The 1968 Exhibit: Covering 1968

"Life with Archie," June 1968

"Life with Archie," June 1968The wacky adventures of Archie Andrews and his friends--permanently enrolled in Riverdale High School, somewhere in the United States--began appearing in comic books just a few weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. *The Archie franchise moved quickly from comic books to a radio series and newspaper funny pages in the 1940s. * But it was as comic book characters that they are best remembered, and in*1968 the comics were still going strong (though the price had gone up from 10 to 12 cents). *In fact, that year might be said to constitute a major milestone in the life of this durable series. *See that little miniature drawing above the title on this cover? *Yes, that's "The Archies," the fictional garage band (well, of COURSE it's fictional--all of the band's members are cartoon characters) that cut its first album in 1968*and became an animated cartoon series on television, tying in with the launch of the band.**The group appears in a story in this issue, saving the day by stepping in as a substitute for a string quartet at the annual teachers' "tea dance." * In the cover image, that's blonde Betty Cooper on the left, attired in hip-huggers; rich, brunette Veronica Lodge on the right, in mod go-go boots; and the combo itself: *Archie on guitar, Jughead Jones on drums; and Reggie Mantle on bass. *(If the catchy beat of The Archies' hit single of 1969, "Sugar, Sugar," suddenly and annoyingly popped into your head, my apologies.)

The characters of Archie and his friends were said to be inspired by the successful "Andy Hardy" series of the 1930s, though in the world of Archie, there are no counterparts to the wise Judge Hardy (Andy's dad) among the series' buffoonish adults (the school principal, Mr. Weatherby; spinster schoolteacher Miss Grundy; tycoon Mr. Lodge, etc.). *In the 1950s, Archie and his friends (along with the somewhat similar Dobie Gillis gang) became widely recognized as stand-ins for "Typical Teenagers," something of an obsession of that decade. *They changed very little over the years, even as the teenage years and youth culture in general became more complicated in the 1960s. *Hints, however, are dropped every now and then into these pages that the counterculture and the generation gap were affecting even these "average" teens and their followers (who were kids and pre-teens, for the most part). * There is that band, after all--unthinkable, probably, without the precedents of the British bands and their American imitators (e.g., the Monkees) in the 1960s. *And there's an ad in this issue for "Psychedelic Poster Covers" for books; they're "mind-blowing," with "groovy love slogans." * Finally, there is a panel in one story in this issue in which*Archie's lazy friend Jughead shows up at the Andrews' front door, yawning and saying: "Is there a place for us guys who don't want to make love OR war?"

National Geographic, April 1968

National Geographic, April 1968American magazines have been one of the minor (but significant) indicators of class since their beginning in the 19th century. *That is, one doesn't acquire magazines only as reading material, but also as visible markers of status and as a legible codes of identity. * *Coffee tables may not even function primarily as tables for coffee, but as platforms for the display of attainment (or at least aspiration), as indicated by the magazines artfully splayed across them.

In 1968, as indeed it had been for much of the 20th century, the unchanging, unmistakeable cover of a National Geographic magazine in ones living room was a powerful icon of class. *There weren't many homes in the working-class neighborhood of postwar tract homes where I grew up in the 1950s and 60s where National Geographic was lying around, certainly not my family's. *In the 1960s, one had to be "recommended for membership" by another National Geographic Society "member" (i.e., subscriber) in order to be allowed the privilege of sending in your $6.50 for a year's subscription (6 issues). *It was (and is still, sort of) a classy magazine, filled with its famously brilliant color photographs, thoughtful (well, at least lengthy) articles, and stunning fold-out maps. *Paper-bound but book-like in its "perfect" (not stapled) binding, each yellow-bordered issue was a little masterpiece, and demanded to be neatly stacked and saved, forever.

During the 1960s, National Geographic changed little in outward appearance, and continued to publish articles with titles that are the stuff of parody: *"Finland: Plucky Neighbor of Soviet Russia," or "The Incredible Salmon," or "Brazil's Stone-Age Tribes." *The relatively few ad pages were filled with immense station wagons and Cadillacs; airlines; the occasional ocean liner; foreign countries; cameras and stereos. The classified ads were dominated by boys' military schools, prep schools, and summer camps.

