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Culture Watch

In this issue:

Reviews: At Berkeley in the 60s;


At Berkeley in the 60s;
the Education of an Activist, 1961-65
By Jo Freeman, 2003
Indiana University Press, 384 p

For those interested in a fully documented, well-researched political history and analysis of the 1960s Free Speech Movement (FSM) I recommend Jo Freeman’s latest book.*

Others may find the personal story of a passionately involved young Cal student absorbing, not only because it is so deeply experienced, but also perhaps you, too, were organizing and working for civil rights, fair housing, against the House Un-American Activities Committee, against the Vietnam war, against nuclear testing, and were a budding feminist.

Those who have a memory of, as well as a continuing interest in political and social movements, will want to read At Berkeley in the 60s. Even if you opposed or had not been previously interested in the activist 60s, you will find yourself drawn into this examination of those times.

It is a full, massively studied and detailed account of the political history and outcomes of the 1960s in general: “Berkeley had a social base of liberal and liberation students long before the FSM,” writes Freeman. Clark Kerr, Gov. Pat Brown, Mario Savio, Ronald Reagan and the University itself are prominent players in the drama played out during the time that Freeman details. The author further provides us with her observations on the effects of protest activities since the 60s both on the Berkeley campus and elsewhere.

“Students viewed everything through the lens of civil rights, which provided their motivation and strategy,” writes Freeman. Even though the University supported civil rights, the students interpreted its adverse actions as opposition to civil rights, which reinforced their determination to resist. The impasse arose when the University’s administration perceived that its ‘rules’ were being broken, and when it was facing national and international media attention, public outrage and hints (unfounded) of Communist infiltration.

"The future was coming with or without the FSM. If the campus hadn’t erupted in 1964-65, it would have done so soon, as the Vietnam War supplanted the Civil Rights Movement as the source of student protest,” states the author.

Freeman concludes: “There is always a political class, carriers of the political gene which compels one to public action if not always to public service. But it is only occasionally in American history that an entire generation is consumed by the need to correct social injustice, let alone in ways that significantly disrupt the political system ... Berkeley saw political concerns expand … as the number of people soared who thought their personal participation could make a difference … It was the growing gap between rhetoric and reality that the radicalism of the sixties was born.”

Jody Bush

*Jo Freeman has been a contributor to SeniorWomenWeb since 2000.

Any comments and questions can be emailed to Jody Bush.

By Thomas Mallon, 2004
Pantheon Books; 306pp

Set in the world of magazine publishing in New York City circa 1928, this little novel is every bit as snappy and stylish as its title. Mallon, author of several novels, essays, and non-fiction books as well as magazine articles, gets the zany, jazz age tone just right in this look at the hard-drinking, wise-cracking staff of Bandbox magazine.

The story centers around the dilemma in which Editor-In-Chief, Jehosephat Harris, finds himself and his magazine. Harris, who took over when Bandbox was a dying entity, performed a near miracle turn-around in very short order, and produced a magazine that became number one in its field. Shortly before this story begins, however, one of his favorite staff editors defected and started up a rival publication entitled Cutaway, which is rapidly moving up on the Bandbox circulation, and taking away its advertising. Harris must figure out once more how the make Bandbox the last word and top of the heap.

Add to this crisis a cast of writers, editors, and gangsters, and you have the makings of one lively story. Setting the scene for this novel takes rather a long time. Mallon must introduce all the players, which he does while taking the time to flesh out their characters quite thoroughly, and the reader may find herself constantly checking back to remind herself of who is who (I finally just made myself a little list). But the delay of the slow beginning is worth the fun in this book.

The kidnapping of a young man who innocently wandered into the magazine’s office becomes the agent of change for the fortunes of Bandbox – although it is quite a while before anyone even notices that he is missing.

This book is a light read, and just the thing to perk up the late winter blahs. Those who are familiar with the world of publishing in New York will have fun playing the game of figuring out likenesses to legendary, real-life editors and publishers, but you don’t have to be on the inside to enjoy the fun.

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