In the faraway year of 1967, a unique social experiment took place in Cubberley High of Palo Alto, California. It was devised by Ron Jones, an innovative history teacher who had graduated from Stanford a few years prior. This classroom exercise spilled over into the rest of the school — to some degree, at least. It sometimes gets compared in retrospect to infamous studies in brutality such as the Milgram Experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment.
This one was called The Third Wave, about adolescent Boomers from the nascent Silicon Valley becoming fascists for a hot minute. Ooh, scary! Feeling the chills yet?
Note well: The teacher wasn’t really trying to remake his students into Hitler Youth or the like. He certainly wouldn’t care to do in anything of the sort. Overall, it would be fair to say that his politics have been Left-leaning throughout his lifetime. Moreover, according to an interview he did in Jerusalem, he has a Jewish background. This was therefore only a brief social experiment, lasting a week in real life, and two weeks per the first TV version.
The tale has been retold several times. This includes:
- a brief article in the student newspaper at the time;
- a 1976 short story by Ron Jones himself;
- a 1981 ABC Afterschool Special — how precious! — by none other than sitcom’s centenarian, Norman Lear, called The Wave;
- a novelization of the TV special by Todd Strasser (pen name Morton Rhue);
- a graphic novel based on the book;
- numerous plays and musicals;
- many documentaries;
- a German remake of the TV special in 2008; and
- a 2019 direct-to-video German miniseries called The Invisible Line.
The Afterschool Special has been subtitled in Swedish, Hebrew, and probably oodles of other languages; the novelization has been translated into several languages; and the 2008 German TV remake has versions in ten other languages so far. Whew! That must be quite a story then, right?
It’s fairly certain that the dramatizations are at least somewhat jazzed up. Over the years, it’s taken on the force of legend. All told, one might assume that the story’s bare bones are as they were, though considerable artistic license (to put it perhaps more kindly than I should) has been applied. I’ll return to the authenticity question later. I recently saw the Afterschool Special, and long ago read its novelization, so the following summary pertains to those versions unless stated otherwise.
Fascism is fascinating: Le Chic Facho
The TV special opens with a voiceover: “Yes, I remember The Wave. It was one of the most frightening classroom experiences I ever had.” Then we see a classroom in which a brief concentration camp reel plays on the projector while the teacher, here called Mr. Ross, lectures. (Within just two minutes I caught several distortions of the facts.) Then Robert is introduced, a somewhat pudgy kid asleep on his desk. One more minute into the program, a couple of snotty girls snub him. Soon after, while Robert looks befuddled while doing his coursework, one of the guys makes a joke about him. At the beginning of the next day, someone affixes a “kick me” sign on his back without him noticing.
Back to Day One. Questions come up about the film and lecture. A black football player asks, “How could you kill ten million people without somebody noticing?” Later, the teacher digs through books long into the night for answers. Apparently, the gears turn in his head at some point.
The subject of the next day’s lecture is “Strength Through Discipline.” Somehow, Mr. Ross manages to break through the adolescent Boomers’ transcendental insouciance. He first gets them to quit giggling and sit up straight.
This reminds me of my own ankle-biter days, when I walked uphill to school in the snow. (Yes, this is literally true, though admittedly the kids who walked uphill both ways were more hardcore.) We definitely got the posture lecture in the third grade. Some of the story’s classroom exercises resemble a spiffier version of the Simon Says drills that my second grade teacher gave us to waste our time. She may still kiss my grits — to paraphrase Götz von Berlichingen, namesake of the 17th SS Division — but once again, I digress.
Then, something unexpected happens. The drill is objectively a bit lame, but they take to it like ducks to water. Good posture and paying attention in class can be electrifying, who knew? Although Mr. Ross hasn’t told the kiddos what it’s all about, by the end of class they’re beginning to realize on a subconscious level that fascism is kind of cool. They just experienced a tiny smidge of le chic facho: the undeniable edgy sparkle that makes bad optics oh so good. Even the watered-down version of fascism they’re getting, which is ideologically vacant and actually pretty dorky in absolute terms, is nevertheless a refreshing change of pace from merely being apathetic punks slouching at their desks.
