Pioneering feminist science fiction writer Joanna Russ has died. Here's her NYTimes obituary from today. Her first novel, Picnic in Paradise (pictured here in its first ACE paperback edition), was published in 1968.
As Margalit Fox writes in the Times:
"In midcentury science fiction by men and women, female characters resembled their earthly counterparts: comely, compliant and domestic. 'Galactic suburbia,' Ms. Russ derisively called this fictional universe, and she began to push against its confines. In a series of stories published in the late 1960s, she introduced the heroine Alyx, a quick-witted, not greatly beautiful mercenary thief and assassin who roams the energetically across the centuries...." Alyx is also the central character in Picnic in Paradise.
For those familiar with Popular Mechanics magazine from the 1930s and 1940s-- with dazzling cover art with alluring futuristic (and non-existent) machines--the issues from the 1960s will seem pretty tame.
Take this one from April 1968: The cover story, "Build this 3-Stage Vacation House," is illustrated by a photo of a brightly lit, colorful, sort of mid-century Modern shack, an update on the log-cabin model, but also clearly a simple, home-made affair. And that's the point: Guys in these increasingly affluent days have more leisure time on their hands and have been turning to "DIY" projects, especially ones like this one, pitched to the urge to get more out of vacation time. Popular Mechanics had always been full of home "shop" projects, but by the 1960s they had gotten pretty ambitious. The magazine does not, however, give its readers lessons on how to play the guitar and hold your own hootenanny, which seems to be going on in this lively scene.
Popular Mechanics-- need we point this out?-- is really the quintessential Magazine for Regular Guys. The ads are for car batteries and tires; power tools; beer; cars and motorcycles (and parts for same). There are ads promoting career changes (learn electronics) and enlisting in the military or the National Guard. The articles in this issue address the same demographic: "Catch More Trout by Telemetry;" "How To Tune Up Your Mower;" a spread on new research submarines. Not surprisingly, there's hardly a clue that there is anything "turbulent" about 1968--nothing on racial violence or rebellious youth or presidential politics--although you can find the word "Vietcong" in this issue (in an article on deploying new minesweepers in Vietnam).
One article in this issue caught my eye: "A Computer in the Basement?" A Westinghouse engineer, Jim Sutherland, has built a computer in the basement of his Pittsburgh PA home, and is teaching his wife, Ruth, to program it. ECHO IV (Electronic Computing Home Operator) takes up 20 square feet formerly occupied by the family playroom (forget about it, kids), and is doing simple tasks like budgeting and programming clocks. "The computer understands 18 commands," and has a "core memory storage capacity of 8,192 words." Jim predicts that "when we look ahead 20 years, even our wildest expectations will probably seem pale when compared to what ECHO, 1987 version, may be doing for us."
One of the most famous advertising campaigns of the 20th century began in 1968: the series of full-page, black-and-white print ads for "Blackglama" furs, with the memorable, never-changing question: "What becomes a Legend most?" (The "legend" was always capitalized.)
The story (as retold in the 1979 book, What Becomes a Legend Most? The Blackglama Story, by advertising exec Peter Rogers) goes that, in 1968, the Great Lakes Mink Association (GLMA), a group of about 400 mink ranchers, were looking around for an advertising firm that would help them "remodel public opinion," though the notorious red-paint attacks on fur-wearing women were still a few years off. New York ad executive Jane Trahey conceived the campaign and it was executed by her associate, Peter Rogers, who later bought out the firm and continued with the campaign. The "Blackglama" brand name was invented by Trahey, who also came up with the "legend" tagline, and the idea of spotlighting high-profile celebrities, mostly from the movies and Broadway, swathed in a Blackglama mink garment (which they were allowed to take home after the shoot).
For the first five years (1968-72), the photographer was Richard Avedon, already one of the most sought-after fashion photographers in New York. Five ads appeared in 1968. The first was the sultry 1940s movie "legend" Lauren Bacall, followed by Greek movie star Melina Mercouri, and two other certifiably "legendary" Hollywood icons, Bette Davis and Judy Garland. The one newcomer in the 1968 lineup was Barbra Streisand. This was certainly Streisand's year: the movie version of Broadway starring vehicle Funny Girl debuted and would go on to become the biggest box office hit of 1968 (eclipsing even 2001: A Space Odyssey), and would win her an Oscar in 1969. The youthful (she was 26) Streisand, however, remained the exception for years in the "Legends" campaign, which generally featured "women of a certain age," actresses and performers who were, to some extent, worshipped as icons: Maria Callas, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Pearl Bailey, Lena Horne, Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Leontyne Price. Eventually, a few men slipped in-- Rudolph Nureyev, Ray Charles, Luciano Pavarotti. In recent years, there has typically been just one "star" annually (e.g., Janet Jackson, Gisele Bundchen), and the "legendary" quotient has dropped considerably.
