Hunter Thompson, Joan Didion, and the Sixties

Blake Cooper, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

Towards the end of The White Album, Didion writes this about the later years of the 1960s:

Everything was unmentionable but nothing was unimaginable. This mystical flirtation with the idea of "sin"--this sense that it was possible to go "too far," and that many people were doing it--was very much with us in Los Angeles in 1968 and 1969. A demented and seductive vortical tension was building in the community...On August 9, 1969, I was sitting in the shallow end of my sister-in-law's swimming pool in Beverly Hills when she received a telephone call from a friend who had just heard about the murders at Sharon Tate Polanski's house on Cielo Drive.

A few pages later, Didion writes that "Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community..."

This reminded me of a quotation from Hunter Thompson's Hell's Angels, published about two years before the Tate murder, in which he writes:

The Edge... There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others --- the living --- are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later.

So my question is this: Does Didion think "the 60s" ended because people pushed too far too fast and became radicalized or, in the other direction, formularized (as in the San Francisco State example)? I know Didion states at the very end of her piece that the 60s did not end -- for her -- in these ways, but what is she actually saying about tide flow of movements and culture?


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Last modified 6 February 2002