As for Robert, it turns out that he’s a natural at it. Soon he practices his posture in the bathroom mirror, accompanied by frightening music. One needn’t have a crystal ball to see that this means he’ll be the biggest junior stormtrooper. (Hey, I bet Norman Lear’s been to film school, for sure!) In light of how Robert was earlier characterized as practically a walking public service announcement about the neurotoxic hazards of eating lead paint chips, this is way subtle.
Fash Week is off to a strong start
Mr. Ross returns to his history class the next day, sees everyone sitting up straight and with their desks neatly aligned, and decides to keep running with it. He ad-libs it with “Strength Through Community” day. He comes up with a name for the movement: The Wave. (In real life, it was The Third Wave, something to do with surfer lore.) Then he creates a salute, about like the Mak’Tar greeting that the fanboys do at the Galaxy Quest convention scene, though with the hand forming a “C” shape. Then the class starts performing a ritual, chanting the slogans and saluting while more spooky music plays. They ain’t exactly Leni Riefenstahl material here, but they’ve evolved a step above being the Bay Area Sweat Hogs.
That evening, The Wave becomes the subject of home discussions. In one scene, a student’s parents are not sure how to take it. Their daughter reassures them that participating in The Wave even redeemed Robert, the “class creep.” (Ah, the very milk of human kindness . . .) Moreover, we see that in ancient times, a family was a mother, a father, and their children, all living under one roof. Who knew?
The third day’s theme is “Strength Through Action.” Membership cards are distributed in class. Three are marked with a red X, meaning the student is to be a “monitor” who will rat out anyone who disobeys the rules. All the kiddos are charged with recruiting new members who will follow the rules. Robert announces, “For the first time, I feel like I’m part of something great.” (He now has a better coiffure, starts dressing sharper, and has a scary “I wanna commit some war crimes” look rather than his usual vacant stare.) Other testimonials follow. Then a chant breaks out. After school, a student, Laurie, is getting cold feet about The Wave, and argues with her boyfriend David over it.
Robert surprises Mr. Ross by announcing that he’s going to be his bodyguard. (Obviously he’s quite the Moonie by now, but that’s sort of the point.) Then there’s a fight outside, apparently with a critic of The Wave. Suspicion and fear begin to spiral out of control.
Meanwhile, in the novel
Shortly before that occurs, the Principal has a chat with the teacher about The Wave. (It’s expounded more fully in the book, though in the TV version it is only alluded to.) As that discussion wraps up, the following struck me as quite amusing: “You promise me I’m not going to have a parade of parents down here suddenly shouting that we’re indoctrinating their kids with something?”
Those were the days — back when there was an agreed-upon custom that teachers would teach objectively and let the kiddos form their own opinions. Since objectivity has since gone by the wayside, given today’s standards, making fascists of them would be quite an improvement. Lately, “woke” teachers take it upon themselves to indoctrinate their students into hating their own societies and confusing them into not knowing if they’re boys or girls. Even the Young Pioneers of the story’s time, conditioned to be pinklets who believed Leonid Brezhnev was the bees’ knees, had it better than the victims of our contemporary educational system.
The book also expands on the fight scene. It turns out that it was a new kid who got beaten up for refusing to join The Wave. As it happens, he’s Jewish — of course. His rabbi calls the school, earning the teacher another chat with even more consternation from the frazzled Principal.
This part of the story was jazzed up tremendously. In the original short story, the rabbi incident was much different. First, there were three clever and popular girls who no longer stood out in the new classroom format, seeming rather flummoxed that their personal spotlights were fading out in the new egalitarian atmosphere. Then:
In telling their parents of the experiment they set up a brief chain of events. The rabbi for one of the parents called me at home. He was polite and condescending. I told him we were merely studying the German personality. He seemed delighted and told me not to worry. He would talk to the parents and calm their concern. In concluding this conversation I envisioned similar conversations throughout history in which the clergy accepted and apologized for untenable conditions. If only he would have raged in anger or simply investigated the situation I could point the students to an example of righteous rebellion. But no. The rabbi became a part of the experiment. In remaining ignorant of the oppression in the experiment he became an accomplice and advocate.
So much for the mini-pogrom at Cubberley High. The story sure grew with the telling, didn’t it? As far as I know, the brief fight scene came from Norman Lear’s fertile imagination. The novelization then conflated that with the part of the short story about the inquisitive rabbi, and voilà, another dimension of persecution has been introduced. I haven’t seen any of the German remakes, but goodness only knows what dollops of guilt they’ve used that plot element to dish out.
The book also has a subplot about the football team. They haven’t been doing so well. As The Wave overtakes the school, the team soon starts doing the chanting and drills and the rest of it. They hope it’ll give them a competitive edge, but alas, they lose the next game, anyway. As I was reading it, I was rolling my eyes thinking about how the outcome of the football match was a plot device to invalidate The Wave before the book’s young target audience. Such subtlety! Yup, sportsball is a measure of an ideology’s soundness, for sure . . .
Now that I’m older and (hopefully) a little more fun, it occurs to me that if fascist methods don’t help someone run with an oblong leather ball, then maybe Allied methods would work. Taking all this to heart, maybe the coach could have adopted the Winston Churchill approach to sports. Right before every game, all players would each smoke a big stogie and chug a fifth of gin. Technically that would be illegal, as the players are underage, and surely this wouldn’t do much to help the team’s performance, but I’ll bet it would liven up the games.
Back to the TV special
Laurie writes an exposé for the school newspaper. (I’ll go into some of what the actual school newspaper really said about it later.) Her sort-of-on-the-outs boyfriend David is sent to discourage further guest editorials. They get into a shoving match, and David realizes the error of his ways. (In the book, this scene occurs fairly late.) They visit Mr. Ross at his home, discussing the snitching and the general atmosphere of paranoia, and he tells them that it will end tomorrow.
During the next class, the teacher announces that there will be a members-only rally shortly after school. He says that The Wave is actually a national effort, with other teachers creating a youth brigade in an effort to improve the country through discipline, community, action, and pride. (Day four of the real Third Wave was themed “Strength Through Pride,” but the TV special doesn’t otherwise mention it.) There, they’ll hear a broadcast from their national leader.
The Big Reveal
At the rally, some students bring banners and everyone gets armbands. (More subtlety from my favorite schlockmeister, Norman Lear, I’ll bet.) They get started in the auditorium with more chanting. Robert turns on some televisions and everyone waits in rapt silence, but nothing comes on.
Then, Mr. Ross pulls back a curtain, projecting a film of Onkel Adolf delivering a speech on a large screen. There’s your leader! The teacher then delivers a John Galt-style speech. The following text is most of what’s in the novelization, but it has been changed somewhat changed in the TV version. In the Afterschool Special, someone in the audience starts weeping near the end of the first paragraph. In the book, the waterworks comes up later:
“You thought you were so special!” Ross told them. “Better than everyone outside of this room. You traded your freedom for what you said was equality. But you turned your equality into superiority over non-Wave members. You accepted the group’s will over your own convictions, no matter who you had to hurt to do it. Oh, some of you thought you were just going along for the ride, that you could walk away at any moment. But did you? Did any of you try it?
“Yes, you all would have made good Nazis,” Ben told them. “You would have put on the uniform, turned your heads, and allowed your friends and neighbors to be persecuted and destroyed. You say it could never happen again, but look how close you came. Threatening those who wouldn’t join you, preventing non-Wave members from sitting with you at football games. Fascism isn’t something those other people did, it is right here, in all of us. You ask how could the German people do nothing as millions of innocent human beings were murdered? How could they claim they weren’t involved? What causes people to deny their own histories?”
