But America doesn't live in a "post-sixties" world any more. Whether we like it or not, things have changed. Not that we've forgotten the sixties, but the major events of that decade--the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the anti-war movement, the counter-culture, and second-wave feminism--have lost the sense of tangible immediacy they had for so long.
It's the eventfulness of our own era that's pushing the events of the sixties to the back reaches of the public mind. Much as the sixties pushed WWII out of immediate awareness, the sixties are now being pushed back by 9-11, the Iraq War, the failures of George W. Bush, and the Obama presidency. Given that our time is so urgent, the sixties is now looking more like WWII, the Depression, and the Jazz Age. Yes, the sixties were highly significant, but the major events, personalities, and trends of the sixties no longer have much immediacy.
And that includes Charles Manson and his killings.
Manson's crimes continue to evoke a strong reaction long after public obsession over other high-profile cases has faded. He was the bogeyman under the bed, the personification of evil, the freaky one-man horror show. For years, when prison officials still allowed it, he gave television interviews, never failing to shock. The interviews kept memories of him fresh long after he was locked up.
The memories may have been fresh, but Charles Manson is no longer the model American mass murderer. That belongs to Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Columbine was the model for the Virginia Tech killings, Northern Illinois University killings, the rash of school shootings in Kentucky, and threatened school killings everywhere. The Columbine model of guys who viewed themselves as outside the magic circle of success and were determined to "go out in style" was still active in last week's Pittsburgh shooter George Sodini.
Of course, Charles Manson is titillating because the Tate/LoBianca murders were so monstrous. But sensation and titillation are not the same as cultural importance. Like the rest of the sixties, Charles Manson is not nearly as important as he used to be.
And why should he be? Isn't forty years of Charles Manson enough?