But National Geographic did not back away from international politics in this turbulent decade. *As early as October 1961, the magazine was reporting on the conflict in Southeast Asia ("South Viet Nam Fights the Red Tide"), and they had re-visited it at least three times before the issue pictured here. *This*cover story is an exhaustively reported and lavishly illustrated story piece the "Montagnards" of Vietnam--the "primitive" mountain tribes caught between the Viet Cong and the South Vietnamese and U.S. military troops. *The writer was Howard Sochurek, who at the end of 1967 visited Vietnam at the end of 1967 for *"the eighteenth time in eighteen years . . . not, this time, to report on a maddening war, but to live for a time with a people trapped in its terrible jaws." *Those two adjectives are just about the only editorializing the reporter allowed himself, but they are indicative of the general weariness and despair about the war that had come to characterize American popular opinion of the war by 1968--the worst year of the war in terms of the numbers of American casualties.

At first glance, the cover photograph of the boy appears to belong to that recognizable genre of NG photos: *"Third-World-person-doing-something-strange." *But inside one reads that this scene, too, has a back story rooted in the ongoing military conflict. *"Hard way to hold a fish: A Mnong*grips one with his teeth while hands reach for more. When fishing became poor, tribesmen discovered a new method--tossing grenades into the water."

Listen to the Warm, Rod McKuen's poetry bestseller, 1968

listenwarmBlogging my way through 1968 is a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.  Last week, I went to the library, checked out Listen to the Warm by Rod McKuen, and --this is the tough part-- read it, cover to cover.  Forty years ago, I could have eliminated the first two steps, because I owned it, of course; "everybody" did.  Don't ask me what happened to my copy of this slim volume of poetry.  Clearly it was jettisoned at some point along my way out of the purple haze of 1960s countercultural "culture."

But was McKuen part of the "counterculture"?  Could someone as wildly successful as this "best-selling poet of all time" be thought of as "counter" to prevailing culture?  Probably not.  By the early 1970s, McKuen had written well over 1,000 songs, which were recorded by various artists and pressed into more than 100,000,000 records.   He became exceedingly rich on music rights alone.  

But in 1966, Random House brought out a new edition of a recent book of his poetry, Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows, and it became the 4th-best-selling non-fiction book of 1967, in the year-end tallies of Publishers' Weekly.   Almost immediately, his next book--Listen to the Warm--was released, and it became the 3rd-best-selling non-fiction book of 1968, just behind the Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook and the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, College Edition.  

What's even more amazing was that numbers 5 and 8 on PW's list of of the top ten non-fiction books of 1968 were two OTHER books of Rod McKuen poetry.  (Three others in the top ten were diet books, the beginnings of a new and mostly unabated trend in publishing.) McKuen may have been the first poet to have a "brand;"  all of his books, starting with Stanyan Street, were exactly the same size and format, and were designed with a consistent graphic palette.  It's quite a revelation to visit a library and see them all lined up there on the shelf.  (And, trust me, they're all there; you have to wonder how often they get checked out.)

Rod McKuen was born in Oakland in 1933; biographical sketches dutifully recite his colorful resumé:  logger, ranch hand, railroad worker, rodeo cowboy, disk jockey, film and TV bit player, and, in the Army during the Korean War, a psychological-warfare scriptwriter. By the mid-1950s, he was performing and writing songs, and then turned to poetry.  By 1968, he had clearly become something of a "craze," as people in 1968 might have called it--publicity and fame begetting more publicity, more fame, more sales.   McKuen books were extremely popular as gifts (the slim hardbound books retailed for about $4.50).  Even the library copy of Listen to the Warm that I checked out of the downtown Minneapolis library a few days ago seems, oddly, to have been "pre-owned"-- it's inscribed "To Jim, from Grandma Dorothy."

