A few months ago I went to a show called the 1968 Exhibit at the Minnesota History Museum. It was devoted to the events of that singular year, of which there were many: the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and MLK Jr., the election of Nixon. The exhibit was also filled with music posters, toys, magazine advertisements, clips of movies and TV shows, and plenty of avocado green and harvest gold.

I had not been particularly interested in attending, but was extremely impressed with the amount of material displayed and its presentation. In the January room was a full-size helicopter from the Vietnam War and in the December room was a space capsule next to a broadcast of the Apollo 8 mission that orbited the moon. You could make your own album cover and vote for one of the presidential candidates who ran for office in 1968. (Tangential story: the results of the vote were shown realtime on a monitor above the voting booth and were heavily skewed toward Robert F. Kennedy. There were also plenty of votes for candidate Ronald Reagan, while Nixon and Humphrey lagged way behind. After I “cast my vote” I stepped outside the blue curtain to see a high school kid wearing a Romney button–Santorum had won Minnesota’s primary the day before–who was watching the results closely. And then I saw him beckon over one of his classmates and give him $5 to vote for Reagan. Voter intimidation, buying elections? Start ’em young).

One potential implication of the exhibit was that 1968 was more important than neighboring years. Certainly it was a year of great change, politically and culturally. But while the significance of some events is immediately apparent, others can be understood better only in retrospect. It makes me wonder what 2012 will look like, what shape it will take, when it matters only to historians.

Garden of Love, my 1968 retrospective

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