The V&A’s latest mega-exhibition You Say You Want A Revolution? promises the last word in ’60s nostalgia… again. But to Paul Du Noyer, a 1960s with only gilded youths and radical-chic celebrities is no 1960s at all.
In 1966 there were two great cultural revolutions getting under way. One was in China, where its figurehead was Chairman Mao and the aim was to purge the nation of lingering capitalist tendencies. The other took place in the affluent west: its unofficial figureheads were probably The Beatles and the aims were various. But getting laid, getting high and having a damned good time were top of most people’s list.
In both revolutions, youth led the charge. China’s Red Guards were paramilitary students who forged a violent upheaval that caused untold havoc and horrific casualties. In the West, there were some campus riots and the odd demo, but our collective memory is of a nice psychedelic wonderland. There were agit-prop trimmings, but hardly anyone died. More people changed their style of trousers than their ideological outlook.
And yet, even in the West, the effect of those years is still felt, and still debated. What really happened in the late 1960s? Was our society deeply transformed in some way? And if so, for better or for worse?
This is where the V&A’s latest blockbuster exhibition comes in. You Say You Want A Revolution? takes its title from The Beatles’ 1968 song ‘Revolution’ and the question mark is important. Did people literally want a revolution? Or just to throw the biggest party in history? Even John Lennon wasn’t sure, and he wrote the bloody song. Continue reading “Nothing is real: We’ve turned the 1960s into an empty fantasy”