Those of you who have never dreamed of a different world, not governed by capitalism and multinationals, where people can live in peace, sharing their goods with everyone, where there is no despotic state that imposes stupid rules with the sole intent of keeping you submissive and manipulable? A world where freedom and happiness are the true purposes of every human being, without borders, private property, violence, exploitation, social classes, where differences are a treasure instead of discrimination, where religions respect each other. Ultimately a fair world. This is what the hippies’ movement, which we call Flower Children, wanted to do. Mixed groups of people flaunting the counterculture to oppose the disastrous one proposed by the various governments. A movement with noble intentions, but which over the years has definitely lost its way degenerating into the New Age, into superficial spiritualism and in the absence of morality to end up completely denying the initial ideals.
Premises: the Beat Generation
At the end of the Second World War, the world was shaken by the incredible violence of the conflict, the use of mass destruction weapons such as the atomic bomb and the new American and Russian “colonial” politics. United States scholars, who had already met in 1944 at the Columbia University Campus, met again ten years later in San Francisco. I am talking about Ginsberg, Huncke and Kerouac who together with Burroughs and Carr devoted themselves to writing novels in which they spread their vision of the world, made by the refusal of traditional narrative values, the spiritual search, deepening the Native American religion and the Oriental ones, experimenting psychedelic drugs and sexual freedom.
The name Beat Generation was coined by Kerouac in 1948 to define the subsoil of young nonconformists from New York. The term, borrowed from the African American culture of the time, is enriched with a new meaning which is the multiple meaning of being on the beat, positive (upbeat), ecstatic (beatific).
The themes dealt with and disseminated (as well as experimented) by its members were sexual freedom, against repression and Christian conformism. Some of these authors were bisexual, homosexual, orgiastic, promiscuous or preferred interracial relationships. In addition to sex, there was a lot of talk about drugs for experimental purposes, that is, to expand limited consciousness and overcome its limits. The substances used were alcohol, marijuana, morphine, ayahuasca, LSD, peyote. Their use was intended to increase inspiration and creativity and they were also taken on during meetings with colleagues.
The romantic streak was very important for this literary current and the reference author par excellence was William Blake. Jazz music was another fundamental component and many authors, in addition to being inspired by famous jazz musicians such as Billie Holiday, used jazz songs to describe their emotions. The authors of reference were the first American writers such as Thoreau, Waldo Emerson, Melville and Whitman. Finally, French surrealist poetry was another of the Beat Generation’s forms of inspiration. But this movement does not stop at literature: in its rejection of materialism, it is interested in Eastern spirituality, especially Taoism and Buddhism.
In conclusion, quoting Ginsberg, the highlights of the Beat Generation were:
- the sexual revolution and sexual freedom, a process that led to the emancipation of women and oppressed categories, such as black people
- liberation from censorship
- drug legalization
- the evolution of rhythm and blues into rock and roll as a high art form, with artists like The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin
- the spread of ecological consciousness for the safety of the planet
- opposition to the military-industrial machine civilization
- Attention to what Kerouac called a “second religiousness” developing within an advanced civilization
- Return to an appreciation of idiosyncrasy vs. state regimentation
- Respect for the land and indigenous peoples and creatures
“Put flowers in your gun”Anonimo
Born in the 1960s taking various elements of the Beat Generation, the hippie movement was mainly made up of American white people between the ages of 15 and 25, who stood up against American post-war conformism. Hippie or hippy is a term that refers to hip, a word taken from the African American slang that has the meaning of conscious, awake. It first appeared in Tad Dorgan’s 1902 cartoon and then in 1904 in George Vere Hobart’s novel “Jim Hickey, A Story of the One-Night Stands” used by an African American character. The first hippies used it with the meaning of one who is “in the know“, who is cool, as opposed to those who are instead square meaning conventional, old-fashioned.