Ben moved closer to the front of the stage and spoke in a low voice: “If history repeats itself, you will all want to deny what happened to you in The Wave. But, if our experiment has been successful — and I think you can see that it has — you will have learned that we are all responsible for our own actions, and that you must always question what you do rather than blindly follow a leader, and that for the rest of your lives, you will never, ever allow a group’s will to usurp your individual rights.”
So first he tricked them, and in the end humiliated them because they fell for his trick. Thanks, Professor Dorkheimer! You’re a champ! At least it’s short for a John Galt speech; I’ll certainly give them that. Sentimental music plays as the dejected crowd exits. As the last students are leaving, Mr. Ross guides Robert out, who is whimpering like a beaten dog and has a thousand-yard stare.
How else could things have gone? It seems there was a missed opportunity for another teachable moment here. In proper proportion, there’s nothing wrong with discipline, community, action, and pride. In fact, these can be positive so long as you’re not doing anything that would get you indicted by an international war crimes tribunal or the like. For those who got something positive out of the experience, such as self-control, togetherness, perseverance, and self-esteem, it’s okay to run with that.
“zOMG it really happened! I know it’s true because it was on TV!”
A few items I have come across shed a lot of light on the authenticity question. Consider it non-exhaustive. Completely disentangling legend from fact would take some doing, such as finding and interviewing the participants who graduated over 50 years ago. But the following is what I found through some cursory research.
There’s been some debate, including from former participants, over what really did or didn’t happen and how much has been exaggerated. A pinko website posted what it describes as the teacher’s personal account, though this is actually his 1976 short story with the copyright notice deleted. This ur-narrative does appear to be substantially dramatized for reasons I’ll describe shortly. One of the comments posted to it — among a number of devastating ones — was the following:
Take this story with a considerable grain of salt. Ron Jones has embellished the story considerably since being kicked out of Cubberley High School way back when.
A long one begins: “Ron is making a living out of lying about what happened at Cubberley.”
Ooh, burn! I’ll add that if the narrative about The Wave wasn’t jazzed up considerably, he’d have a lot to answer for concerning its ethics. According to the Nuremberg Code (ahem. . .) it’s forbidden to cross certain lines when conducting human experimentation without proper disclosure and informed consent. That does indeed apply to psychological studies and the like.
Even if one stipulates that the story grew greatly in the telling and the real deal wasn’t so extreme, it’s concerning that the Third Wave was an experiment at all. This sort of thing needs to get run past a review board for approval first. Since it was conducted on youths who hadn’t opted in, weren’t told it involved psychological manipulation, and weren’t informed about the risks, such as the potential for emotional distress and interpersonal conflict, this puts the whole enterprise on ethically perilous ground. Reflecting on it later, such as in the Jerusalem interview, Jones does acknowledge that things went too far, so he never repeated the experiment.
A quick glance at the student newspaper’s write-up casts doubts on how much of the narrative that was based on the actual Third Wave can be taken as truthful. Although the Cubberley Catamount isn’t exactly the Daily Mail, one advantage is that the article was published only two weeks after the classroom experiment. This was when memories were fresh, and before the dramatizations emerging after the fact turned the actual event into a legend.
The brief revival of the Third Reich — a dire and ominous warning to future generations, oft retold since then in film and print — appears on page 3 of the April 21, 1967 edition. It’s next to an item about Cubberley High’s first annual frog jumping match, listing the winning amphibians and some of the other contestants. One of the proud owners is pictured at the top, urging along the second-place champion, a frog bearing the humble name of “Vomit” — yes, really — and the Third Wave article is to the right of it. There, we find some interesting details that didn’t make it into the latter retellings. For example:
His fifth period senior government class launched the most successful coup d’etat on Wednesday, April 5, the last day of the movement, as they kidnapped Jones and threatened to deliver lectures on democracy to his sophomore classes. However, he persuaded them to let him go, telling them he had planned to end the movement that day with a rally at lunch.
