Thursday, July 08, 2010

The COUNTERCULTURE--what survived and what did not?

I’ve been on this planet more than my allotted three score and ten (and on the whole I greatly enjoyed the experience). I try not to reminisce too often, but sometimes my mind travels back some forty years, when the Counterculture seemed to pour out, almost without warning, over everything--a virtual tsunami.

I offer these observations in outline form, to be enlarged later.

The inception of the Counterculture may be dated to 1967, with the Summer of Love in San Francisco. Totemic were the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (released on June 1st, 1967) and the “rock-tribal” musical “Hair” which premiered in New York City later that year.

To put the matter in a nutshell, the Counterculture came into being when the older substratum of Bohemia (going all the way back to the latter part of the nineteenth century) was refreshed with the newer Beatnik and Hippie inputs.

Here are some notes towards a balance-sheet:


1. the astrology fad (“What’s your sign?”)
2. the Hindu guru fad
3. unkempt appearance; emaciated bodies, long hair, tattered clothing, and poor hygiene
4. disorderly residential quarters ("pads")
5. antiwar, antimilitary, antipolice (“the pig”)
6. extreme valorization of youth (“don’t trust anyone over thirty”)
7. cult of irrationality a l’outrance
8. poverty as an ideal
9. communes
10. romantic Marxism, the Far Left, and the illusion that Revolution was imminent
11. the underground press (e.g. East Village Other; Berkeley Barb)
12. psychedelic posters and graphics
13. five-finger discounts ("steal this book")
14. separatism (lesbian, black, etc.)


1. (primus inter pares) the triumph of the ideal of individual e x p r e s s i v i t y (vs. the older imperatives of duty, obligation, and delayed gratification)
2. sexual freedom, including for gays (but not for pedophiles/pederasts)
3. equality between the sexes/genders, at least as a ideal
4. free circulation of sexually explicit materials, both written and visual (“porn”); public use of four-letter words
4. rock music, and its offshoots, are supreme (supplanting Tin Pan Alley, jazz, and classical alike)
5. the quasi-religious cult of ecology and “the earth”
6. in the visual arts, fusion of "high" and "low" forms: serious art as "fun" (Warhol, et seq.)
7. funky and ad-hoc architecture (as Frank Gehry, Hadad, etc.)
8. recognition of the autonomy and value of non-Western cultures in Asia, Africa, and Latin America
9. healthy eating
10. blue jeans (sometimes “distressed”) are chic everywhere
11. widespread use and acceptance of controlled substances
12. changes in linguistic usage: generic "he" is taboo; obligatory are "fire-fighter," "police officer," and so forth (but not "personhole cover"
13. Preference for "African American," "Hispanic/Latino," and "Asian" (Negro, Oriental, etc. are out)



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