The Cultural situationThe culture reflected the society and social development that appeared after the Second World War. The generation who grew up during the sixties was different from the generation who grew up in the fifties. But their interests were also in various things that started in the fifties. Rock n`roll music, the Beat movement and Pop Culture are some of the examples that inspired the youth in the sixties. The loss of respect for the authorities in politics and at the Universities made them very independent. The new social reforms that the government started made them also independent economically.
David Pichaske has an interesting view on the how the sixties generation was brought up by their parents. This shows the mentality in the American culture and social life that excisted in the society before the sixties. He suggests that to understand sixties, you have to understand the fifties. And to understand the fifties you have to understand the forties. The most important thing to grasp about World War 2 is that it was not fundamentally good for America. Even if they did win handily - or perhaps precisely because they won.
When they took an overview and faced the blond goddess Victory, they started to believe in that chain of command, and the organization, and the subordination of man to country, and everybody doing their part cheerfully and obediently. The fathers came home from the war and married their pen-pal sweethearts. They went to college on the GI bill, where they obeyed their teachers the way they had obeyed their drill sergeants. They went to church, arrived at work promptly at 8:00 and generally got on with the kind of democracy they had made the world safe for. They raised their kids on the moral they had learned under the Second World War.
Pichaske wants to explain the remarkable cultural and intellectual vacuity, the social rigidity, the pervasive conservatism of mainstream, postwar American life, and thereby explain both the counterculture that developed far below ground during the fifties and the eruption of the sixties.
John F. Kennedy represented a new political generation that had scarcely known the Depression and had grown up after the war. This generation looked more into the future and less to the past. It was a society that was wealthier than ever before, so he could also concentrate on financing the cultural aspects of society. He was the first President who invited poets and musicians to the White House. The sixties began, not with signs of schism between the world of art and the world of power, but with evidence of reconciliation. This was an important way of showing that culture and art are very important prospects in a society.
The sixties began in the arts as an era of new excitement and rich promises, finding new forms and venues for an idea of art as experiment. Much of this had it`s roots on the underground and minority movements of the Fifties, but it created an atmosphere closer to that of the experimentalism of the Twenties, and recovered many of it`s ideas. The realistic, the formal and the moral aspects of the Fifties` writing were now challenged, as narrow, limiting and repressive. The Sixties insisted on spontaneous and open acts of creation and performance, emphasizing the role of chance, randomness, and pure confession. They emphasized the magic moment of impermanence, the event rather than the assessment. If the Fifties where the framework, the Sixties sought to break out of the frame and emphasize the mysterious multivalence of any act or performance. The Sixties tried to challenge the society directly. Subjectivity was preferred to objectivity and self-creation to consensus. In many ways they looked back to the original achievements of Modernism, and especially to the spirit of Modernism as it had developed in the years after the First World War, when art took on the task of responding to the chaos and disorder of a dark period of history.
All over the country cultural life went through a refreshening as the Sixties started. In poetry the creative energy of the later Fifties continued. The year 1960 was remarkably rich for poetry: radical, experimental. The Beat-generation extended their influence and their range, with important books by Ginsberg, Corso, Burroughs and Snyder.
Especially the works by Allan Ginsberg (Howl), Jack Kerouac (On the Road) and William Burroughs (Naked Lunch) were inspiring sources for the new generation.
Poetry combined with Jazz sessions became very popular all over the country. New theater groups entered the scene and started to explore both the poetic and agit-prop dimensions of the stage with the greatest originality. Off-Broadway went into Off-off-Broadway, when important experimental theater companies were springing up. New music bands also popped up all over the country. They were far more rebellious than the bands before them. Their lyrics changed from innocent singing about love to explicit songs about sex, drugs. They started to raise important questions in their music which concerned the whole society.
The improvement in the social welfare in the rapidly growing industrial society, gave the American people an opportunity to think of other things than just get a job and feed the family. The Sixties generation is called the first spoiled generation. The American`s got really interested in things that happened outside their doorstep. They got really interested in sports, politics and culture in a way that they had not had an opportunity to do before, because of the narrowness in thinking that existed in society. The improved social welfare released big quaries for what we can call Popular Culture (def: A region where goods confront needs more or less transformed into desires, Henri Lefebvre) or consumerism. The triumphant immediacy that the reproductive capacities of contemporary industrial society released - an Elvis Presley record selling a million copies, a film viewed by many millions, a painting reproduced thousands of times - annihilated the ritual space between the previously separate spheres of art and everyday life. The society changed from the healthy and solid urban working class culture to a new commercial mass culture during the Fifties.
The new commercial era also had it`s enemies. The conservative people who didn`t want the society to change and people who thought that commercialism wasn`t the right way to go if the society should improve itself. They meant that the society got more into glamorizing plastic values instead of grasping the problems that existed in the community. The first hippies were maybe the most central group that took this stand, even they didn`t come up with any political alternative to the capitalism.
The hippies had an alternative lifestyle to «the American way of life» which they inherited from the beat-culture. The Beats were in to religion and mystique from the East, poetry and jazz. Drugs played an important role in their lifestyle. They didn`t care about the morals that existed in the middle-class. In the Fifties the Beats were more like a joke, but when the youth in the sixties took the Beats stand, the society had to take them serious. The Hippie culture built upon the beat culture. Allan Ginsberg, one of the most influential beats, became a sort of Guru for the hippies in the Sixties. The Counter culture also got inspiration from the rock bands. Rock music was more a youth culture than a counter culture, but the rock bands were more aggressive than the Beats and they got more enemies than the Beats. People in the streets started to burn «The devils records» and there were riots between cops and young people. But when pop music appeared on the arena at the end of the Fifties, rock music became a victim of commercialism. For the hippies it was mostly the folk music scene that gathered them on the political arena. After a while the criticism of the American society spread and rock music took over as an expression medium for the protest movement and the new lifestyle. The development within the lyrics in the folk music combined with the rougher music inspired by black r/b music that came back via England really turned on the American youth. First it was innocent lyrics about love, and now they started to sing more directly about sex, like The Stones` «Satisfaction» and The Doors` «Light my fire».
In the middle of the Sixties the rock scene started to glorify narcotics. It came from San Francisco, with the psychedelic bands, which was a Mecca for the Counter Culture. In San Francisco the beat-culture melted together with the rock culture in to the hippie culture or the freak culture. In the Sixties there was never more than a small minority that experimented with LSD and other heavier drugs. But the Acid culture had an ideoligic meaning for the youth and strongly affected their attitudes towards getting high. Marihuana got accepted on the same line as alcohol by the american youth and later on partly by some parents.
The Counter culture culminated in 1969, when over 400.000 young people were on their way to Woodstock in New York, a small village far away from the city. Woodstock was a rock festival that lasted for a weekend of bad weather, little food but plenty of Marihuana. All the best rock and folk musicians were there and played. Woodstock got a lot of media coverage, and soon became the symbol for the whole counter culture. The festival gave the 68-generation a so unique identity, that even today many want to identify with it. The society soon started to identify them with «Sex, drugs and rock`n`roll». It was easy to recognize the counterculture in people, because it changed the whole fashion in the Sixties. Boys grew long hair, girls stopped wearing tops and unisex fashion (fashion that both girls and boys wore) became popular. The fashion hang together with the growing of criticism of society. The Counter culture was in itself a politically phenomena. A lot of the political criticism concerned everyday life. Instead of having commercial goods as goal, you can let your hair grow and live an easy and undemanding life. You could have an opportunity to sleep with whom you want, instead of getting married. These were actions and opnions that the authorities found very provokative.