The American Renaissance
In an introduction to a recent issue devoted to what they termed the "Take-Over Generation," Life magazine said: "Coming hard over the horizon, just beginning to make his presence and his power felt, is a new breed of American. He is filled with purpose and he thinks on a scale that often frightens his elders.... In the big corporation, where the old desire for job security is giving way to a new insistence on job opportunity, the daring young idea man is finally starting to lay the Organization Man to rest."
Science, both pure and applied, has accomplished more in the last dozen years than in the two dozen that preceded them. The same is true in architecture and design. In fine art, the U.S. had previously done little more than follow European trends, but in the Fifties and Sixties American painters set the pace and have maintained the lead: Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and their compatriots are the creators of the most important and most influential work of any artists of our time. The description of Pollock by English art critic Bryan Robertson in his introduction to a book of Pollock's paintings published in 1960 associates the artist with the rebel spirit he shared (until his death) with much of the new America: "For an entire generation Pollock has become a symbol of revolt against existing conventions in imagery and a touchstone in a commonly shared search for new methods to contain a new vision in painting. Apart from this, Pollock has emerged as the first American artist in history to influence European art.... The present work has as its mainspring the author's conviction that Jackson Pollock [is] second only to Picasso in the hierarchy of 20th century art."
Rebellion against the tried and not necessarily true has abounded everywhere. In jazz, America's one original art form, traditional sounds have given way to experimentation in a variety of unexplored directions, from bop to third stream. In acting, classic styles have bowed to a new naturalism with Brando, et al., and something called The Method. In popular music, the moon-and-June syrup of Tin Pan Alley has been replaced by the earthy reality of folk music. The new spirit of rebellion has even shown itself in the growth of a new American humor—Mort Sahl, Mike and Elaine, Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory and the rest of what Time called the New School of comedy have replaced tired jokes with social commentary and have made us laugh at our fancies and foibles: politics, sex, religion, racial prejudice—no cow remains sacred. True satire has returned to the American scene. And it can be argued that a nation's real inner strength is revealed through its ability to laugh at itself.
Serious social change has been taking place also. The inequality of the races has received increasing attention from all Americans concerned with the rights of others as well as themselves. Politics—long an area of interest left almost exclusively to the politicians—is now a matter of continuing discussion, debate and active participation by youthful citizens of both the right and left. Nor are most Americans' interests and concerns any longer limited to the continental boundaries of this country. The knowledge that this is indeed one world has never had greater acceptance by the majority of Americans: We now recognize as never before in peacetime, that what happens in Cuba, India or Berlin is of paramount importance to us all and conversely, what happens in Mississippi is of grave importance in Africa and throughout Asia.
Corruption in high governmental places, the TV quiz scandal, disc jockey payola, police crime in Chicago and other major cities, the indictment of top business executives for price fixing and restraint of trade, the Billie Sol Estes affair are seen by some as evidence of a trend toward decadence in our society, but they represent just the opposite to us. In each case, the significant fact is that the crime or corruption was brought to light—no matter how high up and potentially protected the offenders—and in almost every instance, justified penalties were meted out. Moreover, corrective actions were usually taken to preclude similar lawlessness. In the case of the Chicago police, not only were the men involved prosecuted, but Mayor Daley ordered a sweeping cleanup of the entire force—and he got it. In times past, such a scandal would have been hushed up and things would have continued on as before. There will always be crime and corruption in the world, but recent public exposures suggest a moral rebirth in America rather than the reverse.
