I just watched a fascinating interview with a 1960s White House intern who claimed to have an eighteen month affair with President John F. Kennedy. But the most interesting thing wasn’t the affair itself, but the way the President’s staff, the “fourth branch” of government (AKA the media), and the entire general public of 1960s America seemed more intent on keeping the secret than on facing the truth about JFK’s many affairs.
It seems that my parents’ generation had so much trust in their government that nobody would even raise the question–that to raise doubts about the integrity of the man who held the highest office in this country would itself be unconscionable. Rather than face the facts, the American public seemed unwilling to do anything that would shatter the gilded image of the man who led the free world. And that, quite frankly, is a mindset that I simply cannot understand.
In contrast, my own generation has very little trust in our government. We’ve been raised in an age of ambiguity, where the enemy doesn’t wear a uniform or pledge allegiance to a flag, but live quietly among us, until they strap a bomb to their bodies or turn a commercial airplane into a weapon of terror. Or at least, that’s the excuse our government gives us for an increasingly invasive security regime that infringes on our basic liberties, enables the military to hold us in detention indefinitely, and sends our soldiers overseas to fight increasingly senseless wars to “liberate” the people of oil-rich nations who don’t even want us there. As if that weren’t enough, the economic crash has taught us that all that stuff our parents taught us about equality and opportunity is really just a pack of lies–that the rich get bailouts while the rest of us foot the bill, and all that stuff about changing the world and being whatever you want to be…yeah. Lies, all of it.
My Dad had an interesting rebuttal to all this, though. He said that it wasn’t his generation that put the president on a pedestal–it was his generation that tore the pedestal down. During the 60s and 70s, the Vietnam era and the rise of the hippy movement, his generation fought back and made it acceptable for us to question the president, or to criticize the government, or to do all the things that we take for granted today. In fact, he said that we’re the ones who are backsliding into complacency, with our deafening echo chambers, our social media inanities, our reactive attachment to corporate brands and advertising, and our almost religious sense of entitlement.
I’m not totally convinced he’s right, but I do think there’s a fundamental gulf between these three generations. Our grandparents’ was the silent generation, where people were expected to keep to their own business and not rock the boat. Our parents’ generation was one of top-down media, where ABC, NBC, and CBS ruled the airwaves and told us all what to think, buy, and believe.
Ours is a much more peer-to-peer generation, but I worry that we’re turning into a collection of mindless herds who are turning the culture wars into a messy riot where we abandon civil dialog and rational thinking for a much more destructive mob mentality that isn’t really building anything, but tearing it all down.
Sometimes, it gets so frustrating that it makes me yearn for the days of the frontier, when anyone could leave it all behind and reinvent themselves somewhere out in the west. That’s probably why I’m so drawn to science fiction, where space is the final frontier. There really are times when I wish I could go to the stars and escape to it all, and I think that shows in my writing.
Maybe that’s why I feel so compelled to write Star Wanderers. It’s basically 80% wish fulfillment, about a guy who goes from planet to planet on the kind of spaceship I wish I had. It’s not all rosy, of course–space can be a cold, dark, and lonely place–but so can this world, when you’re lost and you don’t really know what you’re doing with your life.
Anyhow, those are just some of my random late-night thoughts about the situation in this country and how much things have changed over the decades. If I had a time machine and got a chance to go back to the 60s (after seeing The Empire Strikes Back on opening night, of course), I don’t know I’d be able to recognize this as my own country. But really, I don’t think I recognize anything as my own country anymore. Like Van Gogh, all I can say is the sight of the stars makes me dream.