Inside America: The Rise and Fall of An Empire

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How to be equal and free, yet also different. This was the question that 77 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 were now asking themselves. Many saw themselves as living in a cold standardized culture based only on material consumer values and for many young Americans this was not enough. America was rich, but there were still many poor people. America was culturally diverse, but many people felt caught in a huge consumption machine that made little sense to them now that their basic material needs had been met. Many young Americans were increasingly more educated and many now also felt that deeper meaning in their lives could not be brought on, by more and more kinds of material consumption. Especially, if this kind of material consumption generated more regional wars and more destruction of the global ecology.

These issues were dimly understood at the time by most Americans regardless of their class, gender, or race. But it was during the Sixties that these issues first became culturally addressed in a linked way. Many young Americans began to see that all modern problems were inter-linked and that simple solutions to complex problems would not work. The need for " free speech " was seen now, not as a luxury, but as a basic survival need. Many young Americans became involved in political causes out of idealism and because they had the leisure time to do so. Economic times during the Sixties were good and one did not have to work hard to survive.

The hippie movement was a revolt against crass material consumption in American life. As American politics became more violent many young Americans began to drop out of society instead of trying to improve it. A cultural split developed between young Americans who wanted to improve the culture and those who felt that the culture could not be improved.

Both groups were increasingly seen as unpatriotic by more conservative Americans not only in the middle class, but also in the shrinking working class. This " silent majority. " would finally bring Richard Nixon to power in 1969. A man who lost the presidency to John F. Kennedy by the narrowest of margins in an earlier election which had been decided by the power of television. Before John F. Kennedy debated Richard Nixon on national television. He was an unknown senator from a small state. After the debates, Kennedy became a Television super-star.

As America became more politically and culturally divided, many Americans became fearful that the country would fall part. Too much diversity and too much freedom was seen as unbeneficial. As the Sixties came to an end the national mood had become more and more conservative. Richard Nixon was the symbol of this new mood as he became the new president. Many Americans supported Richard Nixon's call for law and order. But, as the Seventies arrived, the war in Vietnam continued and so did the cultural revolution that had started in the turbulent Sixties.

The Ritchie family would reflect this state of affairs like many other families.

Chad: " So Mara how was the concert. ? "

Mara: " Oh, it was pretty cool. There were a lot of speed-freaks and pot-heads, but it was great to be part of the scene."

Chad: " Are you looking forward to college? "

Mara: " Yeah, I think it's time I stopped playing with Barbie dolls and started to really find out what's really important in my life. "

Chad: " Did you hear about the play 'Hair ' on Broadway? I can't believe they allowed it to happen. "

Mara: " Who cares what people think. Long hair and nude people on stage. It's just the way things are now. People want to be different. They don't want to be part of the big machine. I mean who does really? "

Chad: " This machine you complain about brought you your food and clothes and even this house. Everything is now more efficient in society and that's why more people can benefit from this efficiency you don't like. "

Mara: " Yeah, but look where this efficiency is taking us to really? We're being polluted to death. The stuff on TV is total garbage. It's just junk food for the mind. It's not cool at all. The stupid war in Vietnam makes no sense at all. I don't understand why we're even there. "

Chad: " I don't either, but we have to respect some of the laws we live under. Then were would be if we didn't? It would be complete anarchy. "

Mara: " I guess this is just the ' generation gap ' people keep talking about on TV. Some things have to change. I mean things are moving so fast now. What I'm learning in school isn't helping me understand any of these changes. "

Chad: " I realize that you're confused about things, but things take time to sort themselves out sometimes. "

Mara: " Well, maybe we don't have as much time as in the past. Maybe we need to raise our consciousness a lot faster. "

Chad: " So everything has to be a ' teach-in ' or a ' be-in '?

Mara: " I don't know. Maybe it's got to be a ' see this '. It's a little complicated right now. I don't have a lot of answers. I do know that we need to ask a lot of new questions though. "


Hippies: Drop-outs from American society.
Baby Boomers: The 77 million Americans born between 1945 and 1964.
Speed-freaks: People who take amphetamines
Pot-heads: People who smoke dope.
Hair: A popular play in the Sixties that featured nudity and protest music.
Barbie: A mass-manufactured doll popular with little American girls.
Junk Food: Fast food with little nutrition.
Generation Gap: The difference in perception and values between the baby boomers and their parents.
Teach-in: Unauthorized student assemblies.
Be-in: Counter-culture events featuring drugs and live music.


1969, Woodstock, New York. It was in a muddy gray field that many young Americans said goodbye to the Sixties. Shortly after American astronauts had walked on the moon, half a million baby-boomers converged on Woodstock to hear some of America's greatest Rock ' n ' Roll artists. Traffic jams forced many people to walk to the concert and there were serious shortages of food, water, and toilet paper. But it was the biggest Be-in of a very tumultuous decade and many of the concert-goers shared with one another the liberating atmosphere. The Woodstock fair became the Woodstock nation as many of the young Americans, who had experimented with alternative life-styles, came together to celebrate their new cultural values. It would be a final goodbye to youthful innocence as times grew even harder in the Seventies.

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