This week’s entry: Hippie
What it’s about: After the placid postwar victory lap that was the 1950s, America in the ’60s experienced upheaval, as the Civil Rights movement, and the unprecedented shift in gender roles and sexuality allowed by the birth control pill, reshaped American society. At the vanguard of that dramatic change were hippies—young people who embraced the freedom that came from not getting pregnant immediately after high school, by enjoying a youth culture focused on art, music, and recreational drug use. While there was an inevitable backlash, with everyone from punks to J. Edgar Hoover demonizing and attacking hippies, their combination of optimism, naïveté, and self-importance continues to this day.
Strangest fact: The hippie movement may have started in pre-WWI Germany. While the beatniks are usually seen as the direct precursors to hippies, with a similar focus on sexuality, drug use, and rejecting societal norms, some see a much earlier progenitor. Around the beginning of the 20th century, a movement called Der Wandervogel sprung up as a reaction to the formalized culture of German folk music. German for “migratory bird,” the new German youth culture emphasized amateurism, creative fashion, communing with nature, philosophy, and travel—all hallmarks of the American hippie movement 60 years later. German immigrants brought their Wandervogel sensibility with them, opening health food stores and organic farms, and laying some of the groundwork for hippie culture.
Biggest controversy: While the hippies’ drug use was presented as a means of expanding consciousness and rejecting society’s norms, society may have had it right for once. The rise of drug use unsurprisingly led to a rise in drug addiction, and with it malnourishment, crime, and violence. While George Harrison’s visit to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood during 1967’s “Summer Of Love” is considered an apex of the hippie era, in fact, the quiet Beatle found the hippie epicenter to be “just a haven for dropouts,” and he quit using LSD afterward.
Thing we were happiest to learn: Whether you consider the hippies noble revolutionaries or naive, irresponsible kids, there’s no arguing their influence on pop culture. Besides their obvious, pervasive effect on popular music, underground comics were born out of the hippie ethos, often viciously satirizing mainstream values, or spoofing the hippie lifestyle. The best known of the first wave of underground books was Zap Comix, which gave an early platform to R. Crumb and many others.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: The hippies may have inadvertently put Nixon in office. The 1968 Democratic National Convention was a historic debacle, when the mayor of host city Chicago, Richard J. Daley, beefed up convention security, as antiwar protests were planned, and the country was still reeling from the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. But Daley almost certainly overreacted, banning legal protests, and sending 23,000 police and guardsmen to violently confront 10,000 protesters. Things got so bad Dan Rather was roughed up by security on-air while talking to Walter Cronkite.
Into this maelstrom came the Yippies (Youth International Party), who established the far left’s now-standard combination of passionate political activism and attention-grabbing stunts that insured no one would take them seriously. At the convention, the Yippies attempted to nominate their own candidate, a pig named Pigasus, and the police arrested the group’s leaders—including the pig.
A few days later, the Yippies held a demonstration in a public park. The police went on the attack, using so much tear gas and mace that the Democratic nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, felt the effects in his hotel room blocks away. The Yippies were convinced that their treatment at the hands of the cops would shock America and turn people to their side. In fact, most Americans supported Daley in the aftermath, and the chaos of the convention was thought to turn the country toward Nixon. It probably didn’t help the Yippies’ case that they were primarily known for nonsensical stunts like trying to levitate the Pentagon, or tossing fake money into the New York Stock Exchange, rather than their actual political beliefs.
Also noteworthy: There were Mexican hippies. As English-language rock and roll and its accompanying youth culture spread south of the border, young Mexican musicians and artists formed a movement known as La Onda (the Wave), which encompassed rock music, Super 8 filmmaking, theater, and literature. The movement’s followers were known as jipitecas, macizos, or onderos. Just as American hippies had Woodstock and British hippies had the Isle Of Wight Festival, Mexico’s movement peaked with Avándaro, a rock festival attended by hundreds of thousands. The jipitecas were also critical of the government, as some pin the start of the movement to the Tlatelolco massacre, in which the police killed dozens of student protesters.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: Anyone interested in exploring further subcultures has plenty of options, as the hippie page links to punks, post-punks, anarcho-punks, mods, greasers, casuals, Teddy boys, skinheads, bohemians, Rastafarians, goths, Dudeists, swingers, housetruckers, and magicians.
Further down the wormhole: Hippies also had an impact on film, with groundbreaking films like Alice’s Restaurant and Easy Rider attempting honest explorations of the counterculture. But there were also loads of cheaply made hippie exploitation films, like Psych-Out and Wild In The Streets, which attempted to cash in on the public’s fascination with the sex and drugs aspect of the hippie lifestyle. These movies are part of a larger genre of exploitation films, which, in their attempts to cash in on either lurid subject matter or a niche audience, have often given a voice to writers, actors, directors, and segments of the viewing audience who otherwise would have been ignored by Hollywood. We’ll take a look next week.