America’s Youth Culture


American young people have been the vanguard of every important contemporary social movement: sitting-in, praying-in, riding freedom buses, working in voter-registration drives, organising ghetto communities. They have been deeply and ‘personally involved in activities which have resulted in some of the most dramatic confrontations that the nation’s power structure has ever known.

During the Chicago Democratic party convention in 1968 millions of American T.V. viewers watched in horror the repression of the ensuing protest. Long hairs, short-hairs, television personalities and technicians, newsmen and political figures were indiscriminately and savagely beaten and manhandled by the Chicago police.

In the early sixties, the massive upsurge of youthful participation in the Civil Rights Movement took thousands of young people away from the sterility of college campuses into the politically germinating atmosphere of the freedom ride. Armed only with their moral convictions and youthful idealism, they went into southern cities, towns and rural areas where daily they faced both overt danger in the forms of attacks by angry mobs: beatings, hosings, jailings and torture by the “law’’; and also the less direct but more debilitating tactics of social oppression and discrimination so long a way of life in that part of the country. Young black and white men and women in their late teens and early twenties worked alongside older participants in towns and villages far from home, in the belief that their efforts would be the beginning of a curative process for the social sicknesses they had discovered and decried.

At first, the older generations found these youngsters “refreshing’’. Honest youthful concern for their fellow-men was viewed as a character-building exercise which, if practiced within proper limits, would prepare them for the situations they would face when they eventually graduated into the“real world’’, provided, of course, that they do not take their activities too seriously. But their kids saw through this inert liberal facade of helping the “poor’’ or the “blacks’’ and demanded of their parents the genuine commitment of direct involvement. At this point, parents who had thought originally that their children were “just going through astage’’, a brief period of altruism, discovered that many of these kids meant business, engaged as they were in activities whose goals and life styles ran the gamut from a commitment to end racism and oppression through the destruction of capitalism to the abolition of the institution of marriage.

Looking around the country and indeed the world, members of the Establishment saw young people rapidly moving away from the desired liberal philosophy, adopting radical rhetoric and rapidly approaching a revolutionary stance. Communities and campuses began to explode. The impending crisis had to be met. It was time to “neutralise the kids.’

At a time when more young people than ever before were talking of revolution, “America the Beautiful’’* was actively engaged in seducing them with three devastating distractions—Love, Sex and Dope. Undisciplined young people lacking in political consciousness who had already been defeated by the system of oppression could escape intermittently from the harsh realities of their lives by shooting dope into their veins,

The present generation of middle-class youth has had more time to observe and measure the values of their society. Those who have not been completely distracted by “Love and Sex’’ symbols represent a great potential for radical involvement in social action. They have been the radical vanguard of campus confrontations and community-based activities.

Who or What were the “Hippies” ? They were characterised in an issue of the Guardian* as “mainly white, mainly once middle-class, who have chosen poverty as one of the ways of rejecting the values of the American Way of Life.’’ In numbers they comprised a small element of American youth. They held no unanimous and cohesive viewpoint, and were not organised as a movement in any way. Estimates of their degree of significance vary from “fractional and transitory’’ to “a highly colourful manifestation of the forces of change’’.

But the dominant attitude of the hippy was one of social anarchy in favour of love and total freedom. If you talked to a dedicated, hardcore hippy* he would tell you he believed in the dissemination of happiness and love, total permissiveness andfreedom, the rejection of social customs and of the pressures of modern society.

Hippy language (much oi it expressive of drug-taking) embraced terms like“freak-outs’’ ,“love-fests’’, “be-ins’’, “free-ins’’, “happenings’’,* “mind-excursions’’, “mixed-media shows’’ “sun-trolleys’’, anda host of other hyphenated hyperboles.

There is no doubt that many of those youngsters genuinely believed they could solve the problems of the world spreading a hedonistic gospel of love, flowers and music, but the demand for total permissiveness, particularly in the use of drugs like marijuana and LSD*—for which some of them campaigned— brought them into direct conflict with the law.

Borrowing, perhaps, the passiveness adopted by the nonviolent political movement, * of the 60s the hippies offered flowers to the police instead of hurling abuse. This they designated as“flower power’’. But not all hippies withdrew entirely from political activity. In the big San Francisco demonstration against the war in Vietnam, for example, a contingent of hippies gave support.

Ii the general happiness-dispensing, laissez faire* attitude of the hippy makes one hesitate to pin an evil label on his point of view, his passionate worship of mental experience and stimulation, which has involved him in an open crusade for the freedom to use drugs, including the potentially minddestroying LSD negates a lot of sympathy.

The hippy viewpoint which abhors the violence and destructive nature of modern society and some of its possibly eave influences on the arts are perhaps its positive qualiies.

But the advocacy (and use, by some) of drugs, the insistence on the dubious freedom to be able to commit what could amount to both mental and physical suicide is highly dangerous and must be deplored and actively discouraged.

While the hippy viewpoint has its elements of protest and revolt, it also leads to passive inaction, to an opting out.”