Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 528: Cultural Images of America in the 60s

Instructor: Mike Wentworth

blue 60s montage

Let's play a little game called "Name that decade." Ready? Based on the following clues, "Name that decade."

Janis, Jimi, Jerry, Woodstock, Altamont, the Monterey Pop Festival, the "Summer of Love," flower children, acid trips, be-in's, sit-in's, the Further bus, "Freedom Riders," the "Great Society," the Gemini Program, the Clean Air Act, the Gulf of Tonkin, SDS, FSM, SCLC, CORE, WITCH, AIM, hippies, yippies, "Black Power," the Black Panthers, the Diggers, Silent Spring , The Feminine Mystique , Easy Rider , Little Big Man , The Graduate , Medium Cool , Bonnie and Clyde , I Am Curious Yellow , Hair

Or how about the following notable quotations:

"If it feels good, do it."
"Tune in, turn on, drop out."
"Make love. Not war."
"End it! And end it now!"

"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
"Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, free at last.

"Now come on all of you big strong men
Uncle Sam needs your help again
Got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
Put down your books pick up your gun
Gonna have a whole lot of fun."

"Hey, Hey, LBJ, How Many Kids Did You Kill Today?"

Or to provide an historical frame of reference, at the outset of the decade Democrats John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson won the national election over Republicans Richard M. Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., and, perhaps even more significantly, Elvis Presley completed his army duty in Germany. By the end of the decade, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X had been assassinated, Dwight D. Eisenhower (one of the most notable icons of the previous decade) had died of natural causes, the U.S. was embroiled in the Vietnam War, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization was established under the leadership of Yasser Arafat.

Well, it probably didn't take you long "to catch on." We're talking, of course, about the "60's" in America, a decade you very well may have lived through yourself or heard about second hand from your parents and possibly even your grandparents. While the whole notion of "decades" is admittedly arbitrary and historically naïve, still certain decades in American life over the past century are foregrounded by key developments on the national scene or by a distinctive zeitgeist : "the roaring 20's"; the Depression years (1930s); the World War II years (l940s); the 50s; and the focus of our course, the 1960s. Compared to the frequent, though oversimplified, characterization of the 50s as a decade of unprecedented prosperity and the accompanying materialistic pursuit of the "good life," the 60s were marked by radical turbulence and social upheaval that manifested it- self in a broad spectrum of revolutionary movements, ranging from the Civil Rights Movement, the women's movement, and the sexual revolution-all of which were actually grounded in the 50s-to the anti-war movement, the free speech movement, the Black Arts movement, and the environmental movement. Moreover, the 60s witnessed the development of a distinctive counterculture that found expression in popular music, poster art, comic strips, "little magazines," psychedelics, and alternative social experiments. It would, of course, be impossible to amply cover all of the major social, political, and cultural aspects of the 60s over a fifteen-week period. As a result, our course will focus on a restricted number of topical concerns, including the Civil Rights movement, the sexual revolution, the counterculture, rock and roll, as well as a number of literary texts that achieved and still retain their cult status.

Written requirements will include a personal narrative/personal essay (7-10 pp.) and a longer research investigation on a topic of special interest (15 pp.).

Required Texts:

(These texts are for a previous offering of this class. Do not buy unless this list is confirmed by the instructor.)

Beth Bailey, Sex in the Heartland
Ann Charters, The Portable Sixties Reader
Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Colored People: A Memoir
Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
Donald Katz, Home Fires: An Intimate Portrait of One Middle-Class Family in Postwar America
Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: Text and Criticism
Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi
David Ohle, Roger Martin and Susan Brosseau, eds., Cows are Freaky When They Look at You: An Oral History of the Kaw Valley
Hunter Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Optional Texts:

Morris Dickstein, Gates of Eden: American Culture in the Sixties
Joel Selvin, Summer of Love: The Inside Story of LSD, Rock and Roll, and High Times in the Wild West
Hunter Thompson, Gonzo Papers, The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time

*Image courtesy of "The Sixties Project"

Last Update: February 8, 2012