The post war "baby boom generation" was something of an anomaly both to parents and to the children they would eventually raise. Growing up amid the contradictory conditions of prosperity and paranoia that prevailed during the 1950s, as they grew into adults this young generation tired of abundance and yearned for a more "authentic" life. Their quest initiated outlandish fashions and tastes, broke taboos, and, together with an eager television and music business, monopolized the culture industry, saturating public discourse with hedonistic and sentimental idioms. With the objective of a new classless society of sincerity and trust, some of these young people adopted the term "hip" from beatnik slang and donned the flowery, flamboyant posture of "hippies."
By the mid-1960s, hippies began to appear in high schools, colleges, and enclaves around the country. Their unique combination of hedonism and morality depended on the spin they placed on the "generation gap" that separated them from their elders: in high moral gear, hippies projected every conceivable social and ethical defect of society onto their parents—the generation who, having survived depression and war, clung to middle-class prosperity and values like drowning sailors to a life vest. From the perspective of the young, this "materialism" was evidence of the bleak life of "straight" society, and of the moral bankruptcy that spawned war, environmental damage, racism, and sexual persecution.
Starting around 1964 and increasing steadily into the early 1970s, hippies began gathering in lower income, inner city neighborhoods (the same areas their parents had worked so hard to escape) such as New York's East Village and, particularly, San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, and later formed communes and settlements in the countryside. Largely white, middle class, and educated, hippies whipped up their own philosophy of natural living, easy sexual and social relations, sincerity, and hedonism through a blend of Eastern mysticism, left-wing social critique, and Beatnik appropriations of African-American slang. To the hippies, "squares" were "uptight," out of touch with their feelings and with each other, and it was this isolation from human feeling which had made them such aggressive, authoritarian, and often brutal people. The hippie lifestyle, on the other hand, was not only more fun, it was morally superior.
Drugs played a special part in this hedonistic moral rebirth. By "blowing one's mind," drugs allowed one to see through the fake values of middle-class materialism and into the profound layers of one's innermost being. The hippie political outlook was just as fanciful. Hippies imagined the older generation working together in a massive authoritarian conspiracy called "the Establishment," or "the Man." They believed the main objective of the recognized social order was to restrain and control the innocent love of life, nature, and happiness that defined hippie life. The Vietnam war provided a ready target for hippie opposition and rebellion: the words "peace" and "love" became symbolically loaded terms, lumping together a call for military withdrawal from Vietnam, an attitude of mutual acceptance and trust between people, and a sense of personal awareness and happiness. The famous photograph of a hippie protester inserting flowers into the rifle barrels of a line of National Guard troops demonstrates the unique style of hippie morality, which connected personal feeling with political intent.
It is possible to bracket a viable and active hippie counter culture between the years 1965 and 1973. Over this period, a few important dates stand out: in 1966, the Beatles, having already made long hair an important emblem of youth culture, released Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, rock's first concept album. The jacket featured the band in lavish, mock Napoleonic military garb, a look that coined much early hippie camp and whimsy. One song in particular, "A Day in the Life," crystallized the hallucinatory drug-induced sense of the absurd which was to become known as "psychedelic." The song wove together two quite different sounds; one, sung by Paul McCartney, took an everyday, commonsensical tone, "woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head…," while the other, sung by John Lennon, interrupted McCartney's narrative to coo dreamily, "Ahhhhhhh… I'd love to turn… you… on…." The song seemed to split reality into two, the mundane and the fantastic, the square and the hip. And, along with another track on the record, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," Sergeant Pepper was thought to advocate psychedelic drug use as the necessary bridge from the drab world of old straights to the lush and expressive world of the young and the free.
In 1967, the Monterey Pop Festival provided the first in a series of major outdoor rock concerts, and in 1969, the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival provided the movement's thrilling climax. Hundreds of thousands of hippies clogged the region around the concert trying to get in, and, after airlifts of food, water, and flowers from state troopers, the event subsided without incident, a testimony to the solidarity and mutual goodwill of a counterculture guided by feelings of love and peace. However, over time, the climate of the counterculture changed: hippie urban frolicking turned into serious homelessness and poverty, and the drug culture grew into an organized and dangerous underworld. Petty criminals, drifters, and profiteers over-ran many of the hippie hangouts and communes. The Manson murders and a violent outbreak of violence and murder at a concert at Altamont, California, in 1969 brought to the fore a growing tension within hippie culture between middle class and idealistic hippies and a growing criminal drug culture with no idealistic pretensions to speak of.
But more than the criminal underclass, the hippie movement faced a far greater challenge from the same force that had brought it into existence: the mainstream media, which commercialized hippie culture and dulled its radical edge. By 1970, psychedelic styles were a common feature of advertising, bell-bottom pants were marketed to children, and even conservatives were seen to sport sideburns and long hair. When Lyndon B. Johnson was photographed in retirement on his farm with hair down to his shoulders, it was clear that the counterculture had become mainstream culture.
Bisbort, Alan, and Parke Puterbaugh. Groovy, Man: Tripping through the Psychedelic Years. Los Angeles, General Publishing Group, 1998.
Gitlin, Todd. The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. New York, Bantam Books, 1993.
Miller, Timothy. The Hippies and American Values. Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1991.
Willis, Ellen. Beginning to See the Light: Pieces of a Decade. New York, Random House, 1981.
Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1968.
Though the dictionary defines a hippie as anyone who rejects the conventional customs of society, in America the hippies were the product of the countercultural movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The word "hippie" is derived from "hipster," which was once a synonym for "beatnik." The beatniks (see entry under 1950s—Print Culture in volume 3) of the 1950s were the spiritual ancestors of the hippies, who bloomed as the flower children of the 1960s and 1970s. Both groups shared intellectual curiosity, disdain for conventional customs and morals, affinity for recreational drugs, and tastes in music, literature, and philosophy that put them outside the mainstream.