This more or less contradicts the berating which later accounts claimed were delivered during the rally, in which, as quoted earlier, he accused everyone of blind obedience when they could have walked away. Are we to believe that the next day, he forgot all about getting mobbed and deposed? Prior to that, the article moreover describes 500 parents seeking the teacher’s dismissal over concerns about the Third Wave. There is not a word about or of the John Galt speech. Concerning the rally, reporter Bill Klink (no relation to the Commandant of Stalag 13) writes:
As a large group of “Third Wave” supporters assembled for the rally, Jones announced that they would hear their national leader speak. He turned on the television to static and the movement came to a crashing end. Most were disillusioned. As one second period Third Waver, Joel Amkraut, put it, “Everyone feels stupid about it. He sure made fools of us. I guess I expected a national leader.”
So that was the big rally, according to the first description of it to appear. In the dramatized versions, instead of the blank TV ending the whole shebang, there is a projector playing reels of National Socialist-era film clips. According to the short story:
In ghostly images the history of the Third Reich paraded into the room. The discipline. The march of super race. The big lie. Arrogance, violence, terror. People being pushed into vans. The visual stench of death camps. Faces without eyes. The trials. The plea of ignorance. I was only doing my job. My job. As abruptly as it started the film froze to a halt on a single written frame. “Everyone must accept the blame No one can claim that they didn’t in some way take part.”
How come nobody remembers any of the good things Hitler did? Sheesh!
Again, the student newspaper account says that most participants were disillusioned, one remarking that he felt stupid about it and that the teacher made fools of them. On the other hand, the later narrative goes further and says that some of the youths who discovered that they were Nazis were left in tears. Again, from the short story:
Robert was crying. Students slowly rose from their Chairs and without words filed into the outdoor light. I walked over to Robert and threw my arms around him. Robert was sobbing. Taking in large uncontrollable gulps of air. “It’s over.” it’s all right.” In our consoling each other we became a rock in the stream of exiting students. Some swirled back to momentarily hold Robert and me. Others cried openly and then brushed away tears to carry on. Human beings circling and holding each other.
So either the bonus reel, the bawling students, and the “you suck” lecture happened but didn’t make it into the original article for some reason, or the narrative was considerably exaggerated after the fact. I can’t say for certain, although I suspect there was at least some embellishment of the climactic moment.
Other than that, the John Galt speech, if it happened, predicts that the students will deny their experiences in The Wave. As the short story describes it:
For a week in the middle of a school year we had shared fully in life. And as predicted we also shared a deep secret. In the four years I taught at Cubberley High School no one ever admitted to attending the Third Wave Rally. Oh, we talked and studied our actions intently. But the rally itself. No. It was something we all wanted to forget.
The cub reporter for the Cubberley Catamount rather obviously found three participants willing to talk about the rally soon after the fact, however, apparently without needing to waterboard confessions out of them. Others spoke about their experiences later, hardly shy about leaving a digital trail regarding their youthful misadventure. The teacher’s Jerusalem interview describes several former students keeping their membership cards and other Third Wave memorabilia as souvenirs; apparently the experience wasn’t exactly an unspeakable pit of shame. The second participant is described and quoted in the newspaper account as follows: “Another, Todd Austin, Mr. Jones’s personal bodyguard, expressed the opinion that ‘I really kind of liked it. I went to the rally because I was curious.’”
Note again that in the story, the volunteer bodyguard is Robert, the school’s low man on the totem pole. The short story describes “Robert” (rather harshly, in my opinion) as a dull student and a nobody. The TV dramatization depicts him becoming a fanatic, stiff-backed and with an incendiary glare. At the rally, he’s shown on stage helping with the equipment. He did actually attend it for real — but just out of curiosity, as he said himself. Rather than bitterness or anguished regret, he says he “really kind of liked it.” Apparently the real “Robert” wasn’t such a Wave Moonie after all.
