Something for them to want to overcome

The topic I’ve chosen is the role of the mindset that produced consumer culture in the 50s in propagating civil unrest around the world in the 1968. I’m sure you can quite easily form a mental picture of (at least some) college students that grab pickets or gather in sit-ins, simply out of curiosity or a desire to rebel against something; I plan to evaluate why such an anti-establishment mood developed in one historical context.

You might have noticed that I’ve specifically used the word “mindset”. Studies abound that align the consumerism and conservatism of the 50s with the hippie counterculture of the 60s, but that conservatism was part of a larger worldview in the 50s that is not as often specifically linked with the 60s. This worldview was one that polarized the world to a good capitalist force facing off an evil communist force, and that recognized that stifling all communist thought and containing Russian influences and behavior to solely their own sphere was the solution. As one result, a “uniquely American” culture was developed, with a white working middle-class father and a housewife leading a suburban household filled with new appliances, consumer products, and a few children at its epitome. There is a wide enough consensus that by the end of the 50s, this produced a “one-dimensional” personality with no individuality, as social critic Herbert Marcuse puts it; the suppressed individual leaked out as the counterculture in a desire for aesthetic, as opposed to purely rational, expression of the self. But by 1968, this desire for expression found its way out in a different way – in many different countries (the US, Czechoslovakia, West Germany, and France, among a few others), college students, workers, and other groups had taken to the streets, protesting against Vietnam, imperialism, civil rights, and many other issues. However, outside of shifting some policies, little had changed, yet the movements (or at least their violent manifestations) had mostly died down in the next year or two. Jeremi Suri argues that this is because the nature of the protests was apolitical. Without a clearly relevant or clearly defined goal, the movements had little momentum: the protesters were only protesting against authority in general and against an intolerance for radicality. As both are staples of the containment mindset, I’m slightly surprised that containment is usually only briefly mentioned in studies about the 1968 movements, though it is custom for “containment” to describe a political or social phenomenon rather than a more personal dilemma. In this study, I’ll aim to connect the pieces of containment as a whole with the social circumstance that has been so widely studied.


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