman that characterized the so-called silent generation of '50s college students, who still sported a devil may care form of denial, despite the Cold War and the constant threat of armed warheads and nuclear armageddon.
"What Does It All Mean?" is actually a sharp turn from "What Me Worry?" and it's indicative of the peculiar direction of the '60s sensibility which danced between the desire for transcendence and a darker nihilism occasioned by the specter of the Vietnam War. Of course both nihilism and transcendence are two sides of the same coin, predicated as they are on the avoidance of reality. And that doesn't adequately describe an era which led the way to important changes in our attitudes towards sexual and racial equality. CNN has been running a series on The Sixties which deals with many iconic moments which proved to be life changing for those who grew up in the era. However one might define the '60s, there's still an indubitable wistfulness about a time when a Manichean universe again became the province of developing minds. There was something almost religious about the era to the extent that it presented alternating visions of heaven and hell. You could either follow Timothy Leary's invocation to "turn on, tune in, drop out," or find yourself dropping napalm in the jungle. If only such antimonies were available to today's millennial traveller. Now you ask yourself why you need a drink or "trip" to have sex and feel so fearful of terrorists that you find yourself cheering the same bombing sorties that you vociferously protested against four decades earlier.
Photo of mushroom cloud over Nagasaki by Charles Levy
This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.