Adapted from 'Pop Sixties' by Anthony Decurtis
In no prior period in history art, science, media, politics, drugs, fashion, music has collided with such a force that it catapulted the human consciousness towards an alternative future – the kind of future that we live in now.
In his introduction to the book Anthony Decurtis discusses the political, cultural, social storm that swept the 60’s, and pays a close attention to the media, which enabled these changes, in a first place.
The power of television
Far from being a transparent medium, television began playing a role not only in transmitting essential stories in our society but also in shaping them.
The realness of representation and feeling of live transmission makes it extremely easy for an audience to forget that what is shown on TV screen is only a part of the bigger reality.
The visual language, in fact, has much more depth that the verbal language with multi-layers. Hence, even though one layer may represent the truth, there are many other layers that can be manipulated and loaded with messages that are received by us on a level we cannot fully understand ourselves.
Decurtis explains how a simple manipulation of the lighting can transmit a message, that will influence a person’s decision making.
Richard Nixon’s five o’clock shadow – a visual metaphor for the shady past of a man who was already known as “Tricky Dick” – would never have been a factor in his close loss to John Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election had not seventy million Americans (roughly 40 percent of the country’s population at the time) watched their televised debates.
Those broadcast images also established Kennedy’s fresh-faced youthfulness and…that Kennedy was barely four years younger than Nixon scarcely mattered. Kennedy represented a new set of ideas, a break from the Eisenhower era with its roots in World War II. And he worked better on TV.
Art changed with it
The Pop idea, after all, was that anybody could do anything, so naturally we were all trying to do it all. Nobody wanted to stay in one category; we all wanted to branch out into every creative thing we could. – Andy Warhol
The status of Art also shifted, from a medium of expression to a form of media. The new kind of society demanded a new kind of artists. According to Warhol’s instead of a kind that sits in a studio and dies out of starvation came in new artists that dazzle in parties and hang out with A-list celebrities:
…If the role of artists is to hold a mirror up to the world around them, the world of the Sixties was in no mood to sit still long enough for its image to be passively reflected. The only alternative was to invent new ways to see and hear, new ways to think and move. Artists in every field broke through creative boundaries because and audience existed that was up for anything cutting-edge and vital.
Andy Warhol’s bright shiny Pop Art epitomized the Sixties. For Warhol, the supermarket and tabloid front pages became more aesthetically important than anything that might be enshrined in a museum. It was a prescient view. His repetitive prints of Jackie Kennedy in mourning or Marilyn Monroe – who died under suspicious circumstances at thirty-six in 1962, an iconic martyr, or Edie Sedgwick – wealthy heiress, his muse and another 60’s a pop-culture tragedy – presaged a society that would prove unable to get enough of damaged celebrities, particularly beautiful women.
It was a vision that simultaneously worshipped and wrought revenge on the famous, wounded subjects in its unrelenting gaze.
Magnum Photos, the preeminent photo agency that’s been documenting events, people, places and culture since 1947, had released Pop 60’s – a rare photographic collection of what made the swinging 60’s.