I’m starting to realize that many young people who lead alternative lifestyles either in the bhakti community, greater new age community or festival community don’t, in fact, know the history of the counter-culture – the movement that allowed them to lead these lifestyles in the first place.
“To understand the 60’s, you must understand the 50’s” – TL
Holistically this is the first move in getting the facts straight so you can get your point of view solid. Post World War II America was a manifestation of what the war was supposedly worth fighting for – an obtainable degree of utopian satisfaction that was available to any hard working man willing to go to work and provide for his nuclear family. The antithesis to that was the communist doctrine that allowed for no freedoms or modicum of success that was measured against the individuals merits or work ethic.
1950’s America had just enough elastic to make it seem like we were free when in reality we were oppressed, racist, chauvinist and extremely nationalistic. Even through all of that, the average working (white) man could work a middle class job and buy a nice house, have two kids and a nice Buick in the driveway all while making a modest salary. Things were bright and cheery.
The lens of oppression during that time was such that any counter culture currents were forced to go deep underground. There was no space for permissive attitudes that allowed for the puritanical bourgeois values to be challenged let alone the soil to be fertile enough to actually live an alternative life style. If you were gay, you hid it. If you were a having a romance with another race, you hid it. If you did any sort of drug, you hid it. If you subscribed to any God that wasn’t the Christian God, you hid it.
Pop-culture started to chisel away at this through the proliferation of films that gave light to other ways of life, even if it wasn’t pretty. “The Man with the Golden Arm” and “Touch of Evil” come to mind. But it wasn’t until rock and roll came blasting in that the shattering of the hearts and minds of every parent in America did any mainstream adaptation begin to take place.
Elvis Presley shook his hips into every household in America that had the tangental effect of making it ok for young women to express their sexuality and for young men to wear a leather jacket and question authority. This is why parents hated rock music back then, it wasn’t because it was noisy. It was because it challenged the societal norms.
And then a young man from Chicago, named Hugh Hefner, published a magazine in 1953 called “Playboy” which barely showed boobs but more than that gave way to this lifestyle that everyone wanted to lead but didn’t admit. With it’s now barley rated PG early editions it was enough to shake the foundation of puritanical America.
Even so, it wasn’t enough. The deeply rooted racist Jim Crow ethos of the deep south spilled over into the rest of the country. Our African-American brothers and sisters still had crappy lives and we weren’t further along that one would have hoped. Even for a white male, at the end of the day, if you didn’t graduate high school and go to college to become a cog in the wheel of corporate America, you were deemed a failure.
There have been countless books to pick apart the 1960s and how it all worked and why it all mattered. The purpose of this blog post is to act as a primer for that and why that revolution must serve as a reminder of why you lead the life you lead.
Many ingredients went into the proverbial blender of 60’s urban life that when mixed together just enough created something new that we conveniently now just call “The Sixties.” Make no mistake – it was RADICAL.
The ingredients were as follows:
- Rock and roll: with The Beatles firing the most important first shot, Bob Dylan firing the second
- The Vietnam war and it’s subsequent protest
- Psychedelics – tuning in and turning on was a vital vitamin
- The civil rights movement – finally enough were courageous enough to say enough is enough
- Women’s rights – a big swell of bad ass women who pushed their way out of the 1950’s kitchen and into the workplace
- The spiritual revolution – (see American Veda for this) The Beatles meeting the Maharishi, Alpert becoming Ram Dass and Satichananda at Woodstock made it ok to meditate and say “Namaste” instead of going to church on Sunday. You can’t imagine how radical this was.
- The sexual revolution – since the dawn of time youth culture loved to have sex and were having sex, the 60s made it ok for each gender to come out and actually say they loved it and wanted more of it. This is a good thing.
Lots of other sub-culture movements too which were equally important; gay rights, ecology, diet, etc…
What is essential to understand is that each one of these ingredients that went into the blender were essential, vital even, in disrupting the cultural norms of the 50s. If you leave any one of them out, it’s like leaving salt out of the cookie dough, it simply won’t work. It is naive to think that 50 years later you can go back and pick and choose which ones were cool and which ones were bogus. That’s re-writing history.
The intellectual paradox within all of this is that many of these ideologies ended up serving to contradict the very intent of another.
For instance, while the sexual revolution was a very necessary and groovy way for us to get in touch with our bodies. Along side that it also gave rise to the objectification of women and the subsequent women’s rights movement which made it ok to protest that. See what I mean? Even though each movement was born from the same seed, they could slowly became opposites that were intent on opposing each other. The right hand slapped the left hand. It’s a very far out and head scratching phenomena.
Another example is Eastern Spirituality and psychedelics – psychedelics made Eastern Spirituality possible but then people started meditating and chanting all day and then started putting down psychedelics. Strange.
The important part of all this is that I find it essential to be historically accurate when critiquing our current culture. It’s short sighted and convenient to put down one of the ingredients that you think is “bad” or “offensive” when not so long ago it was essential in getting you to this place at all. Stepping back and finding the middle path and a modicum of balance and non-judgement is the work here.
Did Playboy give rise to the objectification of women and impossible set of beauty standards – perhaps. More importantly, it’s worth remembering what else Playboy and that the sexual revolution was about. It was a political revolution more than a social one at the onset. Hef and Playboy were first amendment crusaders that featured within it’s pages Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Eldridge Cleaver, Fidel Castro, Gore Vidal, Helen Gurley Brown, Malcom X, Jesse Jackson, Marshall McLuhan, Nehru and Grace Kelly to name a few. This not a list to be brushed aside so lightly. These were heavyweights on the grandest scale and the interviews in the magazine aren’t trite tales of evenings at the Mansion.
Again, this isn’t about Hef or Playboy or drugs or mediation. However, over the course of the last few day I have been rather startled that so many young people are quick to burn someone in effigy when it’s a historical context they are lacking. I’ve been rude and curt on Facebook, no doubt, but it’s alarmingly frustrating how judgmental we’ve all become.
The point being that you going to Burning Man, doing a yoga pose half naked on the beach, changing your name to Ramana or refusing to work in an office was made possible by the aforementioned combination of events and ideas. You can’t dismiss one of them because it makes you uncomfortable all these years later. Our family is complex, nuanced and dysfunctional but it’s also family. We’re all part of the same tribe.
Stay woke and in love.