In 1965 the hippies were a socially affirmed and widespread movement not only in North America but also in Europe, Australia, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico. The Beatles were influenced by the movement, as well as many other musical and non-musical bands, which in turn re-influenced America. Through rock, blues, folk and psychedelic music; but also literature, theatre, visual arts, cinema, fashion, the hippie movement propagated its ideas and lifestyles. Hippies attacked middle-class values, institutions, nuclear weapons, the Vietnam War by embracing elements of Eastern spirituality, free sex, vegetarianism, ecology, psychedelic drugs for the expansion of consciousness and community life.
The firs period
The first hippie period, which runs from ’58 to ’66, sees individuals who gather in groups, communities and similar gatherings and organise events, distribute drugs, create “hippie” clothes and spread art, free sex, theatre performances in street, concerts and more. Some of them, nicknamed the Merry Pranksters, take a bus (calling it Furthur) and travel around America filming everything, distributing drugs and hippie culture, creating a precious documentary. In the summer of ’65, the Red Dog Experience was born, which promoted folk and psychedelic rock artists by creating shows where, also thanks to drugs, the separation between musicians and the public tended to disappear. Owsley Stanley produced LSD, a fundamental element in the Red Dog Experience.
On October 6, 1966, the US declares the production, possession and use of LSD illegal. Protests are raging across the country to oppose this law, which has in fact not slowed down its use. Due to some annoyed citizens, a curfew is set up along West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip from 10 pm to limit the traffic generated by these young hippies. Protests are unleashed in which the police intervene and famous people such as Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda participate, ending up arrested. Movies and songs tell the story of these protests.
Summer of love
In 1967 Michael Bowen organised a series of events called Human Be-in at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Characters like Lou Reed, Edie Sedgwick, Scott McKenzie, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin (with the band Big Brother and the Holding Company) participate and McKenzie‘s reinterpretation of the song San Francisco, in which the lyrics say to wear flowers in their hair when you go to San Francisco, it becomes the hit of the moment, so much so that it pushes people from all the US to go to the city bringing flowers and distributing them to everyone (hence the name: Flower Children).
With the arrival of summer, San Francisco is no longer able to host this constant flow of people, who are forced to live on the street, dealing drugs, panhandling, getting addicted to narcotic substances, getting sick and spreading diseases, getting affected by malnutrition, becoming criminals, using violence. The death of the hippie movement is officially declared by The Diggers, and a ritual is performed in which a hippie effigy is buried in the Panhandle park.
Between ’67 and ’69 we witness a second phase, characterised by the birth of hippie brands, not only for clothes but also in music, art, film, literature. This real fashion is embraced by the so-called Baby Boomers generation, born between 1946 and ’64, individuals who had no relationship with the hippies of the first era, who had retired to live in tribal-style communities. It is in this period that the first films about the hippie movement come out, which exploit its success and are full of stereotypes, just think of the musical Hair, which was released in ’67. The first politicized sub-movements were born (while the hippies were apolitical) that organize demonstrations and actions against the government and the military apparatus.
This is how the term, in the US and UK, of the New Left, is coined, to indicate all those movements aimed at obtaining equal rights for homosexuals, women, the disabled, legalising drugs and abortion (to differentiate them from the Marxist movements, mainly interested in questions of social class). In April 1969, the University of Berkeley in California demolished buildings for 11,000 square meters with the idea of building playing fields and parking lots. As the work delayed, a large group of hippies plant flowers in the ground, transforming it into a park. When Reagan orders to destroy it, the park is occupied for two weeks and hippies from all over Berkeley, go to plant flowers in every empty lot of the city, under the slogan of Flower Power.
In August 1969, the event that will be the most famous icon of the hippie movement was organised: Woodstock Music and Art Fair, in Bethel, New York. Half a million people gathered to listen to bands like Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Canned Heat, The Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Nash and Young, Carlos Santana, The Who, Sly and the family stone, Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix. Similar hippie festivals and concerts were organized in other parts of the US and the world, further spreading the hippie culture.
