Friday, January 11, 2008

Tuesday, January 5, 1960

"A nationwide poll of your hopes, plans and fears for the decade ahead, with picture reports on the mood of the American people as they enter THE SOARING ‘60’s."

As the cover of the January 5, 1960 Look magazine reveals, the mass media's role to promulgate the government’s agenda is so obvious it stares you right in the face. (The X Files' tag line, "The Truth is Out There," is in fact very true--it's right in front of you.) After the Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik I on October 4, 1957, the so-called Space Age began. Translation: the U.S. government convinced the American public that the Soviets’ ability to launch satellites meant they had the technology to launch ballistic missiles, that is, long-range rockets with nuclear bombs. A threshold moment, a new relationship between the government (military) and educational institutions (science and technology) began. Sputnik prompted Congress, in July 1958, to pass the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as of October 1, 1958. In January 1960, 50% of the government’s total budget was devoted to defense. The cover of Look associates the space program and a rocket's nighttime take-off with the promise, mystery, and anxiety of the new decade. Ironically, the word "soaring," associated with "flying" and being "high," anticipated the language of the drug experience--"tripping"--popularly associated with the 1960s. (See the January 1 blog entry.)

In the media, ever fond of the sound bite, the Space Age soon became the Space Race, figuratively transforming what was originally a wholesale institutional restructuring (new jobs, job incentives, re-defined job relationships, job responsibilities, new administrative duties, new budgets, budget sources and amounts of funding, re-defined institutional objectives, on and on) into a competitive sporting event with the Soviet Union. By means of the national media, neologisms such as “astronauts,” references to “flight teams,” acronyms such as NASA, rocket types associated with military bases such as Redstone, and mythological (divinely sanctioned) designations such as “Mercury” and “Gemini” all allowed military and quasi-military terminology to become part of the language of daily life. During the 1960s, Life magazine—alone—dedicated over three-dozen covers to the space program (the cover of the March 3, 1961 issue is above left), although it is hard to tally the number of hours of television programming that was devoted to launches, orbital flights, moon flights, and so on. A new, very modern sort of hero was born, characterized, some years later, by Tom Wolfe, as having "the right stuff." Since "astronauts" were no longer (military) pilots in the traditional sense, their character had to be redefined anew.

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