The Politics And Culture Of The 1960S Hippie Movement The Politics and Culture of the 1960s Hippie Movement As the nineteen fifties turned into the early sixties, the United States remained the same patriotic, harmonious society of the previous decade; often a teen’s most difficult decision was choosing what color lipstick to wear to the prom. Yet after 1963, a dramatic change slowly developed in the cultural, social, and political beliefs of America, particularly the youth. The death of President Kennedy, the new music, the quest for civil rights, the popularity of mind-altering drugs, the senselessness of the Vietnam War, and the invention of the birth control pill reacted like an imbalanced chemical equation to formulate a new American counterculture: the hippie. Contrasting with ever-dominant mainstream society, the layed back hippie nobly tried to change the world not by force, but through peace and love. Though not entirely successful, the hippie movement clearly marked the mid- to late-nineteen sixties and early seventies as a mixture of peace and brotherly love with sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
The formal definition of a hippie is one who does not conform to social standards, advocating a liberal attitude and lifestyle. However, the true definition of a hippie in unclear; no interpretation could categorize every person who fits into the ambiguous category of a hippie. According to Phoebe Thompson’s definition, being a hippie is a choice of philosophy. Hippies are generally antithetical to structured hierarchies, such as church, government, and social castes. The ultimate goal of the hippie movement is peace, attainable only through love and toleration of the earth and each other.
Finally, a hippie needs freedom, both physical freedom to experience life and mental freeness to remain open-minded (12-13). In the view of some historians, thus, Thoreau and Ghandi were hippies, and hippies continue to exist today (25). Yet what unique qualities characterized the American hippies of the nineteen sixties, and how did this movement gain enough power to influence millions of teenagers? The nineteen fifties was one of America’s most prosperous (and dull) decades. Conformity and nationalism swept the nation; television sitcoms reinforced old-fashioned family values; the typical teenager aspired for the all-American look and personality. Yet music had already planted the seeds of rebellion; Rock and Roll began to sweep the nation. Kids wore leather jackets, violated curfews, and considered themselves rebels, though oddly with no cause.
The rebellion craze was epitomized by Marlon Brado’s role in the film The Wild One. When asked: What are you rebelling against, he responded: Whatta you got? The music of Elvis and other rock bands caused the rebellion; all the teens needed was a cause (Manning 32-34). The Vietnam War began as President Kennedy’s effort to protect the free world from Communism. Kennedy, a well-liked president, received little war opposition from the people. He was young and supported free-spiritedness, open-mindedness, and equality; at his assassination in 1963 only 15,000 troops were in Vietnam.
Under Lyndon Johnson the number of soldiers skyrocketed, however, reaching 500,000 in 1966. Television broadcasts from overseas became more gruesome and the deaths more tragic. The nightly news counted the dead and described compiling destruction, and many political and literary figures began to speak out publicly against keeping US troops in Vietnam (Harding 56-9). Though Johnson continually promised a swift end to the war, the Tet Offensive of 1968 finally proved otherwise. A surprise attack on American soldiers caused a significant loss of land and life; the Communists were apparently nowhere near defeat (Buchholz 861)! Shiploads of American boys came too and from Vietnam, only too many of those returning home were riding in a coffin. The hippie movement germinated in San Francisco, with the Vietnam War at its core.
The movement eventually spread to the East Coast as well, centralized in New York’s East Village in addition to the Haight-Asbury district of San Francisco and Sunset Strip of Los Angeles (Buchholz 858). Disgusted by conformity, culture, and politics, some hippies abandoned society to live in isolated communes; by 1970 over 200 communes existed, maintaining 40,000 youths. However, many hippies also took a political stance against the war. The Vietnam War conflicted directly with the hippie belief in peace and love, so the counterculture protested the war throughout the nation. The flower children held love-ins to celebrate their rights, spoke out publicly, formed protest groups with the slogan: Hell no, we won’t go!, burned flags, and tore up draft slips (858).
To avoid the Vietnam draft, some pacifists took extraordinary measures. Many claimed insanity, lied about homosexuality, pretended to be physically unfit, or fled to Canada (19). Yet far too many peace-loving hippies were sent to jail for refusing the draft call, maintaining their principles and integrity (Gottlieb 55). Faced with family dejection, exile, arrest, and imprisonment, they nevertheless continued to stay firm to the opposition to that war (Tollefson 4). While the government drafted their brothers, the remaining hippies protest the war at home.
Considering most hippies were under thirty, the greatest concentration of them was in colleges throughout America. Protests began in Columbia University and Berkley University, California. A demonstration against Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia led to violence at Kent State University; the National Guard killed four students. Finally, the University of Virginia, founded by America’s forefather of freedom Thomas Jefferson, was raided by two hundred baton-waving policemen who arrested sixty-eight students (Thompson 66-8). The greatest expression of the hippie belief, whether pro-peace or pro-pot, was their music.
Rock and roll was their voice. Led by Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and the Beatles, rock and folk music overtook the airwaves. (Manning 102) Bob Dylan used the lyrics of folk music to convey a social commentary and protest. In a civil rights march in 1963, he sang the following lyrics: How many years can some people exist Before their allowed to be free? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind The answer is blowin’ in the wind (102) Folk artists did not sing simply to sound pleasant, but more importantly to convey a message. Most song lyrics addressed the wart or the civil rights movement, and the crowd would sing along in a chorus.
Existing in harmony with folk music was rock, which adopted a style known as psychedelia, or mind expansion. Rock’s lyrics were less important, with the overall sound dominating as an expression of the soul. And with many band members high on marijuana or LSD, hardcore acid rock became a means of escaping the world-for both the band and the audience (102-103). The ultimate orgy of rock and folk music occurred at Woodstock in August of 1969. Located in New York State, Woodstock the concert was a three-day long event in which 400,000 people got high, had sex, and listened to some very beautiful and psychedelic music. The roster included som …