In December of the same year, another concert was organised, The Altamont Free Concert, in California, which was attended by 300,000 people with bands such as The Rolling Stones. Just as they were performing, an eighteen-year-old boy was stabbed to death by security after he pulled out a gun and pointed it at the stage. This event upsets the world and marks the decline of hippie culture.
Last age: 1970 – present
Other events shake up the community, such as the murders committed by Charlie Manson (who pretended to be a hippie) and his family in 1969 and the shooting in 1970 against Jackson State University and Kent State University students who protested against the bombing in Cambodia. In 1973 the American government withdrew the army from Vietnam, marking the first real defeat of the US, under the pressure of anti-war demonstrations made in the US and around the world.
Shortly thereafter, however, due to the bicentennial of the United States, a new patriotic movement takes away strength from the peaceful one of hippie counter-culture. In the UK skinheads attack Flower Children multiple times. The birth of punk and other musical genres, which evolve from Acid rock, such as prog rock, heavy metal, disco slowly take away the importance of the hippie current. Thus, in the late 1970s, many of these survivors embraced the nascent New Age. It cannot be denied that hippies still exist, scattered all over the world, even if the phenomenon is not comparable to that of the golden years.
Characteristics of the hippie counterculture
We have already mentioned many of the ideals of counterculture, but we face them again in more depth.
Unlike the often cynical, negative and cold Beat Generation, the hippie movement aims at the search for individual and collective happiness by any means, unhinging the superstructures and conventions imposed by western society. New meanings of existence are coined and pursued, based on altruism, mysticism, honesty, joy and non-violence.
Art and fashion
Thanks to the use of psychedelic substances, art undergoes a big change in the direction of bright and flashy shapes and colours. An example is the art developed in San Francisco: richly saturated colours in glaring contrast, elaborately ornate lettering, strongly symmetrical composition, collage elements, rubber-like distortions, and bizarre iconography are all distinctive traits of the psychedelic style of San Francisco posters, which immediately become an inspiration for many album covers. Psychedelic light shows during rock concerts, using new techniques and experiments, is another of the techniques that developed in that period, as well as being inspired by primitive and tribal art forms.
The clothes were often the same for men and women (jeans, moccasins, sandals or bare feet), long hair for both sexes; sometimes beard for men. Women without or almost no makeup often wore no bra. The clothing was all very colourful and particular, like the bell-bottom pants, often inspired by different cultures such as the tribal one of the Native Americans, the African, Indian or other areas of the world. The same was true for accessories such as necklaces, bracelets, bandanas and so on, many of which were handmade or from other cultures. Often clothes were produced on their own, using the tie-dyed technique. Even houses, caravans or cars were often decorated with psychedelic themes.
To oppose American Puritanism, hippies dedicated themselves to sexual exploration, favoured by the use of psychedelic substances that helped lose inhibitory brakes. Promiscuity, orgies, homosexuality, group sex, public sex, polyamory and open relationships were widespread. However, heterosexual and monogamous relationships were also present. The sense was to overcome the conventional monogamy that pushed men to marry, have children and live in a rigid box for the rest of their lives. Through free love, this capacity for love expanded to everyone, not just your partner, eliminating all forms of jealousy. There are also those who have explored the spiritual aspect of sex, especially with tantra.
A key feature of the hippie was that he was always on the go. Moving from one place to another gave him the opportunity to always be on the crest of the wave, not to miss an event. Boundaries and customs didn’t exist for them and hippies hosted each other freely. Many had converted caravans, school buses, truck trailers into mobile homes, with which they travelled around the world. They always had a bag with spare clothes, ready to leave for the next adventure. If the place where they were no longer satisfied them, perhaps due to a change in energy or vibrations, they went on the road hitchhiking and moving to the next destination.
