- After Aquarius Dawned: How the Revolutions of the Sixties Became the Popular Culture of the Seventies by Judy Kutulas
This book, composed of six beautifully crafted essays, offers fascinating reflections on how the popular culture of the 1970s—songwriting, television, film, fashion, and journalism—helped normalize radical values at the heart of the political and social movements of the 1960s, values that included individual agency, sexual freedom, racial equality, and gender diversity. For readers yearning for an accessible yet nuanced account that treats the era as more than "the birthplace of a familiar brand of contemporary political conservatism," this book offers a new interpretative lens through which to view a cultural sensibility fully engaged with the complex legacies of the 1960s (p. 13).
The first chapter analyzes the remaking of gender identities inspired by the women's movement and the sexual revolution—as reflected in the songs of Carly Simon, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, James Taylor, and Jackson Browne. The second chapter examines the literal refashioning of masculinity that made it possible for men to dress in ways that allowed them to express an individuality not previously possible. The third, fourth, and fifth chapters survey television programming (sitcoms and dramas) that showed viewers alternatives to a patriarchal, white, nuclear family and provide thoughtful analyses of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Roots, and All in the Family, among others.
The last essay—my favorite because of the rich layering of journalistic sources—deals with the Jonestown tragedy of 1978, in which more than nine hundred Americans, followers of religious leader Jim Jones, died in Guyana [End Page 232] after drinking the local variant of Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. This event was at the time, according to a Gallup poll, ranked in significance with the attack on Pearl Harbor, the bombing of Hiroshima, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Tracing the change in the public's response from "'dismay and pity'" to anger and black humor, Kutulas stresses how Jonestown reflected Americans' ambivalence about individual freedom and responsibility (Was it suicide or murder? Were they brainwashed?), even while many blamed the government for doing nothing to prevent the tragedy (p. 194). As Kutulas concludes, "The post-sixties American ideal was both independent and communal, bound to a country [and government] from which many wanted distance but also nurture and protection" (p. 198).
Kutulas's lively essays are rooted in anecdote and are free of jargon, making this book an ideal text for both undergraduate students and general readers. Her aim is to increase our awareness of what she sees as positive about the 1970s, understanding, of course, that conservatives will detest what she most admires—namely, that "[m]any Americans embraced new ideas about equality, diversity, and tolerance as ideals and worked, often against social conditioning, to infuse them into their lives" (p. 200). However, what makes this book especially valuable are the openings it offers to reflect on where we are now. Growing up during the 1960s and 1970s, I was a child witness to race riots and urban decay and a teenager who found suburban life stultifying, and I found much of the popular culture described in this book falsely reassuring. Only now, thinking about the ambivalence that Americans felt about wanting both independence and community, do I feel some pride for who we once were. In the 1970s, Americans, for all their skepticism and cynicism, still had faith that politicians could be held accountable by a free press and an informed citizenry and that the nation would eventually make good on its professed creed of liberty and justice for all.