This is vastly different from the dramatized narrative, which has him sobbing miserably at the end. He gets tricked like everyone else, but for him it was worse, and it hardly takes much imagination to understand what would follow. His newfound self-esteem would be crushed into dust, his moment of status and respect having been snatched right out from under his feet, and he’s doomed to return to being a teenage outcast shunned by all. What a hell of a trick! After reading the book long ago, I wondered if the shock of the cruel deception might still be affecting him psychologically. I’m relieved to see in the newspaper article that the Big Reveal caused no such trauma for “Robert.” It turns out that I was tricked, too, by believing the book — and so was everyone else who read it or saw the TV special and thought it was the God’s honest truth!
Another one of the rally’s participants was upbeat about it, too:
Steve Coniglio was pleased with the outcome. “It was probably the most interesting unit I’ve had. It was successful in its goal to achieve the emotions of the Germans under the Nazi reign.”
Elsewhere on the pinko site, a student’s personal account describes a mock assassination plot against the teacher. After he got ratted out, the tyrannical punishment involved getting the stink-eye:
This is exactly what happened to Hancock, who told several friends he had brought a cap pistol to school to earn an A with mock assassination. Jones gave him a stern look in class while reminding the group of the penalties for disloyalty; Hancock dropped the ideas and to this day cannot identify his betrayer.
The same account also shows that the book depository kid wasn’t the only one to have this idea, and the others were also foiled by snitching:
Hancock says some desperate conspirators even considered a mass “hit” with Mattel machine guns concealed in lunch bags, but Jones got wind of it and rescheduled the student assembly at which the assassination was to have taken place.
This, along with the “coup d’état” described as a kidnapping earlier, suggests that the classroom exercise might have been somewhat theatrical in nature; more of an attempt to emulate a totalitarian society than about turning kids into fanatics. I’ll add an important public service announcement here: Nowadays, bringing anything that looks like a gun to school is a remarkably bad idea! Even nibbling a pastry into a gun shape is very bad juju.
Lessons learned from when Wally and The Beaver discovered fascism
I’ll grant that the danger of blindly following a leader is an important matter. Plenty of nice people, often when they’re in a vulnerable frame of mind, end up walking into cults because they forget to keep their bullshit detectors switched on. Personally, I think that cults can sometimes be a real hoot, but only if you’re not part of them — or at least don’t take them too seriously.
As for an ideological example of what can go wrong when authority goes unquestioned, that’s pretty obvious. There are several once-great nations today in which the people, befuddled by a massive web of propaganda and tolerably placated by bread and circuses, are being led to their slow dispossession and ultimate destruction by their so-called “elites.” Worse, with few exceptions, these people aren’t trying to stand up for themselves.
Whether anti-authoritarianism is positive, lame, or atrocious, it all depends on the nature of the particular authority in question. Ultimately, someone will end up calling the shots. Obviously constructive authority should be obeyed and destructive authority should be resisted. The problem is that so many people get “constructive” and “destructive” backwards; that’s what the massive web of propaganda does. Moreover, certain types of Leftists might pose as anti-authoritarian, but they certainly want everyone else obeying their authority whenever they get in charge.
Note that it’s not only about the government; authority may also include culture, customs, morality, religion, and other things binding the social fabric together. (Generally these are the things that cultural Marxists don’t like, unless it’s something they remade their way.) Traditions usually became traditions because they work. The people who reject every bit of tradition merely because they don’t like following rules will thus tend to get their fingers burned. If blind obedience is dangerous, so is rebellion for its own sake.
The banality of liberalism
If we assume the accounts are accurate about The Wave rapidly catching on with the students, then we’re faced with a mystery. How did this peculiar classroom social experiment manage to capture the enthusiasm of bourgeois adolescent Boomers in the Bay Area? That demographic’s attention was surely geared more towards hot rods, surfing, and rock music than to matters of history and ideology. Their major political interests, if any, would likelier have been about contemporary matters such as the Vietnam War.