Since ’69 many have travelled through what was called the Hippie Trail. It was a kind of pilgrimage to India, all done by land or ship, with little money in your pocket. Somehow they reached Athens, from where they embarked for Istanbul and proceeded by land (bus, train or hitchhiking) through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan to India. Once there, they explored it far and wide but often concentrated in Goa and Kovalam. Some continued on to Kathmandu, Nepal, relaxing in the surroundings of a place called Freak Street (which still exists).
Religions and spirituality
Hippies vehemently rejected institutionalized religions in favour of an individual spirituality based on experience. Buddhism, Hinduism and Sufism were most appreciated for their absence of dogmas and the meditative and experiential imprint at the expense of ritualism. Some embraced neo-paganism, such as Wicca. Others dedicated themselves to occultism, having characters such as Aleister Crowley (icon of many rock bands of the 60-70-80s) as inspiring figures. In the 1960s, interest in Hinduism and yoga peaked, which led to the founding of neo-Hindu schools designed exclusively for Westerners.
According to historian Ronald Creagh, the hippie movement can be defined as the last spectacular attempt of utopian socialism. The main feature of the hippies was that they did not want to reform society through a political revolution, pressing the government to get reforms, but by creating a socialist-based counter-society with more or less libertarian forms, in the midst of conventional society. The peace symbol was created in the UK for the nuclear disarmament campaign and was also adopted in the US in demonstrations against the Vietnam War. Hippies were mainly pacifists and participated in various types of nonviolent political demonstrations.
They also dedicated themselves to spreading the news about the history of Vietnam, refused to join the army and tried in every way to open the eyes to their compatriots on the reality of the facts. Among the things that they perpetrated the back to the land movement, the use of sustainable energy, the cooperative business enterprises, free press and organic farming are noted. Some groups, such as the famous The Diggers of San Francisco, opened free food, drug, clothing stores, gave away money, organized free concerts, and produced politically engaged works of art.
Inspired by the Beat Generation, hippies consumed marijuana, considering it benign and pleasurable. They then expanded their interests to psychedelic drugs such as LSD, Ayahuasca, peyote, mushrooms and DMT, often giving up alcohol use. The sense of using psychedelics was to expand consciousness and cure some psychological pathologies, have spiritual and religious experiences, explore the subconscious. Drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines and heroin, although occasionally used by someone, were scorned and considered dangerous, even by those who used them.
Consequences of the hippie movement
We can still appreciate the consequences of the hippie movement today. If there are unmarried couples who perhaps travel the world and are not harshly criticised by society, it is thanks to the hippie counterculture. The same is true for the goals on women’s rights and equal opportunities, the rights of homosexuals, transgender people and all those realities concerning unconventional sexuality. Religious tolerance has gained a lot of attention. Corporate cooperatives and various forms of community are much more accepted today.
The same applies to attention to the environment, organic and healthy food, organic and biodynamic farming, renewable energies. Even casual and multi-ethnic fashion, outside of conventions, is the prerogative of hippie culture, as well as nudism and the acceptance of nudity in general. We have already seen the legacy left to music. Other curiosities are the horoscope: if we find it today in all magazines and newspapers, TV and websites it is thanks (or because of fault) of the hippies, as well as the game of Frisbee.
The New Age stands as the heir of the hippie counterculture, however giving greater importance to the spiritual aspect. In fact, it is considered as a revival movement of western esotericism, taking up elements of the occultism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially the works of Emanuel Swedenborg and Franz Mesmer and the ideas of Freemasonry, spiritualism, the New Thought and Theosophy. In addition to these many members of the movement have embraced the UFO religion, born in the 1950s, and the Human Potential Movements (HPM) according to which every human being has an extraordinary potential that lies untapped and that can be unlocked through specific exercises and techniques.
From a belief point of view, the New Age embraces that in a holistic God, which permeates the whole universe, including human being. Great importance is given to the Self (a term borrowed from Hinduism) but also to spiritual entities called angels, masters or guides, with whom men can communicate, especially through channelling. The New Age pursues the use of holistic, alternative or complementary medicine, with the idea that western medicine is limited and should collaborate with the holistic and spiritual vision to treat human ailments in a more profound and effective way.