The way in which Americans rejected McCarthyism and subversives of the extreme right as well as those of the left in the early Fifties was a portent of the independent spirit rising up in this country and served notice that most Americans would not long submit to being herded about like so many gray flannel sheep. Hitler used a fear and hatred of the Jews to bind the German people together in a controllable mass. Similar attempts here immediately after the war, using the fear and hatred of American communism, were partially successful for a time (some neighbors actually did spy on neighbors, brothers turn in brothers, students intimidate teachers; there were loyalty oaths to sign, some books literally were burned and industry black lists cost a number of Americans their jobs), but the arrival of the new generation, coupled with those free minds of every generation that refuse to be intimidated and herded, cut short the demagogic dreams of power. A few neofascist and hate groups have persisted up to the present, using the fear of the omnipresent Communist menace and/or the hate of Negroes, Jews, Catholics, non-candy eaters (a logical minority for Welch's John Birchers) or some other suitable group as their scapegoats. But the burgeoning independence and rebel individualism of the Upbeat Generation make it increasingly difficult for extremist groups of the right or left to gather any sizable portion of the population to itself. An American of the new generation may hate communism for its tyranny, but he is unwilling to submit to the tyranny of a professional hate cult in order to fight it, being aware that the best way to combat the ideology of totalitarian communism is not through some equally totalitarian concept or group, but through a strengthening of democracy and the free enterprise system.
American education today is receiving a much needed, if still not entirely satisfactory, shot in the arm. During the Depression we tended to de-emphasize education and intellectual pursuits (the uncommon mind was as apt to be derided as an "egghead" as to be admired), because the nation's economic problems made higher education available to so very few. One of the best things to come out of World War II was the G.I. Bill offering, as it did to hundreds of thousands of young American men, the opportunity for a college education or training in a specialized profession or trade.
Erasing the color line in education will, in the future, permit American Negroes to receive a far better and fuller education than they could have hoped for previously. This will benefit both the individual Negroes and the nation, for the total brainpower of any country is one of its most valuable natural resources. Until now, the United States has permitted a sizable percentage of its potential brainpower to go partially undeveloped by not offering full educational opportunities to its colored citizens. This is rather like leaving a part of a rich mineral deposit in the ground when you know that it's there and that if it was mined and processed it would be extremely valuable to the national economy and to the U.S. defense effort as well. Making sure that all American youth, regardless of race or economic position, receives the best and most complete education for which it is able to qualify makes sound economic sense for the nation and is, we feel, one of the obligations of our government.
At the grade school level, there has been considerable concern and debate over Johnny's inability to read. Playboy shares this concern, for when Johnny becomes old enough to subscribe to our magazine, we would like to think he is enjoying the fine fiction and the thought-provoking articles and not just ogling the current Playmate of the Month. But whether the ability to more fully appreciate Playboy figures in the new American concern over schooling or not—and we rather suspect that it does not—there is a greater awareness of the importance of education today than at any previous time in our history.
We appear to be moving into an American renaissance—a period of growth and prosperity unequaled in the past. Art, science, philosophy, politics, education—all are broadening their horizons and man is meeting the challenges and the opportunities of his world with unparalleled determination, delight and derring-do. Nothing seems impossible and man has never been more alive and aware. Life is a bold adventure and the new American Renaissance Man seems destined to make the most of it.
Man's new zest for living can be seen in his interest in a car that has style and speed, in his savoring the pleasures of the senses with good food and drink and stereo sound, in his involvement in the decor of his apartment and the cut of his clothes (the American male is the active participant in a minor fashion revolution that supplies still another example of the changing time: to the universal, gray flannel sameness of Ivy has been added the individual style and flair of Continental, with a new elegance and enough variety in its design to permit a re-emphasis of the individual within the clothes).
No conflict exists between the pleasure a modern American finds in material things and his struggle to discover a new scientific truth, or evolve a new philosophy, or create a work of art. The good life, the full life, encompasses all of these—and all of them satisfy and spur a man on to do more, see more, know more, experience more, accomplish more. This is the real meaning, the purpose, the point of life itself: the continuing, upward striving and searching for the ultimate truth and beauty.
The Sexual Revolution
America has come alive again. And with the social revolution has come a sexual revolution as well. Gone is much of the puritan prudishness and hypocrisy of the past. But far from being representatives of a moral decline, as some would like us to believe, we are in the process of acquiring a new moral maturity and honesty in which man's body, mind and soul are in harmony rather than in conflict.
This revolution is nowhere more obvious than in the changing public taste in books, magazines, newspapers, movies, television and theater. A society's media of communication offer an especially sensitive gauge to the changing manners and mores of any time, and in this regard the contrast between the present generation and the one just past is remarkable.