In the following essay, I will attempt to highlight the phenomenon in cinema known as the "counterculture youth-pic." This trend in production started in the late 1960's as a result of the economic and cultural influences on the film industry of that time. The following essay looks at how those influences helped to shape a new genre in the film industry, sighting Easy Rider as a main example, and suggests some possible reasons for the relatively short popularity of the genre.
"The standard story of the counterculture begins with an account of the social order against which it rebelled, a social order that was known to just about everyone by 1960 as the "mass society." The tale of post-war malaise and youthful liveliness is a familiar one; it is told and retold with the frequency and certainty of historical orthodoxy." (Thomas Frank, Conquest of Cool)
Following World War II, The United States entered a decade of prosperity. Consumerism flourished, and the middle class worker enjoyed the benefits of an economy on the rise. Part of the reason for this rise in the economy, was the change in the work place. Time management and efficiency were emphasized, and the conditions of corporate America reflected it. The cubicle, nine to five workday, and business dress were all products of this change. This focus on efficiency could be seen outside the workplace as well.
"College campuses were such Monoliths of conformity at the decade's start that university of California chancellor Clark Derr, confidently predicted that "employers will love this generation" because "they were going to be easy to handle."" (Shaky Ground, Alice Echols)
However, this conformity of the populace to fit the needs of the adult consumer society aroused feelings of disgust in the youth of the day. They felt as though corporate society saw them merely as pieces of a machine, to be worked over and used for the greatest profit. The counterculture movement can be read as a direct result.
Many factors converged to create the hippie counterculture, namely drugs and rock'n'roll, but the forming of this subculture wouldn't have been so popular had America not at that moment economically well off. While the rebel youth of the 1960's were rejecting America's relentless materialism, their revolt was enabled and underwritten by America's unprecedented prosperity. Following the beatnik movement of the late 1950's a number of young people, embracing some of the same ideas, congregated in San Diego's Haight suburb. But it was not necessarily just the youth of the day that were part of this social rejection.
"The last half of the 1960's saw the emergence of seemingly new cultures among young people, which were promptly collapsed under the label youth culture by adults. Even so, these cultures were neither entirely novel, nor limited to young people, nor so homogeneous as to be described by one label." (Grans, Comparative Analysis)
Part of what made this movement so distinguishable at the time was the rebellion against the fashion industry, as well as social norms. It was relatively easy to pick out which people sympathized with the movement, especially with the characteristic male look of the "Jesus Christ hair and beard." They dressed to highlight their freakiness, combining clothes of other times and cultures.
"Davy Crockett buckskin, military surplus, Buddhist robes, Edwardian suits, Errol Flynn pirate shirts, native American headbands, capes, cowboy and Beatle boots, hats-bowlers, stove-top, cowboy, Eskimo, anything-and beads, of course." (Echols, Shaky Ground)
It was not only the social values and fashion trends that were experimented with. This period in history also saw a large rise in drug usage. Marijuana in particular became very popular. The invention of acid (LSD) was also crucial to the music scene at the time, which was a large part of the counterculture. These new drugs allowed the mind to experience certain...
Bibliography: Echols, Alice. Shaky Ground: the Sixties and Its Aftershocks.. New York:
Columbia UP, 2002. 17-50.
Grans, Herbert J. (1999) "A Comparative Analysis of High and Low Culture." In Popular Culture and High Culture: An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste (pp. 89-160). New York, NY: Basic Books.
Frank, Thomas. The Conquest of Cool. Chicago: The University of Chicago
P, 1997. 74-166.
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