The story itself doesn’t analyze the event very deeply. The message is basically that if you’re not vigilant, one day you might just find yourself in a totalitarian society cheering for an evil dictator. At most, the narrative seems to imply that certain facets of human nature are to blame, like the tendency to categorize in-groups and out-groups. Of course, that sort of thing already happens at typical status-obsessed high schools: sorting into interest groups, popularity ranking, cliques, socioeconomic class snobbery, exclusion, ostracism, and negligible upward mobility. Ironically, the story subverts its own message with The Wave introducing an egalitarian spirit.
As for The Wave’s popularity, assuming the dramatizations didn’t massively overstate it, I find it puzzling. During my misspent adolescence, I observed among my peers that teenage apathy is a force more powerful than gravitation. Even so, there have been politically charged youth movements in the past, both Left and Right, even in the United States. Consequentially, there must be some special sauce that galvanizes their attention. (Perhaps get rid of their TVs and phones?) There’s le chic facho, but what else accounted for it?
First, consider that it happened in a time when the original cultural Marxists were still around to push social atomization and aggravate the generation gap. Although it was hip to be a rebel without a clue, that doesn’t work for everyone. (I’ll grant that the “do your own thing, man” stuff was endearing in a way, but only up to a point. Although I caught the tail end of it in my early days, I’m at a loss for words to explain this era’s radically independent yet sophomoric spirit .) One could therefore consider the appeal of The Wave’s “fascism lite” as a reaction to the morass of Leftist nonsense during the late 1960s.
Moreover, the overall environment where it took place may have had an effect. Palo Alto is close to the buckle of the Granola Belt, after all. Although The Wave was remarkably thin gruel compared to an actual political movement, perhaps the students were starving for order and discipline. They weren’t finding it in their hippy-dippy zeitgeist with its muddled morals, New Age sewage, and all the rest of the granola-overdosed permissiveness which was then just beginning to give California the reputation of being America’s most bizarre state. This doesn’t mean the students were conformists by nature. Setting aside for a moment that The Wave wasn’t a serious ideology, maybe the kiddos were grasping at straws to fulfill a normal psychological need for structure amidst a sea of chaos. This was otherwise lacking in Bay Area youths cast adrift in the counterculture’s turbulent epicenter.
Other than seeing it as a break from all that mush, maybe they liked the idea of getting in on the ground floor of an energetic movement they expected to be worthy of their enthusiasm. Perhaps they wanted to join together in something larger than themselves which aspired to greatness. (Little did they know it was only a trick to discourage them from ever doing anything of the sort!) Granted, there were other political movements afoot clamoring for their attention in the late 1960s, but fascism offers revitalization, renewal, and the clang of steel. This is quite unlike the typically unwashed peace creeps reeking of pot smoke, or the crazypants New Left radicalinskis.
One final mystery
The Wave looks to be yet another of those famous anti-fascist “based on real events” docudramas that wasn’t entirely truthful. Apart from that, the story blows past 9 on the dorkitude meter. In fact, it nearly reaches the point where it might cause an instability vortex in the space/time fabric, threatening to make California disappear forever into a cosmic rift of dorkiness. More seriously, the book is rather middling even by the standards of juvenile literature, and the idiot box version ain’t exactly Citizen Kane , so why keep retelling the story for half a century and counting?
The dorktastic saga of Fash Week at Cubberley High is pretty much a nothingburger. It was a mere sideshow amidst a tempest, especially in 1967, when there was a real war going on, as well as widespread race riots. (It was the Democrats who dragged us into Vietnam, and the blacks who burned down the country, so nobody can blame fascists for those things, by the way.) What then accounts for all the retellings of this dorky tale over the past several decades, which are now in goodness knows how many languages to pollute the rest of the planet with dorkiness as well?
This is because someone wants it to be retold endlessly. These are people who own the corporations and who put books in the stores and who program what appears on TV screens. They also happen to be types who chronically expect that fascists will come out of the woodwork any day now, so a story like this is catnip to them. The problem is that they react with heavy-handed actions to their vision of the return of the Blackshirts. These actions tend to backfire, and enough of that eventually creates opposition — including real fascists. If they ever get tired of shooting themselves in the foot, then I have three words for them: Stop doing that.
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