+“Why Pop Culture Still Can’t Get Enough of Charles Manson” | The New York Times | Ed Sanders
“What is the big deal about the Manson family? After 50 years, surely the obsession has died down?
It has not. As the bountiful media attention around Quentin Tarantino’s new film, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” attests, the obsession is alive and well. And that film is only the latest in a long line of pop culture products from the past half-century to be inspired by the crime, including movies, TV series, a stop-motion animation film and too many documentaries, books, articles and musical tributes to count. At least one prestigious university offers a semester-long seminar on the murders.
As the novelist Graham Greene noted in “The Third Man,” “One’s file, you know, is never quite complete, a case is never really closed, even after a century, when all of the participants are dead.” And as Tarantino knows, Hollywood dotes on self-revealing and self-obsessed stories about itself.
We may be stuck with Charlie Manson for a while.“
–>We had a huge black-and-white Magnavox television in the sitting room. There I witnessed many wonders and atrocities. Reggie Jackson’s only year with the Orioles. Bruce Jenner and Nadia Comaneci lighting up the 1976 Olympics. The Iranian hostage crisis. The death of John Paul I. The murder of John Lennon. Jonestown. But the happening that stands out more than anything on that tv was the opening scene from Helter Skelter, the tv dramatization of the Manson Family murders. It begins with a maid running, arms flailing in a state of utter horror, screaming like she’s the last human. To this day I’m still haunted by the mystery of it. Manson and his family of murderers seem to be relevant more and more, even as he and his accomplices shuffle off their mortal and immoral coils. Right now it’s fitting that we’ve returned to Manson at the same moment we also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing. As events, both are deep and lasting metaphors for how the 60s ended. How one thinks about the end of the 60s says something about how one thinks about history itself. To say that the 60s ended with the Moon Landing is to say that there’s still nowhere to go but up for Western civilization. Humans leaving Earth affirms that the future will be brighter than today because of technological innovation, scientific discoveries, and a society in which more and more of us benefit from new advancements and new ways of thinking. This is a distinctly liberal view of history. It’s oriented toward the future in the belief that we can make it more fair and equitable. It’s optimistic and technocratic to the extent that it seeks to solve problems with information and ideas. But to say that the 60s ended with the Manson Family killings is to say that society had taken a wrong turn, that history, culture, and civilization had set upon a dark path that led to divorce, “doing your own thing,” women in the workplace, Free To Be You And Me, disrespect for authority, international terrorism, obscenity and vulgarity in tv and film, latchkey kids, bad fashion, cults, serial killers, New York’s bankruptcy, punk rock, and general social decohesion. It’s to say that the 70s was defined more by nihilism than optimism. What happened in the 70s needed correction. (Right-wing saint William F. Buckley wrote “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop,” in 1955!) This conservative view of history’s arc is oriented towards the past, towards tradition and appeals to authority, the highest of which is God’s. It marshaled discontent and built a movement by weaving a narrative of economic as well as cultural decline that won the presidency in 1980. One of the reasons why this movement won (and keeps winning despite its demographic decline) was because what Manson was and represented never really went away.
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