The cognitive dissonance created by the Minnesota History Center’s new exhibit is understandable: The sign says "1968," but the events featured evoke 2011.While much has changed in four-plus decades, the parallels are striking.Internationally, we’re in quagmired conflicts, just as in 1968. Europe is again imperiled — although by leveraged capitalism, not communism. And throngs threaten repressive regimes. But now it’s the Arab, not the Prague, Spring.Domestically, 1968′s "Poor People’s Campaign" camp on the National Mall looked a lot like today’s Occupy Wall Street setups, while cop crackdowns on Occupy sites eerily echo the 1968 Democratic National Convention.Politically in 1968, presidential prospects abounded — although it’s hard to imagine the current presidential roster, in comparison, meriting an exhibit in 43 years.One of the 1968 giants, Robert F. Kennedy, is the focus of the most moving display, which seems to do just that — move. It’s a rolling montage of mourners as seen from the window of the funeral train carrying the slain RFK from New York to Washington.Black and white, rural and urban, in suits, dresses, cutoffs and miniskirts, everyday Americans reverentially review a man, and a movement, that had held such promise.Thankfully, one of RFK’s promises — better race relations — has been partly fulfilled. So while the exhibit explains the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and the birth of the Black Panther Party, today the lens is focused on the president and the GOP frontrunner, who are both African-American.Cultural comparisons are revealing, too. As in 1968, the Green Bay Packers are the reigning Super Bowl champions, and the St. Louis Cardinals played in a thrilling seven-game World Series (this time, the Cardinals won).But differences are vivid when it comes to TV and film, pop culture’s coping mechanisms.At dinnertime, it was "the living room war," with Walter Cronkite reporting on Vietnam (and the jarring generational fights over it). But in prime time, it was genial G.I. Gomer Pyle and Andy and Opie that offered top-rated relief.Today there’s far less evening-news coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan, and at night viewers still won’t find much reality — unless it’s "American Idol" or a report on the Kardashian scandal.For laughs, "Laugh-In" didn’t crash the party until late ’68. The old-fashioned "Family Affair" has morphed into "Modern Family," the postmodern comedy that’s often tops in 2011.Dramas, too, have shifted, well, dramatically. The frontier justice found in "Gunsmoke" and "Bonanza" has been replaced by the forensic science of "NCIS" and "NCIS: Los Angeles."Pop-culture roles were reversed on the big screen. Among 1968′s top 10 were two frank films about the generation gap becoming a gulf: "The Graduate" and "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?"Third that year was the futuristic "2001: A Space Odyssey," which contrasted with classics "Romeo and Juliet" and Oscar-winner "Oliver" (seventh and eighth).This year is not yet complete, but so far the top 10 list doesn’t seem quite as ambitious. Sure, it’s got wizards (Harry Potter), Caribbean pirates, "Bridesmaids," not-so best men ("Hangover Part II"), hot rods ("Cars 2," "Fast Five) and superheroes ("Transformers," "Thor" and "Captain America").But no top 10 film captures an anxious America.But then again, even 1968′s more moody movies were balanced by "Funny Girl," two funny guys in "The Odd Couple," a tough guy in "Bullitt" and a very scary "Rosemary’s Baby."And in an odd cinematic and simian symmetry sure to spur more cognitive dissonance, 1968′s "Planet of the Apes" and 2011′s "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" both cracked the top 10.The History Center exhibit’s crowded, chronological compression of tumult might make younger attendees wonder why the nation didn’t come apart.Sure, escapist pop culture was one reason. But looming larger were the small things in life, like the placid picnic (serving Hamm’s Beer) that’s a profound part of the exhibit.Because in 1968, just like in 2011, what matters most is what happens in our homes, not in the White House.* * *John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnnist.