It's a Changed World After All: The Vietnam War and Media

Lauren Luckey

 

A fifty eight year old woman sits on her porch watching shadows of the summer sun dance across her yard. She’s nostalgically watching a group of rambunctious teenagers prance down the sidewalk towards a local vintage music store. They’re more than likely picking up that new single just advertised on the television. Many things have changed since she was young in the sixties. This time was filled with new, radical, subversive sights and sounds never before experienced by the nation. New ideas were being shown in music, television, and literature. The Daily News was a constant show of government scandal, mass rebellion, and humanity at its best. It was a rapidly changing world; the world during the Vietnam War.

 

It was that war time that made the media what it is today; and it was so different from the former decade of the fifties. Every family strived to live the American Dream. Everyone had a white picket fence, a beautiful dog, and mothers were born knowing how to make apple pie. Soon radios were replaced by televisions. Teens worshipped the rock sound of Elvis Presley and children could play in the street until they were called in for dinner. Life was great. Needless to say, this conservatism for the country did not last forever. As a new generation fought to find their identity, the U.S. fought to unify a country that was not well known at the time; Vietnam.

 

Time moved on, and so did the trends. A new type of music was being heard; folk music. It was sung during Martin Luther King’s movement, and was too powerful for words. Elvis Presley was no longer so highly regarded, and Bob Dylan began to take the spotlight. Freedom of speech entered the scene in a whole new way, and began to change music. With the mass confusion of the general American public, and the growing mistrust of the government, folk music morphed into what is commonly referred to now as “classic rock”.

 

By the time 1969 rolled around, the biggest music festival to date was performed; Woodstock. Performers such as Joan Baez, Country Joe and The Fish, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and a whole list of others played. It was artists like these who were the voice of the generation. Joan Baez’s songs included lyrics such as “How many times must the cannonballs fly, Before they are forever banned? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.” Country Joe and the Fish also threw in some outrageous lyrics:

 

Come on mothers throughout the land, Pack your boys off to Vietnam. Come on fathers, and don't hesitate, To send your sons off before it's too late. And you can be the first ones in your block, To have your boy come home in a box!

 

If that’s not breaking the mold, I don’t know what is.

 

Does the media reflect society, or does society reflect the media? During the Vietnam War many people believed that they could live their lives in disregard for whom or what was popular or influential. That may not be the case. Today the world caters to youth; a voice that was fought very hard for. The music industry recognizes that young people are now important consumers. Along with all that freedom of speech came a lifestyle which had never been accepted before. It was all about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. So did Americans in the sixties do those things because they were influenced by music to do it? It is not unreasonable to assume that.

 

The 58 year old woman has a neighbor whose daughter just got her driver’s license, and despite her good hearing and health, she insists on blaring the stereo with the bass thumping high. She’s a nice girl, a little shy, and she is on the street enthusiastically rapping sexual innuendos at the top of her lungs. It’s a wonder if that is the reason young people of the sixties were so into what they did. They listened to “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, and who is really going to pretend that it didn’t have anything to with drugs? Every decade has its own voice, and throughout each one, music continues to mesmerize American youth. Frank Zappa said it best in 1967 when he noted that many youths were loyal to neither "flag, country or doctrine, but only to music” (Rodnitszky).

 

Similarly, the amount of subjective material on television today is on the rise. This is due to the amount of freedom and unadorned truth to the media that began during the Vietnam War. Americans could now not only see police brutality and protests, but were also exposed for the first time to dead and wounded soldiers on the news. Dean Rusk, US Secretary of State, pointed out that: "This was the first struggle fought on television in everybody's living room every day... whether ordinary people can sustain a war effort under that kind of daily hammering is a very large question" (Spartacus). The current fight in the Middle East is like re-living what happened during Vietnam. We can turn on our televisions and see a choppy version of the battle first hand; actually watching tanks move through the desert.

 

The efforts of those who fought for freedom of speech have also allowed the media to discuss the view points of democrats and republicans, and the individual freedom of speech and choice of government is encouraged. These days the people who broadcast the news have the choice to take views. “Fox network is seen as a more Republican news channel, while ABC is more Democratic” (Ackerman). Walter Cronkite, a journalist voted “the most trusted man in America” went on air stating “It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is a stalemate" (Cronkite). This upset many people, especially those with family fighting in the war. Defenders of the mass media claimed that reporters were only reflecting the changing opinions of the American people towards the war (Spartacus). Other important figures in the media had a great influence on everyone’s view of the government. “Jane Fonda, a celebrity of the time also nicknamed Hanoi Jane, blatantly supported the North Vietnamese people. She was seen by some as a traitor to the country, and for others, set an example” (Watts).

The amount of negative coverage of President George W. Bush would be seen as an outrageous thing before the Vietnam War. The popular girl country band, The Dixie Chicks, didn’t hesitate to speak their minds. A member of the band spoke that she was embarrassed that President Bush was from the same state she was from. After receiving death threats she explained to BBC News, “At that moment, on the eve of war, I had a lot of questions that I felt were unanswered” (Dixie). This may be excused as freedom of speech, but others find that it displays a big weakness in our country. The same loss of unity and morale occurred during the Vietnam War. Militarily, it was not a failure, but in emotional aspects, the country fell part. No good can result from lack of knowledge.

 

Along with the birth of freedom of speech in music and television, came freedom in literature. Authors such as Abbie Hoffman had more important jobs; taking part in protests, and being powerful leaders. Abbie Hoffman was a member of the Chicago Seven, defendants charged with conspiracy, inciting to riot, and other charges related to violent protests that took place during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois (Chicago). Abbie Hoffman’s best known books are Revolution for the Hell of It, and Steal This Book. Revolution for the Hell of It is a chronicle of Abbie Hoffman's radical escapades that doubles as a guidebook for today's social and political activist:

 

Also chronicled are the mass demonstrations he led in which over fifty thousand people attempted to levitate the Pentagon using psychic energy, and the time he threw fistfuls of dollar bills onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and watched the traders scramble. (Revolution)

Other writers such as Eldridge Cleaver, Tobias Wolf, and Neil Sheehan also led the way to more rebellious writing. Eldridge Cleaver, whose most famous work is Soul on Ice was the voice for members of the black community. He was a member of the African- American establishment The Black Panthers, and wrote that “blacks had to gain control of the economy and politics in order to succeed” (gfsnet). Tobias Wolf, author of In Pharaoh’s Army, and Neil Sheehan author of A Bright and Shining Lie, wrote upon the subject of war itself, and the hardships the soldiers faced on and off the battle fields including “cruel drug treatments, the witnessing of deaths of many friends, and loss of confidence in the country” (Hugo). These authors and many others allowed the world of literature to expand and discuss openly personal views and beliefs about the government. “One of the most influential acts during the war was the decision of Life Magazine to fill one edition of its magazine with photographs of the 242 US soldiers killed in Vietnam during one week of the fighting” (Spartacus).

 

Today many forms of literature are at hand. Not only are novels and newspapers speaking freely, but the internet has opened up many other options to opinionated writers. The fact that one can type the word failure into the country’s leading search engine and be directed straight to the Presidential website is an obvious change from the past. Before the Vietnam War, the amount of literature written against the government was significantly less. One could go inside their home right now and pull out numerous newspapers, magazines, and books that poke fun at the government. Even the funnies have adopted government criticism every Sunday morning.

 

Most Americans today do not realize how much the media and the way the world revolves around it has changed. It has effected our freedom in music, television, and in literature. The news media is changing the way we see our government and the act of war itself. We are constantly influenced by past and current musicians and their lyrics. We read about all different types of people’s opinions every day. All of these aspects are so different from life before the Vietnam War.

 

 

Works Cited

12 Nov. 2005 <http://www.gfsnet.org/msweb/sixties/cleaver_soul.htm>.

 

9 Nov. 2005 <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VNmassmedia.htm>.

 

Ackerman, Seth. "The Most Biased Name in News." Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

(2001). 12 Nov. 2005 <http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1067>.

 

"Chicago Seven." Wikipedia. 9 Nov. 2005 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Seven>.

 

"Cronkite, Walter." MBC. The Museum of Broadcast Communications. 9 Nov. 2005

<http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/C/htmlC/cronkitewal/cronkitewal.htm>.

 

"Dixie Chicks 'get death threats'" BBC News 24 Apr. 2003. 12 Nov. 2005

<http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/2972043.stm>.

 

Hugo, Giles. "Reluctant Warrior." Rev. of In Pharaoh's Army.

 

"Revolution for the Hell of It: Book Description." Editorial. Amazon.com.

 

Rodnitzky, Jerome L. "The Sixties between the Microgrooves: Using Folk and Protest

 

Music to Understand American History, 1963-1973." Popular Music and Society (1999). 12 Nov. 2005 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst;jsessionid=D2h5Ss6dpyTS02YJKyv16mn9ynvPB2hYVNxdK0pL9B0J2xJHQpZD!1580547343!664716978?a=o&d=5001897565>.

 

Watts, Max. "Jane Fonda and the role of the accident in history." Green Left Weekly 26

Oct. 2005. 12 Nov. 2005 <http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2005/646/646p22.htm>.

 

 

 

 

 

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