Hippies and the Revolution of a Culture

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Hippies and the Revolution of a Culture

"Tune In, Turn On, and Drop Out" was the motto of the hippie movement, a significant countercultural phenomenon in the 1960s and early 1970s that grew partially out of young America's growing disillusionment with U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Hippies were mainly white teenagers and young adults who shared a hatred and distrust towards traditional middle-class values and authority. They rejected political and social orthodoxies but embraced aspects of Eastern religions, particularly Buddhism. Many hippies also saw hallucinogenic drugs, such as marijuana and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), as the key to escaping the ties of society and expanding their individual consciousness. The immediate precursor to the hippies was the so-called Beat Generation of the late 1950s, including the poet Allen Ginsberg, who became a hippie hero. But where the coolly intellectual, black-clad beats tended to keep a low profile and stay out of politics, the hippies were known as much for their political outspokenness as for their long hair and colorful psychedelic clothing. Their opposition to the Vietnam War became one of the most significant aspects of the growing antiwar movement throughout the latter half of the 1960s.

To express their protests, and to "turn on" others, the hippies used art, street theater and particularly music. Folk music and psychedelic rock-the Beatles album Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was a prime example-were both crucial aspects of hippie culture. This culture reached its peak in the summer of 1967, when a concert in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park kicked off the start of the so-called "Summer of Love." The event introduced the music and aesthetic of the hippies to a wider audience and inspired thousands of young people around the country to head to San Francisco, some wearing flowers in their hair, a reference to Scott McKenzie's version of the John Phillips song "San Francisco," a ubiquitous hit and a kind of hippie theme song. In 1969, more than 500,000 people attended the Woodstock Music and Art Festival in Bethel, New York, an event that for many epitomized the best aspects of the hippie movement. There was a dark side to hippie culture, however, and it went beyond the panicked disapproval expressed by conservatives about the "immorality" of the hippie way of life. A Time magazine article in 1967 quoted San Francisco's public health director as saying that the city was paying $35,000 per month for treatment for drug abuse for the city's 10,000 hippies. To Joan Didion, who wrote about her time in San Francisco for her acclaimed 1968 essay "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," the hippies were "missing children" who were the most conclusive proof that "the center was not holding" in American society. To the hippies, their behavior was the one truly authentic reaction to the oppressive forces of consumerism, imperialism and militarism embodied by America in the 1960s.

By the mid-1970s, the hippie movement was on the wane, though many aspects of its culture-particularly music and fashion-had worked their way into mainstream society. The fraught atmosphere of the 1960s that had created the hippie counterculture no longer existed, particularly after the Vietnam War ended, and with the advent of punk and disco music the earnest hippies were often seen as ridiculous. Still, their ideals of peace, love and community became the enduring legacy of the hippie movement, and even today there are a few "neo-hippies" to be found on college campuses and communes across the country and around the world.

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The Tet Offensive

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