First: Yes, I am a member, or as we used to say, a card carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Back in the 1950s, before I really had any clear idea of what was going on, many of the teachers in my school would discuss the ACLU and some sort of allegiance document they were being forced to sign in order to keep their jobs teaching in California schools. It was the time of Joe McCarthy and the shameful House Un-American Activities committee. At that time my Dad was a teacher and I expect I picked up some of the gossip and concern from him and his colleagues.
I lived in Los Angeles at the time of the cult murder spree Manson directed which is often called the Sharon Tate murders. I suppose this is understandable since Sharon Tate was a beautiful Hollywood actress married to an important director and, as they say, with child at the time of her ritual slaughter. But it is good to remember that there were other victims and other scenes of slaughter that Manson and his followers committed.
This was a difficult time to live in Los Angeles. I went home for the summer when the Watts riots were tragically the news around the country, but I sat up watching the election results that night in another summer when Bobby Kennedy left the podium at the Ambassador Hotel. Interestingly I was on the way to St. Louis to work on a PhD, stopped off at relatives in Phoenix and watched the rioting in Chicago around the Democratic National Convention and was deep into Restoration drama while the music and crafts festival was going on in a field near Woodstock, New York. Now that I think back on it, the 1960s were truly an eventful time to be a young adult. I’m not sure that later generations have had such experiences and such opportunities.
Which brings me to the conclusion I reached while thinking about Charles Manson: most people who see the news article I read probably just shook their heads and mumbled something like, “Why should I care?” or even “Who’s he?”
I still see the years starting after World War II as part of my experience and therefore quite contemporary. The ’50s were experience; the ’60s were enlightenment; the ’70s were drugs; the ’80s were greed; the ’90s were hustle; and after that it was all downhill. Are the events and experiences I had any more significant that those of a boy (or girl) born in 1980? Was the breakup of the Beatles any more difficult to imagine than the breakup of ‘N Sync? Was Vietnam a more frightening experience than Iraq? Was Nixon any better for the country than George W. Bush?
I suppose each generation has its own scale for ranking the events of their lives. I know that when I took the message from the school office out to the coach monitoring the volleyball competition, I considered the assassination of John F. Kennedy a major event in world history (even though I was not too enamored with the Kennedys) and later when I sat in my apartment in St. Louis and watched Neil Armstrong step down onto the moon, I figured I would never again have such an emotional response. Of course, seeing your first-born in the hospital and later watching her walk across the stage to receive her PhD … those were two very emotional moments. Now that I am getting older and having experienced George W. Bush, I can’t imagine how much worse it could get in this country but my brain is still alive and I see that the Republicans are trying like the devil to beat their own record for insensitivity and incompetence.
But I’ll have to leave that fight to the younger generations and go poach an egg for lunch.
A quick followup for anyone that was worried, Charles Manson had his parole rejected by the California State prison officials. Wow. That was a surprise.