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It's Summertime, and the Blogging . . .

jack_solomon
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Ain't easy. Especially when I'm in the process of revising the chapter introductions for the eighth edition of Signs of Life in the U.S.A., and the blockbuster du jour is a movie about a mutant superhero with "adamantium" claws. I confess to being surprised to discover that this chap is almost forty years old now, with Wolverine having first appeared as a Marvel Comics character in 1974.  But on the other hand, there's a certain logic to that, because the 1970s marked a turning point in the history of American popular culture, when fantasy story telling was making its transition from its heretofore marginal status as B-movie level "kid's stuff" to center stage dominance.  In this era when superheroes and other forms of fantasy stories loom so large in American entertainment, it is easy to take this status for granted.  But there is a history to it—and a rather paradoxical one at that. The paradox lies in the fact the 1970s was a decade in which the chaotic violence of the 1960s finally receded.  The Vietnam War, the assassinations, the burning of one American city after another, the campus violence that culminated at Kent State in 1970, all came to an end.  Though there would be troubles enough in the seventies (and there are always troubles), America calmed down and began to dream about .  .  .  war.  For this was the decade of Star Wars: the movie that practically changed everything. And what were Americans dreaming about in the turbulent sixties?  Many things, of course, but among them was peace, a new consciousness, flower power.  No, really.  Though published in 1970, Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull was written in the 1960s, and while it is hard to believe it now, was once taken very seriously and was a major pop cultural phenomenon.  Same thing for the syrupy sweet poetry of Rod McKuen (Listen to the Warm gives you an idea), which reached major best-seller status.  And let's not forget Richard Brautigan, whose poem "April 7, 1969," I once argued in a paper for my freshman composition course, represented the future of poetry (it goes like this "I feel so bad today/that I want to write a poem./I don't care: any poem, this/poem."  My professor responded: "He felt so bad that day that he wanted to write a poem.  Not just any poem.  No poem at all").  I forgive myself today for such early enthusiasms of mine because serious critics were announcing at the time that loopy but gentle works like Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America would so change literature that novels in the future would be called "Brautigans." One might think, at a time of turbulence again, with an ongoing war on terrorism that has turned our society up side down, ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ideological and racial divisions that are coming to rival those of the 1960s, that Americans might return to those flowery dreams of the past, but it isn't working out that way.  Bach and Brautigan and McKuen and the whole flower power ethos of the sixties never looked more impossible, so outlandishly flakey.  The mood today is "apocalpse now," as giant robots storm the Pacific Rim, zombies stalk the Georgia woods, and superheroes fight their endless battles against ever more violent opponents.  "Imagine there's .  .  .  nothing to kill or die for,"  John Lennon wrote, before he was murdered.  Now, it appears that this time around we cannot even begin to imagine anything that doesn't involve killing and dying. But adamantium claws?  Won’t we feel pretty silly about that someday?
About the Author
Jack Solomon is Professor Emeritus of English at California State University, Northridge, where he taught literature, critical theory and history, and popular cultural semiotics, and directed the Office of Academic Assessment and Program Review. He is often interviewed by the California media for analysis of current events and trends. He is co-author, with the late Sonia Maasik, of Signs of Life in the U.S.A.: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers, and California Dreams and Realities: Readings for Critical Thinkers and Writers, and is also the author of The Signs of Our Time, an introductory text to popular cultural semiotics, and Discourse and Reference in the Nuclear Age, a critique of poststructural semiotics that proposes an alternative semiotic paradigm.