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Happy Days and Wonder Years

Happy Days and Wonder Years: The Fifties and the Sixties in Contemporary Cultural Politics

Daniel Marcus
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Happy Days and Wonder Years
    Book Description:

    In the twenty-first century, why do we keep talking about the Fifties and the Sixties? The stark contrast between these decades, their concurrence with the childhood and youth of the baby boomers, and the emergence of television and rock and roll help to explain their symbolic power. InHappy Days and Wonder Years, Daniel Marcus reveals how interpretations of these decades have figured in the cultural politics of the United States since 1970.From Ronald Reagan's image as a Fifties Cold Warrior to Bill Clinton's fandom for Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy, politicians have invoked the Fifties and the Sixties to connect to their public. Marcus shows how films, television, music, and memoirs have responded to the political nostalgia of today, and why our entertainment remains immersed in reruns, revivals, and references to earlier times. This book offers a new understanding of how politics and popular culture have influenced our notions of the past, and how events from long ago continue to shape our understanding of the present day.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4250-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    On July 23, 1999, a small plane piloted by John F. Kennedy, Jr., disappeared off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. For the next several days the nation was treated to a media spectacle of the first order. The major broadcast networks interrupted their regular schedules of programming to cover the search effort for hours on end. The cable news networks offered twenty-four-hour daily coverage. Television specials were quickly assembled that told the story of Kennedy’s life—his birth immediately following his father’s election to the presidency in 1960; his years in the White House and famous salute to...

  5. Chapter 1 The Fifties in the 1970s: Representations in a Cultural Revival
    (pp. 9-35)

    The meanings of the 1950s and 1960s have been contested in American politics since the advent of Ronald Reagan to national political power in 1980. Reagan called for a rejection of the legacies of the social and cultural movements of the 1960s and a return to practices and values said to have been disrupted by these movements. Conservatives looked to the 1950s as an era of stable social relations, domestic prosperity, limited government, and American economic and military leadership. They associated the 1960s with social chaos, a turn against patriotism, and wasteful government spending. Liberals were slow to respond to...

  6. Chapter 2 The Conservative Uses of Nostalgia
    (pp. 36-59)

    The Fifties revival in the 1970s put into social circulation a set of cultural markers and concepts that came to define the decade of the 1950s in public discourse. In the creation of such definitions, implicit and explicit comparisons between the 1950s and the 1960s were commonplace. The Fifties and the Sixties were reified as opposing social environments. With the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980, the comparisons between the two decades took on a more political cast, as the Sixties and their aftermath became fodder for a new conservative rhetorical and policy offensive. In particular, the...

  7. Chapter 3 Nostalgia Embodied: Ronald Reagan as Icon
    (pp. 60-91)

    Ronald Reagan’s capture of the presidency in 1980 enabled him to articulate and embody the political nostalgia of the conservative movement that coalesced around him. The preponderance of the attention given to the presidency in American politics and media, abetted by astute media management on the part of Reagan’s political team, guaranteed Reagan the central role in the conservative ideological offensive. Although Reagan’s actions enjoyed only piecemeal and intermittent support from the majority of the electorate, his ability to control the field of political discourse imbued the conservative movement with his personality, concerns, and image. The president’s ideological image was...

  8. Chapter 4 Popular Culture and the Response to Conservative Nostalgia
    (pp. 92-118)

    Even as the Republican view of the American past dominated the political realm in the 1980s, popular culture produced myriad representations of historical events and eras that, at times, challenged the nostalgic discourse of conservatism. In particular, films, television programs, musical acts, and other cultural products responded to the Reagan era by exploring the meanings of the Sixties for America in the 1980s. Some of the biggest hits of the decade contained examinations of the Vietnam War, the historical experiences of the Baby Boom generation, and the social and cultural changes that marked the post–World War II era. Other...

  9. Chapter 5 Contests and Contestations: The Sixties Legacy during the Decline of Reagan
    (pp. 119-149)

    In the late 1980s the conservative movement experienced an extraordinary sequence of scandals and mishaps that threatened its strong position in American politics. Public disgrace touched the fundamentalist religious community, Wall Street traders, the savings and loan industry, and the military and foreign policy apparatus of the Reagan administration. Despite several years of economic growth, disparities in financial conditions between classes and races took on new visibility with the advent of mass homelessness. The last years of Ronald Reagan’s second term saw a public questioning of the political, economic, and social direction of the nation, and of Reagan’s legacy to...

  10. Chapter 6 The Reinflection of the Past: The Presidential Election of 1992
    (pp. 150-170)

    The 1992 presidential campaign occurred after twelve years of Republican rule, during which values identified with American life in the 1950s were reasserted by those in power. The ideological momentum of Reaganism, however, had stalled through a succession of scandals, increasing economic stagnation, and the replacement of the potent figure of Ronald Reagan with George H. W. Bush as president. Economic anxieties grew among many segments of the electorate, and Bill Clinton asserted his claim to economic leadership in the face of GOP attacks on his character, many of them rooted in the cultural and political clashes of the 1960s....

  11. Chapter 7 Elvis Has Left the Building: The Resurgence of the Right
    (pp. 171-203)

    In the 1992 presidential election Bill Clinton placed himself within a historical narrative that offered a political response to the conservative nostalgia of the Reagan era. He accomplished this particularly through his demonstrated fandom for figures from popular entertainment and politics, as signs of his cultural and social allegiances and political development. By invoking the legacies of Elvis Presley and John Kennedy, Clinton reconstructed arguments for Democratic programs to assist insecure middle- and working-class voters. Clinton seemed to share Reagan’s view of a rosy American past, but located it in the time of the Kennedy administration. With his victory, many...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 204-206)

    Over the last thirty years the United States has experienced an ongoing discussion of its past, particularly of the meanings of the 1950s and 1960s. Both politically and culturally, various social groups have constructed narratives of national greatness, decline, and renewal. Through several presidential administrations, electoral cycles, and cultural revivals, the struggle to define the national experience has gone on. Political momentum has been gained by those who have been able to use the past to explain the present, and to legitimate their vision of the future.

    The most obdurate attempt to justify policy initiatives by recourse to the past...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 207-244)
  14. Index
    (pp. 245-264)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-265)