Professors from across the nation and overseas met at UC Irvine to discuss how the 1960s impacts the present at “The Future of the Sixties: Radicalism, Reform, Reaction,” an event held in Humanities Instructional Building 135 on April 25 to 26.
The event was sponsored by the UCI Humanities Center, the Dr. Samuel N. Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture and the Department of English.
Five lectures were held throughout the event, with each lecture followed by a respondent who analyzed and enriched the work of the previous speaker. The conference also included two faculty roundtables and a showing of the 1969 film, “Medium Cool.”
The first lecture, titled “The Death of Francis Scott Key and Other Dirges: The New American Studies and Music,” was presented by John Carlos Rowe of the University of Southern California. The presentation analyzed trends in music in the 1960s, as well as interpret individual songs.
At one point in the lecture, Rowe responded to an audience member who declared that the song “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” was the most revolutionary pop tune of the 1960s, but wanted deeper analysis of the song. Rowe addressed how the song, despite showing signs of transnationalism – which means to spread beyond one’s own nation – contradicts itself with supernationalism, which confines oneself to one’s own nation.
“Within the 1960s you see a transnationalism often contradicted by a supernationalism, from which we see the fallout,” Rowe said.
Following Rowe’s speech, Christopher Newfield of UC Santa Barbara was up next with a lecture entitled, “Unmaking the Public University: The Political Meanings of the Downsized Middle Class.”
Newfield began his presentation by addressing what he feels has been an enduring trait of the 1960s: the ability to have an open exchange of ideas, without fear of having them infringed upon by private interests.
“One of the relevant dimensions of the 1960s … is the circulation of intellectual properties and ideas in a public sphere that is not bounded by private interest and not appropriable in a simple way,” Newfield said.
Shifting his attention to financial concerns, Newfield discussed that, though America’s true middle class first emerged in the 1960s, it has been under attack ever since. Still, according to Newfield, the 1960s gave birth to the middle class, which continues to challenge traditional elites as it has done since its inception.
“The 1960s, which is still very much alive … is alive in part because it is the decade when the middle class is redefined as not bad, as not bourgeois, as a formation in which middle-class and working-class people are joined and in which different races are starting at least to come together in a way that is very threatening to traditional elites,” Newfield said.
Following a lunch break, Russell Berman of Stanford University gave his presentation, “Radicalism as Reaction: From Left-Fascism to Campus Anti-Semitism.” The presentation focused on changing political trends of the 1960s and the impact that increasingly left-minded thinking had on college campuses.
Friday’s faculty roundtable focused on forms of freedom and dissent. Featuring professors George Marcus, Nasrin Rahimieh and Frank Wilderson of the anthropology, comparative literature and African-American studies departments, respectively, topics included how the uprisings in the late 1960s paved the way for freedom of expression on college campuses and how challenging conservative society became widespread.
In concluding the Friday event, the UCI Film and Video Center held a screening of “Medium Cool,” a film about a television news cameraman and an Appalachian migrant worker who meet in Chicago on the eve of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Ian Hunter of the University of Queensland, Australia opened up the second day of the conference with his lecture, “The Spirit of Theory in the University.” The talk focused on the concept of theory in the post 1960s as being a work in progress and also emphasized the role of 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant’s work in provoking 1960s thought.
According to Hunter, while Kant believed in a spirituality consisting of space and time in which metaphysics and Christianity were harmonized, the 1960s thought was based on a continuous series of tropes and metaphors, which constantly reformed the self.
The next presentation was the second faculty roundtable featuring Anke Biendarra, Mark Goble, Peter Krapp and Mark Poster, who represented the German studies, English, film and media studies/media theory and film and media studies/critical theory departments, respectively.
Focusing on life in Germany during the 1960s, Biendarra addressed how the radicalism of German students resulted in the formation of guerilla groups such as the Red Army Faction.
“To think of the 1960s and their aftermath is also to think of the Red Army Faction [RAF], which of course grew out of the student movement and its legacy,” Biendarra said.
Biendarra went onto note how RAF surprisingly entered German popular culture as its membership adorned the cover pages of German fashion magazines.
As this occurred, the group simultaneously threatened the established German government through violent actions, until the group failed to be a significant threat in 1993.
Goble addressed a far-different topic discussing how advertising played out in the 1960s and continues to utilize the same mechanics today. Goble expressed this through the example of Mac-versus-PC advertising as one company attempts to label itself as the hip product over its square competitor.
Krapp discussed cyber culture and three different innovations that came about in computer gaming in the 1960s.
First, Krapp spoke of the virtual world, which amalgamated strategy, patience and configuration. Second, Krapp analyzed networking through adventure games, which utilize decision-making and role-playing. Lastly, Krapp described the graphic user interface, which was first displayed in the game Pong, and in later action games.
Poster’s speech tied technology into student activism as he recalled how, following the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, students at UCI took over the administrative building. During the course of these events Poster recalled that the first connection between a computer at UCI and Stanford was made, which he did not see the significance of at the time in the midst of all the political turmoil.
The portion of the roundtable that dealt with technology appealed to various members of the audience such as Adam Kaiserman, a fourth-year graduate student in the English department.
“It was great, it was informative. It certainly puts a perspective on the humanitarian aspect of technology,” Kaiserman said.
Jean-Michel Rabate closed out the series with his lecture “68+1: Lacan’s annee erotique” which focused on the May 1968 student uprising in France. Through this uprising students demonstrated that the youth in modern democracies could change the foundation of an established government, as the De Gaulle government came toppling down because of the students’ actions.
Over the course of the conference, a variety of topics were addressed and opinions expressed that were not always agreeable. Still, Sami Siegelbaum, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in the visual studies department, addressed one aspect of the 1960s that he would like to see return.
“For undergrads and classes in the university, the legacy of the 1960s that should be revived is having the classroom as a place of open discussion and debate of ideas,” Siegelbaum said.
Kristie Kang contributed to this report.