No Direction Home: The American Family and the Fear of National Decline, 1968-1980

No Direction Home: The American Family and the Fear of National Decline, 1968-1980

No Direction Home: The American Family and the Fear of National Decline, 1968-1980

No Direction Home: The American Family and the Fear of National Decline, 1968-1980

Synopsis

Between 1968 and 1980, fears about family deterioration and national decline were ubiquitous in American political culture. In No Direction Home, Natasha Zaretsky shows that these perceptions of decline profoundly shaped one another.

Throughout the 1970s, anxieties about the future of the nuclear family collided with anxieties about the direction of the United States in the wake of military defeat in Vietnam and in the midst of economic recession, Zaretsky explains. By exploring such themes as the controversy surrounding prisoners of war in Southeast Asia, the OPEC oil embargo of 1973-74, and debates about cultural narcissism, Zaretsky reveals that the 1970s marked a significant turning point in the history of American nationalism. After Vietnam, a wounded national identity--rooted in a collective sense of injury and fueled by images of family peril--exploded to the surface and helped set the stage for the Reagan Revolution. With an innovative analysis that integrates cultural, intellectual, and political history, No Direction Home explores the fears that not only shaped an earlier era but also have reverberated into our own time.

Excerpt

I was born in San Francisco in 1970, and my parents were activists in the New Left, antiwar, and feminist movements of the era. Their activism provides the backdrop for my earliest childhood memories: playing with toys in the back office of the bookstore where my father helped edit a radical journal; holding my mother’s hand at protest rallies where people spoke passionately about things that I could not understand; reading feminist fairy tales that celebrated princesses for their independence and smarts; and enjoying the excited bustle within our home, where my parents’ friends lavished me with affection as they talked politics. Because I was so young at the time, the people in my parents’ community seemed very old to me, but now that I am past their age, I can recognize them for who they were: young men and women who had come to California hoping to start a new life, not only for themselves but for the whole society. Many years later, walking down the street on a sunny San Francisco hillside, an old friend of my mother’s turned to me and said from out of the blue: “You have to understand. When your parents and I first came here, we thought that a revolution was coming very soon, within a few years.”

By the time I was an adolescent, the world had both changed and not changed in the wake of my parents’ generation’s activism. On the one hand, the girls at my high school worried about their appearance and their popularity with boys, but on the other hand, they excelled at organic chemistry and physics, won trophies in competitive sports, and excitedly planned to attend the best universities where they went on to embark on illustrious careers. Gay teenagers who once would have hidden their sexuality came out to their classmates and were accepted by them. the students at my school formed organizations committed to nuclear disarmament and volunteered for Amnesty International. Yet when I shifted my gaze beyond the San Francisco Bay Area, the picture became more complicated. By the mid-1980s, Wall Street power brokers and air force fighter pilots were celebrated icons, Reagan was at the height of his popularity, and his administration was presiding over the dismantling of social welfare programs and a redistribution of wealth that hurt poor and working-class people. As my friends and I walked through San Francisco’s beautiful streets, we noticed homeless people begging for money, food, and shelter. Every time we . . .

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