in the shadows
Christopher, I think your statement 'Funny how so many of the things I remember are more in relation to popular media than anything truly "important." ' is the most telling of all I have read on this thread.
Societies are best shaped and controlled by fear. In the last 25 years the Media in the West, and especially in the USA, increasingly have decided upon, clarified and promoted the fears held in common by our society. We respond to our macro-environment and structure our personal micro-environments in response to these intentionally crafted pre-packaged beliefs. Pick any popular belief held in common today by a majority of Americans, then trace it back to its sources. Mark the individual fears. Observe the changes; what was bad might now be good and what was good might now be bad. Who told us as a society which was which and for how long? The Media.
The Media in this country has birthed and nurtured all our sacred cows since the catalytic events of 1989. Those few here who know me, know I am older than most others here. I am even older than Ron. I guess that makes me older than dirt! *grin*
Do I remember gasoline at $0.21 a gallon? Hell! I PUMPED gasoline at $0.06 a gallon as my first paid job. In my second job, I sold cigarettes (unfiltered) at $0.05 a pack, filtered cigarettes (for people about whom we wondered) were $0.08 a pack). Smoking then was believed to be good for a person. Credit for life’s daily essentials was a bad thing to need; an individual’s daily business was done with cash.
When I was nine years old I met a Civil War veteran; he shook my hand, looked at me with the oldest eyes I had up to then ever seen and told me to be sure I learned to use a reliable gun and never learn to play the bugle. It took me decades to understand the part about the bugle. Oddly, I later in life was told something similar by a man who fought in the Irish Easter Uprising; he told me to learn to use a gun and always wear a hat. Last night, I listened to a “Newsperson” tell me how ashamed as a country we should be that a grandmother used a gun to shoot an intruder. After all, as he laid out the story, there was no way she could know that the large man who broke into her house at 1:00AM might have meant her any harm. The emphasized point of his story was that "the growing and dangerous Cult of Self-defense has to be stopped."
It has been a curious quirk in this life that I was involved in or present at many of the defining moments of the second half of the 20th century. (Curious for me anyway.) Many already have been listed above; some remain in that murky place that will escape historians and as the participants die off will fade from reality. For a long time, it seemed to me, that things changed but real change was never substantive. Americans were taught to live in fear of annihilation with little warning, and yet taught paradoxically to hold dearly the value of survival at any cost.
So what changed in my view? Why do I think there really was a catalytic changed in Western society? In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. Having begun in the summer of ‘61 as a barbed wire barricade, it had evolved into a massive construction that cut almost 200 roads and connected 160 vacated buildings with very real walls made of reinforced asbestos concrete. For a time the Wall and related events gave the Media a training ground on which to sharpen its skills. Hollywood cranked out numerous spy movies with Berlin as the setting or at least as a major geographic locale. In the summer of ‘63 a Media savvy President used it to sharpen his image for his up coming re-election campaign. A quarter century later it was a crumbling, though still effective, antique. In the summer of ‘87 a different even more Media savvy President, aided by the enormous financial burden of the April ‘86 nuclear reactor “accident” at Chernobyl was inexorably pushing the Soviet Union over the edge of a fiscal abyss, and told its Premier to tear down the Wall. In Reality, East Germany was already bankrupt and could not afford to repair and maintain the Wall. In February of ‘89, the last fatal escape attempt occurred and in November of ‘89 the guards simply gave up, opened the gates and joined in the party.
What does this all have to do with the Media and the change in Western society? The Media processed it all for us. Talking heads told us what to think, to believe, to ignore. For decades, we had lived in daily fear of “the other side,” “the Communist Menace,” “the Three Minute Warning,” “Nuclear War,” “the Iron Curtain,” “Nuclear Winter,” “The Evil Empire,” and our defined enemies lived with similar terrors crafted from our shadows by their own governments. Suddenly it all seemed to come down to a brilliantly focused single point of awareness; then just as suddenly, it was gone. We had lost our single most hardened and focused fear.
Societies are most easily controlled by fear. Prior to 1989, little use was made by the Media of some of today’s most common NEWS words: crisis, catastrophe and cataclysm. Plague was a word mostly used by historians. Disaster was reserved for rare events like the Johnstown Flood. After 1989, these words and their close relatives in the superlative clan became everyday food for the monsters of fear that can grow within us all. Almost every news story makes use of one or more of them in telling us why we have to live in fear. Want to check it out? Pick any hot-button issue; then, count the adjectives.