You can see a YouTube rundown of most of the ads into the 1980s below
Aretha Franklin had a very good year in 1968. She was the top-selling female recording artist, with smash-hit singles like "Chain of Fools" (released the year before, but hitting the top of the charts and winning a Grammy in 1968); "Think;" and "Since You've Been Gone." (She was, however, passed over for the coveted Billboard magazine "Artist of the Year" award that year, in favor of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.)
Like other black artists of the day, both those recording for Motown (like the Supremes and Smokey Robinson) and those who recorded for other labels, like Atlantic (Aretha's home label), Aretha Franklin was having tremendous cross-over success by 1968, with hit singles that charted on both the pop and rhythm-and-blues charts. To put it another way, Aretha's music was no longer only "Black" music, but was increasingly bought and listened to by huge audiences of white baby boomers. And Aretha's music didn't just sound catchy as it poured out of the car radio-- it was also great music to dance to.
That Aretha Franklin had truly "arrived" into White, mainstream culture was most securely symbolized by her appearance on the cover of TIME magazine--- the place that had been, since TIME's first issue in 1927, the red-bordered Pantheon of media significance.
Aretha was actually the fourth African American woman to grace the cover of TIME. Her three predecessors also got there, it seems, by achieving success in historically "white" endeavors: opera (Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price) and tennis (Althea Gibson).
Aretha gets the full TIME cover treatment-- a richly colored oil painting by Boris Chaliapin (now in the collection of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, along with most other TIME covers) and a five-page article inside, headlined "Lady Soul." Typically, TIME's editors strive to interpret Black culture--in this case, the concept of "soul"--for their mostly white readership, though this first paragraph is cringe-inducing:
Has it got soul? Man, that's the question of the hour. If it has soul, then it's tough, beautiful, out of sight. It passes the test of with-itness. It has the authenticity of collard greens boiling on the stove, the sassy style of the boogaloo in a hip discotheque, the solidarity signified by "Soul Brother" scrawled on a ghetto storefront.
Soul is a way of life--but it is always the hard way. . . . Soul is happening everywhere, in esthetics and anthropology, history and dietetics, haberdashery and politics.
On March 31, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson sent shockwaves through the country with his stunning announcement, added to the end of a televised speech from the White House, that he would not run for a 2nd full term as President that year.
The rest of the lengthy speech focused, inevitably, on Vietnam, He warned that the Communists in North Vietnam were "trying to make 1968 the year of decision in South Vietnam--the year that brings, if not final victory or defeat, at least a turning point in the struggle." He declared that these efforts would fail, but that "many men--on both sides of the struggle--will be lost. A nation that has already suffered 20 years of warfare will suffer once again. Armies on both sides will take new casualties. And the war will go on."
LBJ once again extended, if not an olive branch, then at least what he considered major unilateral steps toward de-escalation, including a halt of bombing raids over most (but not all) of North Vietnam. The minutes ticked by, and Johnson piled on more detail. Then the speech began to take a more reflective turn, as Johnson began to speak about his years of public service, and--quoting Lincoln-- how the country had become a "house divided against itself," and that Americans should "guard against divisiveness and all its ugly consequences." He said:
"Believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year.
With America's sons in the fields far away, with America's future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world's hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office--the Presidency of your country."
And then this famous line: "Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President."
Johnson had hoped to become a symbol of Democratic party and national unity in 1968, as he had been in the dark days following the assassination of President Kennedy less than five years earlier. But by March 1968, he was instead the symbol of divisiveness and the focus of intense national anger.
Little surprise that Boston Globe cartoonist Paul Szep chose this image of ritual suicide and titled it "Unity."
You can watch the final five minutes or so of this speech here. The "Accordingly" line begins at 4:54.