Counterculture of the Sixties in the USA
Causes and Effects
by Johanna K. Weisz
If the Sixties was the decade of rebellion in America, the preceding two post-WWII decades were characterized by social conformity and trust in the system. “In that era of general good will and expanding affluence, few Americans doubted the essential goodness of their society” (Haberstam 10).
However, this trust in the system changed radically in the Sixties. Many of the numerous youth born during the post-WWII baby boom became teenagers who questioned the cultural values of their parents and refused to assimilate into the established social and moral system. They created their own counterculture that was in opposition to the established culture of their parents. “At their strongest, the movements of the Sixties amounted to an incomplete Reformation” (Gitlin 22). As Gitlin points out, this “Reformation” did not change society completely. However, the counterculture of the Sixties has made a great impact on society, which is still visible today.
Even if the counterculture was a reaction to the same established culture, it was far from a homogenous movement. It included both radical and peaceful elements. While political activists tried to change the society by radical means (Anderson 217-220), hippies turned away from the established society. They “rejected activism, being almost completely apolitical” (Carnes and Garraty 842).
The counterculture of the Sixties is a huge and complex subject that cannot be covered entirely in this short essay. Hence I will mainly concentrate on the peaceful hippie movement and its manifestations.
Where it started
The hippie counterculture of the Sixties started in San Francisco with a literary group of writers called beatniks or hipsters, including Jack Kerouac, Williams S. Burroughs and Allan Ginsberg. Beatniks celebrated a hedonistic lifestyle that included drugs and sexual
experimentation. “They were blunt about sexual adventure: with women, with each other, with many patterns, occasionally in groups…” (Gitlin 47). Beatniks were often on the road, which also is the title of Kerouac’s most famous book (On the Road, 1959). Even if the beatnik movement declined, it acted as the source of the hippie movement of the Sixties. Why it started
To understand why the hippie movement embraced the beatnik philosophy, we need to take a look at the social and political situation in America preceding the Sixties. During the early Sixties, the first wave of baby boomers entered high school and universities. “The universities boomed even faster than the college-age population. The result was that by 1960 the United States was the first society in the history of the world with more college students than the farmers.” (Gitlin 21). These youth were raised by a generation who told them “that government was supposed to regulate the economy in the general interest, help the weak against the strong, and protect the liberties of all” (Carnes and Carraty 840). When these youth entered high schools and universities in the early Sixties, they started questioning the norms of the older generation, who they blamed for political and social problems. Millions of Americans were poor, blacks were still segregated in the South and America was involved in the cruel Vietnam War. “They were disgusted by the dishonesty and sordid antics of so many of the politicians, horrified by the brutality of Vietnam, appalled by racism, contemptuous of the smugness in colleges and universities” (Carnes and Garraty 842). The youth met little sympathy among the older generation, which had experienced WWII and had problems understanding what the youth were rebelling against, as we can read in a Herald-Tribune article from 1968: “It is easy to say ‘Man, you laid this jazz on us,’ and blame us, but I think the depression and World War II were rougher […]. They should do something constructive instead of letting their hair grow and...
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