Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Hippie Scene

In 1969, professor John Robert Howard of the City College of New York wrote that "Hippies offered, in 1966 and 1967, a serious, though not well-articulated alternative to the conventional social system. To the extent that there was theory of change implicit in their actions, it might be summed up by the phrase 'transformation by example.' They assumed, implicitly, that what they created would be so joyous, so dazzling, so 'groovy' that the 'straight' would abandon his own 'uptight' life and come over to their side.

Howard's characterization of the hippie ideology is accurate, if academic. The general conception of hippies by the American public was not nearly as forgiving (even from other young people; even from the literati of the generation, George Harrison being the first example who comes to mind). Though there were conflicting ideas about what hippie culture stood for, hippies were talked about primarily in terms of their behavior and drug use. TIME Magazine wrote multiple articles attempting to uncover and explain the 'movement,' but throughout there appeared a current of disdain and disregard. The economic effects of the hippie experiments in Haight-Ashbury, which increased drug-usage and lowered property values, affecting the economic status of the neighborhood, mattered most to the stoic rag. Amusingly, although the photo editorials from sister mag LIFE would take a more buoyant look at youth culture, TIME’s approach was not dissimilar to the one portrayed in everyone's favorite Dragnet episode about Blueboy.

With this kind of history preserved as the basis for looking at the culture, one is hard-pressed to disassociate the realities of the era with the mythologies.  Even the culture itself was skewed toward conservative values – odd in the era of Bobby Kennedy.  One of my ever-present memories with regard to the culture is the Sonny Bono narrated PSA entitled Marijuana.  Sonny Bono appears onscreen to tell kids that marijuana is a "bummer" that turns you into a "weedhead" and will make you "trip out," but not without the sophomoric use of "reverse psychology."
AM, of course, looks at hippie culture with rosy shades, which is probably no better, though AM’s goal is to extol the music, any nostalgic look back is “just a dream some of us had.”  Nonetheless, it's interesting to weed through both sides of the extreme, and the literature of the time is a great starting point.  Here's more from John Robert Howard:

This article is written for people who, in future years, may want to understand something of the hippie movement. To that end, I have (1) described the hippie scene as an anthropologist might describe the culture of a South Sea island tribe, (2) reviewed some of the more prominent explanations for the movement, and (3) advanced what seems to me to be a useful theory of the hippie phenomenon. The data for this article were drawn from literature by and about hippies and other Bohemians in American society, and from extensive informal participation in the hippie movement.
THE HIPPIE SCENE: I first heard the term hippie in the Fall of 1966. I had gone to the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco to hear a rock musical group, one of a number which had formed as a result of the smashing impact of the Beatles upon youth culture. The Fillmore previously had presented mostly black performers, but, increasingly, white rock groups were being featured. A new cultural style was evolving and was on display that evening. The rock group blasted its sound out through multiple amplifiers, the decibels beating in on the room like angry waves. Above and behind them, a melange of colors and images played upon a huge movie screen. Muted reds and somber blues spilled across the screen, shifting and blending, suddenly exploding like a burst of sunlight let into a dark room, then receding slowly like a gentle tide. Bright images and jagged shapes leaped out from the screen, only to be washed away by the colors before appearing again. Image and color fused and swirled, then melted apart. Film-clips of old serials played on two smaller screens suspended high on the walls, of either side of the hall, while shifting multicolored lights illuminated the dancers, the shafts of yellow and blue and red seeming to leap and bounce off the frenetic dance floor.
The total effect was that sought by the Dadaists in the early 1920's, a breaking up of traditional linear habits of thought, a disconnection of the sensory apparatus from traditional categories of perception. Late in the evening, I fell into conversation with a gaily dressed couple, and, in the course of an exchange of remarks, the girl referred to the persons at the dance as hippies. I had not heard the term before and asked them of its derivation but they had no idea how it had originated. As we parted, neither they nor I realized that within nine months, there would be no hamlet or haven in the United States that would not have heard of hippies.
Within a year, young people by the thousands were to stream to San Francisco - hippie heaven - while little old ladies in Des Moines trembled at this new evidence that the foundations of the Republic were crumbling.Before the rise of Haight-Asbury, the aspiring writer or artist from the Midwest fled to Greenwich Village. By the summer of 1967, Haight-Asbury had replaced the Village as the place to go, and, indeed, people were leaving the Village to move to San Francisco. The words of Horace Greeley, "Go west, young man," had rarely been so diligently heeded.

Seems like a great place to stop - tomorrow then, the flight from the Village - Mamas and Papas style.