I was born as the counterculture revolution of the 1960s was peaking. Although I was too young to be an active participant in the revolution, I was old enough to remember and be shaped by the ideas and principles people like my parents held. I can remember my mom and her friends smoking pot and masking the smell with incense. I can remember the sounds of “free love” happening behind the closed door of my mom’s bedroom where she and her friends used to go and hang out.
The counterculture revolution sounded like fun, but what was it all about?
In its loosest sense, the 1960s counterculture grew from a number of converging events, issues, circumstances, and technological developments, which served as intellectual and social catalysts for rapid change. At the grassroots level, the young people coming out of the beat generation were beginning to get restless with suffocating ways of life and wanted to rebel. Inspired by Ginsberg, and his colleagues’ work, those actively pushing the counterculture agenda were trying to achieve a higher state of consciousness.
Several factors distinguished the counterculture of the 1960s from the authority-opposition movements of previous eras. The post-war “baby boom” resulted in an unprecedented number of young, affluent, and potentially disaffected young people as prospective participants in a rethinking of the direction of American and other democratic societies. As the 1960s progressed, widespread tensions developed in society that tended to flow along generational lines regarding the war in Vietnam, race relations, human sexuality, women’s rights, traditional modes of authority, experimentation with psychoactive drugs, and differing interpretations of the American Dream. New cultural forms emerged, including the pop music of the British band the Beatles and the concurrent rise of hippie culture. As the era unfolded, a dynamic youth subculture which emphasized creativity, experimentation and new incarnations of bohemian lifestyles emerged. In addition to the trendsetting Beatles, many other creative artists, and thinkers, within and across many disciplines, contributed to the counterculture movement.
All high ideals that seemed worthy of pursuit, but what happened to that idealism and did the countercultural revolutionaries win or did they sell out to The Man? This the question Gary Trudeau was trying to answer in A Doonebury Special that aired in 1977. I watched it for the first time today and it made me think what did happen to the counterculture revolution and what, if any, is the modern-day version of the counterculture revolution? Am I a part of it? Or am I a card-carrying member of the establishment content with conforming to whims of the herd?
Thinking about it now, mainstream culture is dominated by consumerism, reality tv, and celebrity worship, and on the political front, those fighting for a better society seem mostly preoccupied with being “green,” neutralising the sexes and demonizing the rich. I don’t fit the mainstream. I’m not even an outsider. I’m a casual observer, content to exist inside my self-contained bubble of reality on a planet called Clay.
Maybe it’s time to leave my fortress of solitude and rejoin the fray. But who will I be fighting for and against?