Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hippies In Paris

The Paris Student Riots
It's interesting that there are those, Europeans in particular, despite our films and celebrities, our music, Levis and Starbucks, who speak of Americans as cultureless. I have always been a Francophile, and equally, an Anglophile, and yet I find umbrage with the notion, indeed pride in having swept away in many respects, the European stranglehold on all things art. Trust me, I am no less enamored by European art, from The Beatles to Gilbert and George to Pinocchio (trust me, folks, if you've only seen the Disney film – which is fabulous – you don’t know anything about Pinocchio, and you need to read it!), but I am thrilled that Americans can take their rightful place among cultural giants and not just wallow in inventing the hamburger, as great an achievement as that was. When it's true that we can tout Mary Cassatt as one of the great Impressionists, French purists will be correct in their assumption that she was just tugging on the apron springs of the Europeans (of course, where would any of them be without Gertrude Stein?). But let's make a short list of things that Americans can call their own: jazz (that's a big one), take-out, TV, chili, The Beats, rock 'n' roll, red Solo cups and cartoons. And out of all of it, one must also include the American hippie.

Paris, 1968
While there is a list of worldly ingredients that led to hippiedom, most will agree that Hippies were an American construct that came out of the Beat Generation, the so-called Beatniks. From there, a scene that began ostensibly in 1952 in New York, the hippie movement, as if Horace Greely had told them to do so, went west, along the way stopping off at each American college and university, spurred on by protests of the unpopular war in Vietnam. It was on campus that The Beatles were deified and the culture of the hippie established. On Monday mornings one would find the subterraneans resurfacing, recovering after the weekend freak out. The freedom offered the college student, unshackled by the Pleasant Valley Sunday orthodoxy of their parents, and coupled with the music and, of course, the psychedelics and marijuana was the Genesis of a movement that would find its full-time soul in California. London would be next; the Scandanavians, the Dutch and the Germans (who called themselves "gammlers") would follow, but mostly, those who practiced the ideal of the new people tended to go abroad, to Morocco, the Orient, Turkey or Nepal, or in particular, to the United States.

The French had their own Bohemian culture in Paris, Nice and Cannes, but there the focus in the late sixties was on the student riots. It's an interesting contrast to the American movement. In the United States, student unrest was aptly named. American youth was fidgety in its affluence. Indeed, the hippie movement was garnered in affluence, reminding one of the "ultraviolence" tendencies in A Clockwork Orange. Alex and his droogs steal from others, indeed pillage, for no reason at all, except out of boredom (Anthony Burgess making a statement on the evils of socialism). In America, it wasn't socialism that was the issue, but an ants-in-the-pants anxiety spurred on in the era of Camelot. There is no doubt that a spirit of protest was necessitated by the war and civil rights unrest, but for the French, particularly in Paris, youth was angry, mired in oppression, and through their violent protests, taking action. The peace and love ideology apparent in America and Britain, took on a very different face in France. In Paris, the hippie movement looked more like a scene from Les Miserables than it did a love-in.

By May 10, 1968, the number of student protesters exceeded 20,000. Every street leading into the Sorbonne was blocked with barricades and military vehicles. Students began prying up cobblestones, there were fires that the fire brigades could not get to, and students were overturning parked vehicles. During the night, the police were given the directive of clearing the streets. It took hours of violence and rioting, exploding gas tanks in cars, but fortunately no one was fatally wounded.

All in all, though, hippiedom as a cultural phenomenon was an American construct that found its place in Britain and throughout the world. From out of it came art and music and the social acceptance of eclecticism. For many as well, the hippie movement was more than just young girls coming to the canyon because New York was dirty. It was a movement of unrest crying out amidst oppression; a movement in which the young voice finally mattered.

A Month Later, the Style and the Fashion Returned - It was the Revolution that Never Was