It also supports the vision of the history of humanity divided into ages and that, after a golden age in which spiritual, technological and moral development was at its peak, eras of greater decline followed one another until reaching the maximum one, after which can only be restarted with a new golden age, the age of Aquarius (hence the name New Age).
The historians of religions still actively study this movement without being able to find a definition, since it encompasses a whole quantity of extremely different people, both for beliefs, practices, morals; there are extreme vegans, raw foodists, fruitarians but also omnivores; neo-pagans, occultists, spiritualists but also atheists and scientists; yoga teachers, meditation, holistic therapists but also Wicca practitioners. In short, it is an immense cauldron in which most members do not even define themselves as followers of the New Age. Some even claim that it died years ago.
“The hippie movement is a kind of Dionysiac reaction, but very naive and fruitless. The hippie lifestyle is really a middle-class phenomenon”Jim Morrison
Do they still exist?
An old Italian song said: “The son of a bitch never dies”. The same could be said for hippies. You will always find one or more Flower Children during one of your travels. Always. People with long hair or with dreadlocks (which someone erroneously calls Rasta), tattoos, dressed as in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar or half-naked, who hitchhike with dogs, who ask for money to continue the journey or buy marijuana, who surf with airbrushed boards. Many practice yoga and meditation, are vegetarian or vegan, perform holistic therapies and have open relationships. They walk barefoot, ride bikes without helmets and feel themselves masters of the world. Most go to somewhere in Southeast Asia or India, others to South America, where they can live a life of nabobs with a few money.
Hippie people today
Because this is the hippies today: a bunch of hypocrites. Certainly not all, but most. They dress following a fashion, exactly like many ordinary people. Their clothes are often branded, a hippie brand, but always branded. Dreadlocks are done only for image reasons, none of them embraces the Rastafarian religion. They are vegans because they can look down to others and criticize them, and end up eating in expensive but cool restaurants, where the exact same dish in a normal restaurant costs three times less. They practice alternative medicine but if you show up during the coronavirus pandemic they don’t shake your hand; then they invite you on their motorbike where you have to be in physical contact and you wonder what sense it made not to give your hand.
They believe in conspiracy theories that 5G is the cause of COVID-19 but complain that the internet isn’t working and they can’t wait for the vaccine to come out. They deny western society and then go to live on a tropical island of South East Asia in a cool apartment, smoking marijuana, having free sex (with local people and tourists), getting drunk, surfing, going around naked: that is, exporting all Western stereotypes and transplanting them in Asia, without the slightest respect for local culture. They choose these places for the tropical climate, because the rules are much milder, especially if you have the money to bribe the police, which allows them to behave like they never could in their countries. In fact, they mainly frequent foreigners and not locals. Mind you: how many Indian hippies have you ever known? Or Thais? Or Vietnamese? Or Burmese? Or Indonesians? And how many, instead, Westerners?
Hippies and surf
One element common to many hippies is surfing. It is no coincidence that it explodes in the USA in the 1960s, in conjunction with the hippie counterculture. To date, it is a multi-billion dollar industry in terms of clothes, equipment, tables, etc. Hippies were the first to decorate surfboards in a personalized way, with tribal and psychedelic themes. Hippies and surfing are two closely related elements, even today. Yet surfers, although in the collective imagination have an unquestionable charm, are far from well-liked by the locals, especially when the business becomes exaggerated and does not respect the country’s standards. An example is Portugal, a destination famous for its waves, where the uncontrolled surfing business has led the inhabitants of the Algarve to exasperation, as can be seen in many stickers scattered around the villages and beaches attacked by surfers.
What happened to hippie ideals?
We started this article by broadly discovering the hippie movement and its remarkable importance for contemporary culture. But what happened to all this? What difference is there between the use of drugs in the 60s and 70s and nowadays? What difference is there between being vegetarian now and 60 years ago? Why were hippies revolutionaries and today are they nothing more than parasites in society? How we got there, it would be nice to know. The fact is that times have changed, people have changed.
