The Counter-Culture: A Brief Overview - The Times, They are’ a Changin’

(These notes are adapted from Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia – Wikipedia is rapidly becoming highly respected after a lot of academic distaste for several years. I hope to have a wiki-program operational for class projects before January.

In sociology, counterculture is a term used to describe a cultural group whose values and norms of behavior run counter to those of the social mainstream of the day, the cultural equivalent of political opposition. The term counterculture refers to a more significant, visible phenomenon that reaches critical mass and persists for a period of time. A counterculture movement thus expresses the ethos, aspirations and dreams of a specific population during a certain period of time--a social manifestation of zeitgeist. (literally: Spirit or Ghost of the Times)

Though parallel movements existed elsewhere, the 1960s counterculture began in the United States as a reaction against the conservative social norms of the 1950s, the political conservatism (and social repression) of the Cold War period, and the US government's extensive military intervention in Vietnam. It is sometimes discussed as the inheritor of "Beat Generation" sensibilities of the late 1940s and 1950s.


As the 1960s progressed, widespread tensions developed in American modes of authority, activist groups espousing civil rights, women’s rights, including abortion, gay rights etc., proliferated. Along with all these issues was the relatively widespread experimentation with psychedelic drugs and a predominantly materialist and negative interpretation of the American dream. The Vietnam war became an increasingly high-profile object of criticism, and opposition to the war was exacerbated by the compulsory military draft.

In one view, the 1960s counterculture largely originated on college campuses. The 1964 Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley, which had its roots in the Civil Rights Movement of the American South, was one early example. At Berkeley a socially privileged group of students began to identify themselves as having interests as a class that were at odds with the interests and practices of the University and its corporate sponsors. However, other rebellious young people who had never been college students also contributed to counterculture development. The beatnik café and bar scene was a tributary stream.


The signal catastrophes of the 60’s were the assassinations of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1963, a young democrat from Massachusetts who was the youngest president ever elected (45), and Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968, perhaps the most charismatic leader of an oppressed people that the world has ever seen. These events, particularly the death of JFK as President of the United States of America, and the year (63) he was murdered did much to both fire the flames of social unrest and shatter the youthful dream he and his stunning wife had elicited among the young adults of that generation.
The counterculture movement took hold in Western Europe, with London, Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin and Rome rivaling San Francisco and New York as counterculture centers. One manifestation of this was the general strike that took place in Paris in May 1968, which nearly toppled the French government
In all this, Bob Dylan (born Robert Zimmerman in 1941 in Minnesota) found his place in the world. Without any intention except to satisfy his own passion to matter he became, in 3 short years after he showed up with his guitar in New York City, the unofficial lyric poet/singer in the manner of Homer or an Irish Bard for the counter-culture movement.


During the period in question, new cultural forms emerged, including the pop music of the Beatles, which rapidly evolved to shape and reflect the youth culture's emphasis on change and experimentation. This was accelerated after 1964, when the Beatles were introduced to marijuana in a New York hotel room by Dylan. Underground newspapers sprang up in most cities and college towns, serving to define and communicate the range of phenomena that defined the counterculture: radical political opposition to "the establishment," colorful experimental (and often explicitly drug-influenced) approaches to art, music and cinema, and uninhibited indulgence in sex and drugs as a symbol of freedom.
Like any culture, the 1960's counterculture produced its share of true misfits, (Charles Manson for example). However, most people involved with the counterculture were not dedicated iconoclasts lacking qualities like loyalty or conscience. Most people engaged in conscious experimentation — with psychedelic drugs, with Eastern spirituality, with alternative lifestyles — while retaining many core values and social norms of their (often middle-class) upbringings.


Then too, many individuals did not identify with "the counterculture", despite the conclusions of outside observers. Numerous young people successfully achieved something in cooperation with others — who, as '60s individualists were able to find a niche and pursue some career — never identified with the counterculture, and slowly distanced themselves from it. In a general way, young adults who had married and had children just as the movement began to take hold, were already established in the mind-set of their parents generation, a mortgage, a two-car garage, a 2-week family vacation to the beach or camping, and 2.3 kids. The responsibilities of parenthood often, and rightly, outweighed the ‘dropped out, turned out and tuned in’ attitude of many of their contemporaries.
In any case, as members of the hippie movement grew older and moderated their lives and their views, and especially after all US involvement in the Vietnam War ground to a halt in the mid 70s, the counterculture was largely absorbed by the mainstream, leaving a lasting impact on philosophy, morality, music, art, lifestyle and fashion.


The legacy of the 1960s Counterculture is still actively contested in debates that are sometimes framed, in the U.S., in terms of a "culture war." Jay Walljasper, a commentator and the editor of Utne Reader — though not himself from the so-called '60s Generation, and having grown up in American-Heartland farming country — has written, "From the great gyrations of the counterculture would come a movement dedicated to the greening of America. While many once-ardent advocates of radical ideas now live in the suburbs and vote Republican, others have held fast to the dream of creating a new kind of American society and they've been joined by fresh streams of younger idealists.