How to explain the appeal?  What did it mean to be "quintessentially, the poet of 'right now,'" as a NYTimes profile called him in 1971?  [William Murray, "It Doesn't Matter Who You Love. . ." NYT April 4, 1971].  McKuen was often discussed in the same breath as other contemporary poet-songwriters, such as Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, or he was included in the so-called chansonnier tradition best exemplified by Jacques Brel (whose work McKuen occasionally translated).  The same Times profile noted that McKuen was hugely popular on the concert circuit, drawing as many as 250,000 people in a summer 1970 tour, and that everyone in the audiences, regardless of age, "have the earnest, thoughtful concerned look of commitment characteristic of the middle-class college students and young marrieds who are, as the cliche goes, 'prepared to work for change within the System.'"   For his fans, his poems must have been accessible but at the same time profound, "edgy," even a little transgressive and daring (lots of talk about thighs and breasts).  

He may have been saying, in his simple, sometimes painfully awkward lines, things that people in those unsettled, changing times wanted to be able to say to each other, but couldn't:  "I love the sea/but it doesn't make less afraid of it/I love you/but I'm not always sure of what you are/and how you feel."  (From Listen, number 14).  Or (from Listen, number 16):  "This is daylight.  Turn and face me face-to-face./We'll go naked in the afternoon/ and then you'll see I'm only me./Were you expecting something more?//I taste like you--remember/because I've been with you so long/because we are each other as we are ourselves./All I have to fight/is what I've been for you before." More of this now available in your local library..... Any thoughts or memories about Rod McKuen, love, and poetry in the 60s?  Post a comment.

TV Guide, August 3-9, 1968: Upcoming political conventions

tvguide03august1968frontcoverlarge2 "Covering 1968" will not strive to adhere to an "on this day in 1968" pattern--but this particular cover of TV Guide just fell into my lap, and the coincidence of dates was irresistible.  Exactly 41 years ago, delegates to the Republican National Convention in Miami nominated Richard Nixon to be their candidate for president, setting into motion a tumultuous cascade of events that we will no doubt revisit again in later posts. We will also come back to TV Guide itself again (and again) in future posts, and we'll no doubt also revisit the two major political conventions of 1968.  For the moment, let's just consider this image and what's behind it-- made perhaps all the more timely since the recent death of Walter Cronkite, the last survivor of this foursome. The cover depicts the four anchor men of the three major television news shows:  David Brinkley and Chet Huntley of NBC; Cronkite of CBS; and Howard K. Smith of ABC.  In the context of TV Guide, this photo itself is extraordinary. In 1968, TV Guide was essentially the only popular magazine devoted to television--its business, programming, and celebrities.  Cover acreage was thus valuable real estate, and--not surprisingly--it usually went to television stars, often in groups, smiling and upbeat and appealing (and salesworthy).  Appearing on other summer 1968 TV Guide covers were Barbara Eden ("I Dream of Jeannie"); Johnny Carson; the stars of the various Andy Griffith shows and spinoffs; the "Gentle Ben" stars (including the eponymous bear); the "Star Trek" stars; the "Gunsmoke" stars.  Here, by contrast, is a cover with four dark-suited, middle-aged men, not looking at the camera, not particularly dour, but serious nonetheless.  In my memory (I was not quite 18 that summer), the anchors were all old men.  In fact, in August 1968, Huntley was 56; Brinkley 48; Cronkite 51; and Smith 54.  All middle-aged, male, white, World War II veterans--words that could also describe most members of Congress and anybody running for president.   These four men would be leading ("anchoring," in the newly coined terminology) the coverage of the August conventions for the three (and only) national TV networks.  All of the networks would be liberally larding their coverage with comments from pundits-- Gore Vidal, Art Buchwald, William F. Buckley, Eric Sevareid, Edwin Newman.  These four men and their acolytes were incredibly powerful cultural figures, but had become so only recently; the half-hour "CBS Nightly New with Walter Cronkite" had debuted just five years earlier. An ad in this issue for the CBS coverage of the convention starting that week in Miami said that it would be "the most significant Republican convention of our generation."    Television had been covering (to some extent) the national nominating conventions since 1948, and this year they would be broadcasting in color for the first time.  CBS and NBC would be offering "gavel-to-gavel" coverage, as had become their practice, and ABC would offer 90-minute nightly reports (with the option of pre-empting shows if something big happened).  As the lead article in this issue pointed out, "national political conventions are rapidly being calcified (thanks partly to TV) into ritual four-day affairs into fewer and fewer surprises"-- a remarkable statement to anybody who thinks that pre-ordained, stultifying conventions are a recent phenomenon. I was struck by the fact that ABC had already started opting out of wall-to-wall coverage of convention proceedings (or maybe they never opted in).  Surely they hoped this would be good for ratings, since ABC was always a distant third behind the two other networks.  This was also good news for TV watchers who were not fans of calcification.  On August 8, 1968, the night of Nixon's acceptance speech in Miami (six years to the day before his resignation speech at the White House), viewers in the Twin Cities TV market could avoid NBC and CBS convention filler and catch ABC's "Bewitched" and "That Girl" before tuning into convention coverage.  Or could flip over to NET (National Educational Television, the precursor of PBS) and watch "The French Chef" with Julia Child, followed by a show called "Yard 'N Garden."  Or, in Minneapolis, you could keep the dial on the local "independent" station and skip Nixon's speech entirely by watching a 1959 movie starring Paul Muni: "The Last Angry Man."   Talk about coincidences.

