Thursday, July 16, 2015

Summer 2015 -- brought to you by the 1960s -- July 16, 2015 column


I have a word to describe the summer of 2015. It’s groovy. Make that neo-groovy.  

Yes, children, Groovy is now a programming language, but in the 1960s groovy -- lower case -- meant wonderful or cool. Simon and Garfunkel sang “Feelin’ Groovy” (“The 59th Street Bridge Song”) on their 1966 album, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.”

Over the last few weeks, nearly every major news event – whether it came from the heavens, the political mud or a cultural landmark between the two – has had ties to the 1960s. This may be the summer the Sixties built.

Everybody was feelin’ groovy when the New Horizons spacecraft finally flew by Pluto on Tuesday. After traveling nearly a decade and 3 billion miles, the spacecraft about the size of a baby grand piano made its one and only flyby of the former planet.

President Barack Obama tweeted his congratulations. 

Everybody loves Pluto. Images of the dwarf planet with its heart-shaped region charmed the world 50 years to the day after the first mission to Mars, Mariner 4, explored the red planet on July 14, 1965.

The space program didn’t just happen. President John F. Kennedy feared that the Soviets, having launched Sputnik and then the first human into space, would win the space race. On May 25, 1961, he addressed a joint session of Congress with a stunning proposal.   

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth,” JFK said.

Just eight years later, on July 20, 1969, the first two humans -- American astronauts -- walked on the moon. It took them 76 hours to travel the 240,000 miles.

To compare, when New Horizons launched Jan. 16, 2006, it passed the moon nine hours later.

In another sign of how the 1960s are informing our lives, Obama this week drew from Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address to argue in favor of a nuclear deal with Iran.

“It’s now more than 50 years since President Kennedy stood before the American people and said, `Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate,’” Obama said.

In politics, the big news this summer is a brash Republican candidate in the populist tradition. Some commentators liken real estate mogul Donald Trump to George Wallace “without the charm.” Wallace, a former Alabama governor and segregationist, ran for president four times from the 1960s to 1980s. 

Trump’s propensity for harsh rhetoric – he has called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers -- and loose use of facts worries the GOP establishment. In early polls of likely Republican voters, though, he leads the pack of GOP presidential hopefuls.

The book of the summer is a novel written more than half a century ago. Readers dreamed for decades that Harper Lee would publish another novel after her perennial bestseller “To Kill a Mockingbird” came out in 1960. The 1962 movie based on the book starring Gregory Peck was a classic.

Lee finally released another novel this month, but it confounded readers. Written before Mockingbird but set 20 years after it, “Go Set a Watchman” altered the character of saintly Atticus Finch into a cranky, racist coot.

Readers will long debate the merits of Watchman and whether Lee, 89, should have allowed it to be published. Her “new” novel brought back the dark side of the 1960s – but this summer also saw South Carolina give the decade the boot symbolically.

After 54 years, the Confederate battle flag came down from the statehouse grounds in Columbia on July 10. Raised over the capitol dome in 1961 during the civil rights era, the flag had been moved to the grounds in 2000. It was taken down permanently after the murders last month of nine black worshippers at a prayer meeting in a Charleston church.

This summer we also saw the 1960s as a selling point. Jaguar has come out with a new Lightweight E-Type racer that only looks like it was built in 1964. It can be yours for a cool one million British pounds, or about $1.5 million.

That must be one groovy car.

©2015 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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