Sunday, January 20, 2008

Swinging back to the 60s dream?

The disclaimer first: I actually lived and was politically active through the intense hippy era, albeit in Australia. If comments herein seem cynical they are no more severe than my views were at the time. My personal reference point was the beats and the ‘hippies’ I knew were either dopers or weekend pretenders.

For all of that it was an exciting time to be growing up; there was the arse clenching fear of being conscripted, there were the swarming anti Vietnam rallies, great music events of course and some visionary political figures.

I don’t have a great problem with those who focus on the romance of hope generated by the myth of the 60s. Myth or not, it was a powerful conceptual trip, though I use that word with serious reservation. I also recall the ugliness the whipped cream of myth nicely hides.

So, with some historical perspective and my penchant for identifying cyclic patterns, what are the lessons we might draw by a comparison of the 60s and the current dynamic. The truth is, I like what I am seeing and the differences are almost exciting.

The so called hippy dream did not sustain the Nixon years because it was not a deeply held or shared process. Not enough to simply allow those glorious thinkers feeding the movement, not enough to simply accept the actualisation through outfits like the SF Diggers. Ideas must be live personally and not vicariously as was very much the case.

Take Woodstock, the ‘peace’ icon of the generation. Even this Aussie has talked personally with at least six folk who claim to have been there. Not one of them reports the fact tat it was extremely wet, muddy and uncomfortable.

In fact not one of them has any real memories of the event beyond the various film footage – they were all spaced out on one substance or another. Like the Haight-Ashbury ‘Summer of Love’ Woodstock’s power was in the glossed reports rather than the dubious actual events.

The power of the hippy dream is in the much promoted myth rather than a tawdry reality. That’s okay, it means those who were really trying to get a message through succeeded, and probably did so with the help of the capitalist machine they were opposing.

But Nixon’s ‘dream’ quickly revealed just how shallow the radical dream of hope really was. Dick’s economic ineptitude quickly launched a reactionary backlash and hippy and conservative alike ran for cover. The dollar won the day.

Now we have just experienced 30 years of economic conservatism (the real neo-conservatism didn’t start until Thatcher-Regan) and a decade of almost complete ‘National-Socialism’ in key western economies.

What really excites me is that the dynamic is almost the exact reverse of the early 70s. The hippy myth has taken hold as a dream, and with hope is a lot more sophisticated. Sure there are still angry minorities willing to resort to violence to achieve social equity, but there are far more people who are ready to seriously take up the essence of the dream.

The encouraging part is that we are coming to this out of a truly dreadful cultural period. The hippies emerged out of a relatively benign period. The stakes for a positive long term outcome are much higher just now. But social change doesn’t occur overnight and we need to recognise the process will be gradual.


abi said...

I shared some of your cynicism of the 60s, and still do. While it was a time of powerful feelings of hope and idealism and togetherness (unmatched since, IMO), I also don't know how wide or deep it was.

Spending 3 days outdoors in a huge crowd had no appeal for me, even as a kid, so I wasn't at Woodstock. But I did see the movie, and what struck me about it more than anything was the ending - after everyone left, there were acres and acres of trash left behind, just lying on the ground like a crazy quilt.

It was embarrassing and it was telling.

D.K. Raed said...

Well now you're forcing me to rethink my entire ethos. Good, I need the practice. Perhaps I was more of a vicarious hippy by some standards. At the time, I did not think hippy only meant commune-living back-to-the-land movements. To me, it was more of a mindset -- a questioning of all authority, the willingness to work for social equality, a desire for peace, a recognition of the commonality of all life. Being female meant I never had to put my body on the line for my beliefs, so to that extent, I guess I was never truly tested. Also still being in my teens (and a late blooming teen at that), I only worked on the periphery of various peace rallies and political movements of the day. Still, I felt infused with the hippy spirit. I don't blame Nixon for killing that spirit, but you're right, during those years, the original (possibly naive) dreams did turn sour.

Some people turned to violence which is never a good idea. By the time it was all over, there WAS something different about our society, though. It seemed like even our parents & the establishment in general had become a little more like us, and in the process, we had become a little more like them.

If you can accept that our music sustained us, then I will accept that excess of ego-centric drug experimentation killed us. well, that and disco. To me, disco represented the true death of the hippy-era, a return to materialism & judgmental attitudes, the resumption of greed for greed's sake. All those gold chains are iconic in that regard.

I think we are looking a mini-revival of the 60's now. So far, it's just a small glow & could so easily be stamped out. We need to nuture it & maybe this time, it will truly achieve something wonderful and, more important, lasting. I now understand the way my grandma told me she felt during my teenage yrs when she told me she could see an echo of her teenage yrs from the 1920's in what was happening in the 1960's.

And, I could not agree more with your stmnt: "The encouraging part is that we are coming to this out of a truly dreadful cultural period." Well & truly said, mon Aussie frere!

Cartledge said...

Abi, since I’ve been back in Aust I’ve recovered my old collection of 60s Newport Folk Festival Albums. Now they were events which acted out the ideals of the period in a very real way. Personally I’d focus on them as the major musical events. And no rubbish left behind.
Mind you, I was a regular at various major Aust folk festivals that are now all but forgotten.

d.k. My main argument here is not the essentially superficial adherence to the hippy movement. In fact many people I know and have known associated with communes and back-to-the-land movements would always deny having been hippies.
The hippy myth was really driven by traders in San Francisco and elsewhere to capitalise from the exploding market potential. Many of the musicians involved soon found that theirs was a business not a community service.
Outfits like the SF Diggers, ‘it’s free because it is yours’, were ultimately bought undone by the commercial and radical interests of hippydom. Even at the individual level it was largely a self serving, hedonistic culture.
That is all a matter of recorded history, but it does not take away the power of the residual dream, which has grown more powerful with time. I guess my final analysis is that the truth of it all doesn’t matter if the myth and the dream are a powerful agent for creating a better world now.
The US and western economies are already moving into deep economic problems. My hope is that dream will hold true and unlike the Nixon economic/cultural slump this crisis will actually drive society forward in some positive ways. We might just need that to get through this next lot.

D.K. Raed said...

In our defense, I should add, we were young and everything was beautiful. I don't know about the hippie myth being driven by SF traders & others for market potential. But of course, now I realize it's all about profit, always has been. I just didn't know it at the time, so I reveled in the beauty of it all. I remember people living on very little income, mainly because we didn't seem to need so much stuff, so the Madison Ave aspect of it didn't penetrate my consciousness. Sheesh, now I'm sounding like a flower child. I wasn't.

I loved folk music, too, but I guess The Beatles really started me down the music road. Before that, it was all whatever my parents or babysitters were listening to. Woodstock was a cultural event that I dearly wished I could've driven across country & attended ... until I saw the movie & realized I'd never have been able to handle being around all those people for 3 days, no showers & few bathrooms. I was also appalled by all the trash that Abi mentions.

If you are tying in the revival of 60's magic with the current forecasted economic slump, then I hope you are right that our dreams for a better world can see us through. Dreams may be all we have left after our this gluttonous warhumping adm has spent us all right into the poorhouse.

Cartledge said...

d.k. You can imagine I wasn't the most sought after party boy in town during the 60s. That's when i learned the fine art of shitting in peoples cornflakes.
But I guess I am trying to reflect on how a negative can become a positive.
And it is nice to know not all flowers die...