"The Big Costume Put-On," Sat Eve Post, July 27, 1968

lauren-hutton5In the long hot summer of 1968, the*ordinarily staid Saturday Evening Post published this*astonishingly risquE*cover. *(The Post was*by now several *years into its attempt to re-brand itself as just the four-letter "Post," to compete with Life, Look, and Time; it would change back to the full title in 1968 in a logo re-design, but the entire magazine folded in 1969.) * For most of the 20th century, the Post was famed for commissioning wholesome, high-quality (read: expensive) illustrations for its weekly covers. *Norman Rockwell was only the most famous (and probably the most wholesome) of the commercial artists who worked for the Post. *By the 60s, most of this had gone by the boards, though the Post continued to turn to Rockwell occasionally, at least until December 1963; his last cover for the Post was a memorial portrait of president John F. Kennedy.

Even Playboy cover girls in the 1960s were a lot more covered up than this model--the 23-year-old (maybe 24; accounts vary) Lauren Hutton, already a Vogue cover favorite. *(Ms. Hutton is probably not crazy about the nearly universal Internet descriptor of herself as the "gap-toothed supermodel.") The model (unidentified in any way inside the magazine) displays a lot of midriff and a provocative decolletage while modeling what appears to be some art director's idea of the garb of a Middle Eastern concubine. *"What they're wearing instead of clothes," the headline says: "The Big Costume Put-on." *"They" in this sense is clear: "they" is not "us," the middle-class, more than a little conservative grown-ups who read the "Post." *"They" is, simply put, "American youth." *As the magazine's editor, Bill Emerson, explains: *"The turned-on people of today wear all sorts of extraordinary things instead of clothes. . . . You can very easily think . . . of clothing as weaponry. . . . It looks as if that curious subculture known as youth has ambushed us fogy-boppers with their costumes and is firing away. *The ammunition is not deadly, but it does make you feel angry and 150 years old."

Buttressed by a photo essay deeper in the magazine, featuring numerous young people bedecked in slightly Edwardian or Indian or Elizabethan or military surplus or even vintage American fashions, Emerson waxes anthropological: *"Man is changing his attitude about himself . . . This mind-boggling costume party has a much more serious message than simple disguise. *It may well be a part of a ritual effort to isolate a personality, and there is some question as to what will emerge."

This cover story belongs to a genre that would by now be quite familiar to readers in 1968. *It might be called "Look at what those kids are (fill in the blank) now!" *The blank could be filled in with: wearing, saying, listening to, smoking, drinking, watching, listening to. *Magazine editors and photographers loved the so-called "counterculture." *"Those kids" made great pictures, they made great copy, and they sold magazines. *And if you could layer onto this head-shaking voyeurism a veneer of scholarly perspicacity, all the better. *Here that's provided by none other than Marshall McLuhan ("maestro of media," as SEP calls him), quoted extensively in this "Fashion" section. * A little McLuhan goes a long way, so here's a little (we'll revisit him again in a later post): *"The mini-skirt, of course, is not a fashion. *It is a return to the tribal costume worn by men and women alike in all oral societies. *As our world moves from hardware to software [Ed. note: *This is 1968!], the mini-skirt is a major effort to reprogram our sensory lives in a tribal pattern of tactility and involvement."