Although the term was sometimes applied too broadly (especially by the "straights," whose world the hippies scorned), hippies tended to be gentle people who embraced colorful clothing, nonpossessive sexual relationships, the use of marijuana (see entry under 1960s—The Way We Lived in volume 4) and LSD, communal living, and a "live for today" philosophy. They generally rejected materialism, the Vietnam War (1954–75), the success ethic, and authority of all types. Their musical tastes favored the Grateful Dead (see entry under 1960s—Music in volume 4), Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin (1943–1970), and Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar (1920–). (A sitar is a complex, difficult-to-play classical Indian instrument.) They were the core of what became known as the "counterculture."
The "straight" world was interested in the hippies from the beginning. There were bus tours of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, billed as "the only place you can visit a foreign country without leaving the United States."
Hippie images and references permeated the popular culture of the United States from the mid-1960s until the early 1970s. The most popular band in the world, the Beatles (see entry under 1960s—Music in volume 4), "went hippie" with their Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album in 1967. "Psychedelic" art and music supposedly allowed one to experience
the "mind-blowing" qualities of LSD without taking the drug itself. On Broadway (see entry under 1900s—Film and Theater in volume 1), the musical Hair (see entry under 1960s—Film and Theater in volume 4) opened in 1968 to celebrate the hippie lifestyle with music, dance, and a show-stopping scene in which the entire cast stood naked onstage. Hippies appeared in films ranging from The President's Analyst (1967) to I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1968) to Easy Rider (1969). They also became a frequent subject for humor on the popular TV show, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In (1968–73; see entry under 1960s—TV and Radio in volume 4).
The hippie culture gradually faded, as did the era that inspired it. But hippie images and references continued to appear. The characters of Cheech and Chong (Tommy Chong, 1938–; Cheech Marin, 1946–) were pothead hippie throwbacks in films like Up in Smoke (1978) and Still Smokin' (1983). The Grateful Dead (1965–95) still had a dedicated following that included many aging hippies, until the band broke up following the death of Jerry Garcia (1942–1995). In the 1990s and 2000s, the TV sitcom Dharma and Greg could always get an easy laugh with a reference to Dharma's "hippie parents." As the Grateful Dead used to sing, "What a long, strange trip it's been."
For More Information
Bisbort, Alan, and Parke Puterbaugh. Groovy, Man: Tripping through the Psychedelic Years. Los Angeles: General Publishing Group, 1998.
Brand, Stewart. "We Owe It All to the Hippies." Time (Special Issue, Spring 1995).
Hippies on the Web.http://www.rockument.com/links.html (accessed March 21, 2002).
Miller, Timothy. The Hippies and American Values. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991.
Stern, Jane, and Michael Stern. Sixties People. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.
A number of middle-class young people growing up in the late 1950s felt that they did not fit into accepted society. Not only did their futures seem planned out for them, with office jobs for the men and motherhood and housework for the women, but those futures also seemed boring and suffocating. In addition, there was an expanding war in Vietnam, and young men were being drafted into the army. By the late 1960s young people who wanted peace and personal freedom began to gather together to express their views. In 1967 people gathered at events like New York's Central Park Be-In and San Francisco's Summer of Love. In October 1967 over fifty thousand hippies gathered in Washington, D.C., to make a statement against the war by trying to levitate the Pentagon building, headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, with their collective mind power.
Hippies bonded around their antiwar feelings, but they also broke away from the restrictions of society by practicing "free love" or casual sex, and using drugs, especially marijuana and the hallucinatory drug LSD, both for fun and to open their minds to new ways of seeing the world. Hippies, or freaks, as they often called themselves, also connected around the music of the time, a mixture of protest folk and rock. The 1969 Woodstock Festival and Concert was an important event in hippie culture. Planned for an audience of 150,000, the rock festival in up-state New York attracted 500,000 fans and was a celebration of love, peace, and music.
Hippie style included long, flowing hair for both men and women, and often beards for men. Since hippies rejected the modern American mainstream, ethnic clothes were popular, as were old-fashioned styles. Both men and women commonly wore headbands, floppy hats, flowing scarves, and beads with blue jeans or bell-bottoms and tie-dyed T-shirts. Rebelling against corporate culture meant making clothes or buying cheaply at thrift shops and military surplus stores, so clothes were often ragged and patched or embroidered. Flowered clothing and embroidery were popular, and flowers became an important hippie symbol because hippies revered and felt connected to nature. "Flower power" was a term used to describe the hippie movement, and it was not uncommon for hippies at antiwar demonstrations to give flowers to police and soldiers, even placing flowers in the muzzles of their guns.
Though the hippies grew older and styles changed, people continued to feel nostalgic about hippie style and values. The 1980s and 1990s saw occasional revivals of hippie fashions and music, if not hippie values.
HIPPIES. On 5 September 1965, in an article in the San Francisco Examiner about the new "Bohemian" scene developing in the Haight-Ashbury district, Michael Fallon labeled its members "hippies." The label stuck and was thereafter applied to any young person who experimented with drugs, exhibited an unconventional appearance, enjoyed new forms of "acid" music and art, expressed disdain for mainstream values and institutions, investigated exotic religions, or espoused a philosophy that combined the beats' existentialism with a colorful, expressive joie de vivre all their own. Although initially treated as a harmless curiosity by the media, Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, spoke for many Americans when he defined a hippie as someone who "dresses like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheetah."
Perry, Charles. The Haight-Ashbury: A History. New York: Vintage Books, 1985.
Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968.