What Led to the Collapse of Consensus?

1 January 2017

The 1950’s and early 1960’s was a time of consensus in the US. By the middle of the 60’s the US experienced a series of shocks which undermined consensus. The assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas in 1963. The differences in the civil rights movement. The escalation of the Vietnam War. All of these factors undermined American confidence to change the world and improve the country. By the late 60’s, US society was polarised: divided between different viewpoints: Youth culture; counter-culture, and multiculturism.

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The youth culture was created due to a baby boom in the 50’s and 60’s as this led to a large youth population. Most children stayed in school and university for longer. Most had more money because of the affluent society either from their parents of part-time jobs. As a result, they developed their own culture. Teenager became the term used to describe the years between childhood and adult years.

The generation gap between adults and the teenager became obvious. J. D.Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”, published in 1951 told the story of a restless teenager, Holden Caulfield who rejected the hypocrisy of adult life: “If you want the truth they’re all bunch of phonies”. The book was banned in schools in 15 states. Youth culture was the basis upon which consensus was destroyed. Rock ‘n’ Roll was a way of expressing the generation gap, unfortunately parents called it the devil’s music. Radio helped spread it with disc jockeys and the Top 20 with cheap 45 rpm singles and the LP in 1948 and juke boxes. Record sales were over $5000 million in 1960.

The stars were Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. Adults thought Elvis was obscene. The car became a symbol of restless youth. To cater for the mobile teenage and youth market, businessmen developed drive-in movie theatres and drive-in diners. Rock ‘n’ Roll was catalyst for the youth culture to develop, intensifying its effect on the collaps of consensus. Some of these young people became known as delinquents: young people who were in trouble with the law. Comics were often blamed. There was an increase in drunkenness and fighting. Movies were blamed, such as: Rebel without a Cause which starred James Dean.

The Blackboard jungle featured rebellious students. Some blamed Rock ‘n’ Roll music. There was a fear of open revolt against society: “The gangster of tomorrow is the Elvis Presley of today”. These young people were actively working to bring down the consensus which had dominated the US for the past decade. This led to a sexual revolution. The was because of the greater freedom of the pill. The women;s movement and Supreme Court decision to make explicit books more availible. Movies also became more explicit. By the 1970’s the spreqda of benereal diseases and AIDs caused many young people to avoid casual relations.

By the 80’s there an emphasis on virginity and celibacy. The dominant trends of independence, freedom, the consumer markey and wealth in youth culture remained. Pop music, fashion, smoking and drugs continued to be the expressions of youth cutlure. By now, the collaps of consensus was in full swing; the next development would be that of a counter-culture. Counter culture was the desire for an alternative. It grew because of the influence of the civlil right’s movement; the growing of the anti-war movement; the acceptance that everyone had rights.

The increase on the university population from 16 million in 1960 to 25 million in 1970 helped also. Drugs had a dramatic effect. Perhaps the greatest pastor of counter-culture was Norman Mailer. He published 39 books, plays, screen plays, poems, articles. Some of his books included: The White Negro; An American Dream; Why Are We in Vietnam; Armies of the Night; and Of a Fire on the Moon. He co-founded the Village Voice, one of the earliest underground papers and articles. He saw the US and the USSR as totallitarian societies. He felt the US’s power structure destroyed individualism.

Betty Friedman was also an advocate of counter-culture. She attacked the idea that women could only get satisfaction and fulfillment from rearing childrem and minding the house in her book called “The Feminine Mystique”. The main idea of the book was that women were the victim of a set of values and culture. This was hte feminine mystique. She later whote “The Second Stage” which assessed the state of the women’s movement ten years later. Both Mailer and Friedman, through the promotion of counter-culture, were helping the collapse of consensus in America. Hippies were paramount to the counter culture.

They were mainly middle class and white college dropouts. They rejected material wealth and the consumer society. They rejected war, poverty and injustice. They promoted freedom of expression and questioned authority. They wore colourful clothes and wore their hair and beards long. They lived together in communes or tribes or families, practicing free love. They took drugs, paticularly marijuana and LSD and listened to acid rock. Some experimented with different religions. Some experiemented with different religions. The numbers were small living in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco and the East Village of New York City.

They spoke of peace, love and beauty. They were the free people. Hippies were the physical representation of the collapse of consensus. Integegral to the counter culture were rock festivals. Here, hippies folowed the music of “peace and love”. Groups like the Gratful dead and Jefferson Airplane. A number of rock festivals gave expression to this including: Crosby Stills and Nash at the San Fransisco bay area: Human Be-In and A Gathering of the Tribes and the most famous Woodstock, in NY, in 1969 when 300,000 turned up and there was no trouble.

This was in contrast to the Rolling Stones’ Altamont Festivak where Hells Angels acted as security gaurds and treated the crowd badly, resultng in deaths. The Manson family showed another type of counter culture, where they murdered Sharon Tate and four friends. The publicity the hippies receieved created strong antagonism among working class youth, workers and middle class America. This increased class tension. Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California expressed this hostility when he declared: a hippie is a person who “dressed like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheetah”.

Until its demise, counter culture had a profound effect on the collapse of consensus. Multiculturalism was also a part of the collapse of consensus. During the 19th and early 20th century, the US became the melting pot because of the arrival of immigrants from different countries. They lived in seperate neighbourhoods but were expected to follow the American way of life. There was an expectation that social unity was needed to develop a strong state. People became Americanised through schools, the spread of popular culture and growing prosperity.

This multiculurism wouldn’t have been a problem for consensus, had ethnic pride not developed. Black leaders encouraged black pride in their history. They wanted black studies in schools and universities. They wanted to trace their heritage. They wanted to be called African Americans. Mexican-Americans wanted to be called Chicanos. They wanted to be educated through Spanish. Some used the slogan Brown Power. Mexicon=Americans were part of the wider Hispanic community-people from Latin American and the Caribbean. By the 1990’s they were the largest minority group in the US.

Native Americans of American Indians numbered 1 million in the 1960’s. They forced teh white government to help their social and economic situation. The Indan Self-Determination Act, 1975 was passed which gave Indians control oftheir reservations. Mulitculutralism was an ever present factor in the collapose of consensus. Ethinic pride developed because: the growth of the civil rights movement made people aware of their identity; many wanted a distinct identity that would counteract consumer culture; US immigration laws changed in 1965.

This led to a break down in teh civil-rights movement. Malcolm X led a more radical group which advocated violence and supported black nationilism why they called “black power”. This showed a growing pride in being African-American. The Black Panters wanted to gain power “through the barrel of a gun”. The national origins quote which favoured Europeans was widened. Racial and dialect jokes were frowned upon. Descendents tried to discover their roots. Some home countries saw this as an opportunity for influence in America.

Now multicultruism was working to bring about the collapse of consensus. There was opposition to mutliculurism. Some said it created divisions and undermoned beliefs that held the country together. These were part of the new right under President Reagan. Some argued it led to a dumbing down in education. That reading levels had declined in elementary schools. That increasing cultural divergence and rivalry could cause serious social problems and conflicts. There was a likelyhood of fragmented and seperate communities which could cause conflict in the future.

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