Hippies took drugs with the intent to expand their consciences, explore the unconscious and have spiritual experiences, today people take drugs out of boredom, as Battiato once said during an interview. He takes drugs to stun and not think. Veganism, vegetarianism and in general any alternative approach to diet was born from a healthy sense of food research in respect of animal life forms, but also and above all linked to the mystical and spiritual experience. Today it has become a fashion by which to feel superior to others. Many vegans do not care about the health and limit themselves to the moral aspect related to violence against animals, eating alternative foods that are often worse than meat or cheeses.
New Age and business
The hippies of yesteryear had the ideal of a shared society without money, in which they were the first to make available what they had to give it to others: today they exploit the business of holism to get rich by acting as gurus, selling yoga as it was a commercial activity like any other, so meditation and all related experiences. An example of these hippies attached to money can be found in my article on my experience in the darkroom. Holism has become the prerogative of the wealthy class, a business just like all the others, in which “who knows how to sell better” wins. Go to Bali and see how much any course or retreat costs!
Alternatives who are not really alternatives
Basically, being a hippie is anything but being alternative. The true nonconformist is not a hippie. These also have clichés to follow, clothes or a look that identify them, prepackaged ideals and a sectarian sense of life, as opposed to the original brotherhood. They mainly frequent each other, locking themselves in their world made of bare feet, tantra, dreadlocks, veganism, all gathering in the usual hostels, in the usual places that they have literally colonised (just see islands like Bali in Indonesia or Koh Phangan in Thailand) exporting their western culture and doing pure business, unscrupulous one. They enter places that are not theirs, perhaps to greet a friend, half-naked and behave as if they were the boss, sitting on the detox bar counter of a detox centre, and then being scolded by the detox manager for their disrespectful behaviour.
They live outside their countries, in others, poorer, where it is easier to break the rules, such as buying and using drugs, driving without a helmet and barefoot, walking around half-naked, not caring if the local culture sees it as a lack of respect ( in many countries of Asia people bathe dressed in modesty…). They misappropriate the philosophies and spiritualities of other countries in a superficial way, pretending to be gurus and teachers of life, looking for proselytes to feed their ego. Philosophies and spirituality that they completely distort, spreading the distorted message to ignorant Westerners who approach the guru in question. They judge you if you are different or if you don’t dress or think like them, if you haven’t seen the documentary on the law of attraction or if you don’t do meditation every day.
I have always loved the hippie counterculture, but I was immediately disappointed when I approached those who pretended to be its followers, starting from my first experiences in Florence, as a teenager (then mid-90s), when the aforementioned hippies were nothing but radical chic losers who went into depression if they didn’t have the daily dose of marijuana and were immediately ready to criticize you if you didn’t think politically like them; reasoning that was nothing but an ignorant delusion of a poor teenager in search of glory.
Not much differently it went when I approached, in adulthood, the heirs of the hippies, those who embraced the New Age and holistic subjects; I soon found myself in the midst of schizophrenics who claimed to have relationships with guide spirits or businessmen (or businesswomen) intent on selling miraculous remedies at exorbitant prices, things that not even my grandmother would take seriously.
Obviously they are not all like that. There are still genuine hippies, who believe in true sharing, who carry on the utopian socialist spirit with determination, without conforming to the clichés of today’s hippies. And above all without judging who is different, indeed, trying to get rich thanks to this diversity. Heartily people, too intent on living the dream to tell (and tell themselves) fairy tales, people with their feet on the ground and their hearts their hands, genuine and intellectually honest, capable of self-criticism. Few have remained and should be preserved as a world heritage site, but these are modest people, who want to stay out of the spotlight and who live apart from the crazy world of holism and New Age. People who look at the essence and not at the surface. This tribute goes to them.
I remind you that it is possible to finance my travels and therefore my articles! Thank you!