Wednesday, April 12, 2006

2371 Decade of nightmares or his years of lost dreams?

Philip Jenkins' Decade of Nightmares which redefines the 1960s to be 1964-1973 (death of JFK to resignation of Nixon) and the 1980s as the Carter-Reagan presidencies is an interesting study on how everything is the fault (or credit) of the conservatives, even the successes in the pop culture, politics and media that only look liberal. Whoever called this author a Christian neo-con must have been looking at a few books back, or else he's had a huge conversion going the other direction on the Road to Damascus. Chapter 6 is the wildest paen of praise to Jimmy Carter that I've ever read. It's so full of shoulda, coulda, woulda and crediting him with establishing the ground work for everything good that Reagan accomplished, that I had to pinch myself to make sure I'd lived through those years and had voted for Jimmy Carter twice and President Reagan never.

To take Jenkins point of view seriously, all the liberals should be ashamed that they haven't made a bit of progress since 1973--all these inroads women have made in sports or establishing abortion clinics, or blacks in business and academe, or gays in marriage and shifting huge federal investments to AIDS--pffft--give the conservatives all the credit (sarcasm alert here, for those of you who only read every third line). Reducing welfare and crime during Clinton's years? Gun control? Environmental red tape? Running religion out out of the schools? All because of conservatives and their crazy paranoia forcing their hand. If I were to accept Jenkins' thesis, I'd have to believe that nothing good came out of those years of Democratic control of our government because it was all just reactionary bungling caused by the Republicans who undid all those wonderful plans laid in the wonderful 1960s (which was really 1964-1973).

I pay a lot of attention to words. In context and out of context. Here's some phrases Jenkins uses for the right: archaic ideas, conspiracy interpretations, messy, disaster, growing mythology, diabolical claims, darkening vision, desperate measures, targeted regimes, allowed them to boast, powerful motives, distortion. And now the left: strong fight, social reform, a shift gone wrong, unjust power relations, the goal, curious, oddity, sexual frankness, social mainstream, overconfidence, political victories, engines of social change.

Pop culture buffs are going to think he doesn't give enough space or credit to films, TV, books, etc., but it was way more than enough for me. I'd seen a few of the films he mentions like Rocky and The way we were, but really, your mileage will vary depending on how much you let Hollywood influence you. I am a bit surprised that his book has had so little attention. Possibly he's not strident enough or too scholarly (it's well written and referenced) for today's political climate? Maybe no one cares?

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