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135 chapter five Quiet Revolution, Angry West I am bone-deep in landscape. mary clearman blew, all but the waltz: essays on a montana family (1991) “It is quite possible that loss of meaning is the problem of our time,” social scientist Raymond Gastil wrote at the conclusion of his 1975 book, Cultural Regions of the United States. “But if so, what do we do about it?” This “crisis of meaning” was not a new one, he noted, recalling that the 1920s had first witnessed the modernist “failure” of cultural coherence. Subsequently, according to Gastil, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War had imbued Americans nationally with a powerful sense of mission, distracting them from the deeper fragmentation of values and belief. The 1960s and 1970s had undermined this “frail self-confidence,” he wrote, and “eroded any sense of personal mission.” Americans in this tumultuous period discovered widespread poverty and environmental degradation in their midst, watched their cities erupt in riots, witnessed the assassination of their most inspiring leaders, lost a war, and saw a president quit in disgrace. Not without reason, a contemporary history of the era was titled The Unraveling of America (1984). In Gastil’s view, people were now filling the void of “purposelessness” with the “standardized, consumer world of convenience, comfort, and commercialism,” resulting in what he saw as a “chilling uniformity” of national life.1 Published at the very moment when American pride and unity should have been peaking—the years surrounding the Bicentennial celebration —Gastil’s was one of a number of regional surveys of the 1970s that were instead symptomatic of the weakening of nationalism and cultural consensus, evidence of a search for an alternative seat of individual and collective identity. “This all started as a kind of private craziness,” journal- 136 • Hell of a Vision ist Joel Garreau confessed in his 1981 book, The Nine Nations of North America. Paraphrasing an unnamed Texas “folklorist and regionalist,” Garreau declared that “if Washington, D.C., were to slide into the Potomac tomorrow under the weight of its many burdens and crises, the result would be okay.” The “healthy, powerful constituent parts” of the country would continue functioning “no matter what violence is done to the federal system.” The essential thing, Garreau wrote, was for people to realize that “your identity is shaped by your origins.” Daniel J. Elazar’s analysis of American sectionalism, American Federalism: A View from the States (1966; 3rd ed. 1984), offered a comforting conclusion to readers looking for rootedness and continuity—America’s disparate political cultures “arose out of very real sociocultural differences . . . that date back to the very beginnings of settlement and even back to the Old World.”2 For many groups in American society, their search for identity dovetailed with political demands for social justice. The so-called cultural consensus , after all, had required their subordination under a male WASP establishment .Thesearchwascarriedonmostintensivelyandself-consciously in academia, where women’s studies, Native American studies, Chicano/a studies, and Afro-American studies departments became all the rage. Folklife studies or “regional ethnology” was also part of this larger trend. As folklorist Don Yoder wrote in his introduction to American Folklife (1976), the field was motivated by “the present concern of Americans, particularly American youth, to determine their identity as it relates to ethnic, national, and world loyalties” and “their meaning in the larger picture.”3 Much in this vein, various regional centers began to be established across the country , including the American West Center at the University of Utah (1964), the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (1976), and the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi (1977). Even within such staid disciplines as geography, there were calls for a more socially conscious orientation. “Geography places too much emphasis on describing and explaining our sorry reality and too little on improving it,” wrote David M. Smith in The Geography of Social Well-Being in the United States (1973). He believed that “professional geography has a vital and revolutionary role to play in the creation of a new society,” particularly through mapping what he called “territorial social indicators,” which would reveal “extreme inequalities at all spatial levels.” Smith contended that in issues of social justice, an individual’s “race, color, or region ” must be taken into account. Gastil, too, found hope in the role that “regional culture might play in contributing to a national and personal Quiet Revolution...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780816599431
Related ISBN
9780816528509
MARC Record
OCLC
828490590
Pages
272
Launched on MUSE
2012-12-20
Language
English
Open Access
No
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