A few days back my Tivo recorded Tom Brokaw’s History Channel special, “1968 with Tom Brokaw”. Although I’ve already seen countless media celebrations of the 1960s in general and 1968 in particular, I decided to watch it.
Brokaw covered all of the standard clichés of Boomer nostalgia. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll, anti-war and race riots, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and so on. My criticism is not that there is a big left wing pro-hippie bias in the show. Since it did include sharp commentary from conservatives Dorothy Rabinowitz and Pat Buchanan, I would say it only had a smallish pro-commie hippie bias. The real problem with the show is what it left out.
Brokaw narrated the show from the hippie-heaven of Haight-Asbury in San Francisco. Nothing whatsoever of lasting significance occurred at Haight-Asbury in 1968 (or ever). But 50 miles to the southeast, a handful of engineers and entrepreneurs were changing the world for real: in 1968, Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore were founding Intel in Santa Clara, California.
We know all about the Mainstream Media’s liberal bias, but even more deeply ingrained is its view that only politics and entertainment are news. A corporation is only newsworthy if it is caught doing something wrong. Scientists and engineers are not newsworthy because science and engineering is hard and makes their heads hurt. Even when they cover something that is science related, such as Brokaw’s segment on the Space Program, the focus is more on the entertainment side than the technological. One exception is Tom Wolfe, who reported on Noyce and the birth of the semi-conductor industry in his excellent essay, “Two Men Who Went West”. An excerpt:
“Noyce used to go into a slow burn that year, 1968, when the newspapers, the magazines, and the television networks got on the subject of the youth. The youth was a favorite topic in 1968. Riots broke out on the campuses as the antiwar movement reached its peak following the North Vietnam’s Tet offensive. …
As Noyce saw it, these so-called radical youth movements were shot through with a yearning for a preindustrial Arcadia. … They were antitechnology. They looked upon science as an instrument monopolized by the military-industrial complex. … They were an avant-garde to the rear. They wanted to call off the future. …
If you wanted to talk to the creators of the future – well, here they were! Here in the Silicon Valley!”
“1968 with Tom Brokaw” is just fine if you want to hear a bunch of hippies talk about how they were trying to change the world, if you want to see Bruce Springsteen talk about how terribly influential the music was, or if you want to see the Chicago police bust the heads of commie-hippies (fast forward to an hour and 28 minutes in). But if you would like to read about hardworking youngsters who were really were changing the world in 1968, check out “Two Men Who Went West” (available in “Hooking Up”, a collection of essays by Tom Wolfe).
In society there is the illusion that the current generation is less distinguished than previous generations. I say it is an illusion because no one remembers the losers, ne’er do wells, the degenerates, and the incompetents of previous generations, but they can’t be missed in our own. Long term, we usually remember only those who created something of importance.
One reason the Baby Boomer generation has such a bad reputation is that they seem intent on remembering their losers and forgetting their geniuses.