Selling Out the Sixties

Joan Didion’s collection of essays in Slouching Towards Bethlehem sheds light on the true essence of the counterculture during the 1960’s. Her essay topics range from obsessions with over-inflated cultural icons to radical activists, such as the Diggers, to the biggest stereotype of the era, acid-tripping hippies. Each essay in the collection opens up a door to all the different corners of life during the sixties in and around San Francisco. And to achieve this, Didion did as any dedicated reporter would do and threw herself right into the midst of it all. At the end of the preface, she even goes as far as to claims that “writers are always selling somebody out.”

In creative nonfiction, and especially the type of literary journalism that Joan Didion writes, one could say that the writer is exposing their subject. But I think to say that the writer is selling out their subject makes the act sound sleazy. Selling someone out has a bitter connotation to it, whereas exposing the subject matter in a certain way is able to give the reader new perspectives and result in contemplative revelations. Journalism is supposed to bring an underground phenomenon to the surface, and inform us about something that may be of interest. There are certain types of styles and reporters that do in fact get close to people in order to sell them out, though claiming all writers of creative nonfiction always sell someone out is just not true.

Personally, I don’t even think that Didion is really selling anyone out, but simply reporting on the inner-workings of the society she is surrounded by. In her essay titled Lifestyles in the Golden Land, Didion tells the reader that on Haight Street “rape is as common as bullshit” (101). To me, that is the most that Didion sells anyone out. Her writing is more of an objective telling of the time period with a critique of the different groups and  people associated with it. Also, adding a dialogue about a mother who gives her kindergartener acid and peyote every so often isn’t exactly in the subject’s best interest, but Didion doesn’t ever react negatively. For the most part, she is able to remain unbiased and let the reader form their own ideas about the content she puts forth.

Joan Didion’s opinion is usually pretty clear, but she doesn’t force it on the reader. Each essay in this collection seems to have a few parts to it; she starts off with explaining this is how it is, followed by this is the subject’s perspective, this is the outside perspective and finally, this is what I think about it. The essay California Dreaming is one in which Didion’s criticism is most blatant. She focuses on the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions and makes all the members out to be rich, pretentious airheads. I would say this is probably the most critical of her essays. Yet, she still isn’t really selling anyone out here either.

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