A counterculture, as described by sociologists across the world, consists of a group that does not follow and/or rejects the simplest norms, values, and practices of the larger society and replaces them with their own. Countercultures can be controversial or just plain weird to members of society, but they have individual purposes that gave them significance at that time and even today. In the 1960s, the prominent Hippie Movement arose and sparked interest all over the United States through their rejection of cultural norms and values concerning dress, hairstyle, work, and raising children (Thomas).
“Make love not war,” the hippies emphasized. This saying along with others summarizes the beliefs and motives of the Hippie Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Influencing law, politics, and everyday life, “hippies” did not care what others thought of them in the slightest (The Hippie Movement). They lived happily while supporting political causes that they found best for the happiness and health of the people of our nation. Outside of political thinking, hippies had views of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll that countered the popular cultural influences during the ’60s. No hippie was the same as another, and their individualism contributed to the way they felt “vibes” or energies, and focused on liberty and self-expression (Issitt). Flowers, peace signs, bright colors, tie-dye, ripped jeans, and long hair and facial hair for men became the perceptible fashion for hippies as they wandered outside of the social norm (The Hippie Movement).
Culture began to change in America during the post-World War II era, and once the Vietnam War began, hippies spoke out and became famous through their peaceful protests to bring the troops home. Historians pinpoint their locations of origin as mainly the Haight-Ashbury part of San Francisco, California, and the East Village of New York City (The Hippie Movement). Eventually the hippies gathered in small villages or areas of their own, and in 1965, the first hippie commune was established in the outskirts of Trinidad, Colorado entitled “Drop City” (Issitt). Among the first hippies, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters in California and Oregon contributed to the counterculture, taking long road trips in colorful school buses, growing their hair long, wearing bizarre fashions, and taking the drug LSD, which was legal at this time (Cogswell). Smoking marijuana was also an important part of hippie culture, for they sought a life free of stress. Because of the youthful age of the hippies during their derivation, parents feared that their children would want to drop out of school and join the movement, desiring to take their own path of self-discovery (The Hippie Movement).
The hippies reached their peak in historical significance during the summer of 1967, which history refers to as the “Summer of Love.” During this summer in San Francisco and numerous other cities across America, Canada, and Europe, hundreds of thousands of hippies gathered to express their value of free love. Here, their well-known nickname of the “flower children” surfaced. In 1969, the Woodstock Festival in New York marked another milestone for hippies, where they embraced music and peace. Jimi Hendrix’s distinguished performance of the Star-Spangled Banner at this festival signified the political aspirations of the Hippie Movement: to reconsider general society and its impact on the people (Cogswell). Coverage of these events by the press led to a growth in the movement, but not for long. After the exultant time for hippies of the ’60s, and after the Vietnam War concluded, their counterculture slowly declined due to crime, drug addiction, and maturing (Perera). The Hippie Movement’s ideology did not completely diminish because of the middle school and high school students during the ’60s, who in the ’70s and later decades continued aspects of hippie culture (Issitt). Elements of the Hippie Movement do still appear today in the 2000s, however, they are just not as controversial or odd as they were during their time of emergence.
Developing a sociological perspective allows one to view the behavior of groups in a systematic way, and a sociological imagination gives one the ability to see the connection between the larger world and personal lives (Thomas). The hippie counterculture caught the eye of people all over the country as their cause spread, and soon enough philosophers, writers, musicians, activists, politicians, and the nation’s youth gathered inspiration from them. Hippies nearly invented the political stance of liberal, socially supporting a sexual revolution and feminism. During the decades of the counterculture, immense social conflict occurred within the United States; although political activism was not the main focus of the hippies, they brought attention to the wrongs of some conflicts, such as the Vietnam War, the civil rights struggle, the Cold War, and the nuclear disarmament movement. They also stood against government laws that banned recreational drugs. The peace symbol, which many Americans know and love today, made its first appearance during the hippie era to symbolize nonviolence. Overall, the Hippie Movement impacted the entire world in the way that it strived for things uncommon in the American culture at the time, causing America to increase its introduction of international culture (Issitt).
Ethnocentrism, or the tendency to view one’s own culture as superior to all other cultures, definitely surfaced during the decades of the Hippie Movement (Thomas). Americans, especially those who were most patriotic, looked at hippies as inferior, weirdos, and a definite counterculture. Hippies celebrated any activity that brings pleasure, such as drugs, music, and sex, and the larger society viewed this aspect of their movement as provocative. The liberal hippies were living inside of a larger culture that they felt was dominated by conservative values and materialism. During the ’60s, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement angered some members of society, and the way in which hippies supported individual rights and freedoms arose similar feelings. Focusing on a pleasant society and cooperation as the peaceful pursuit of one’s happiness, hippies were viewed as chaotic. The group is specifically depicted as a counterculture because of their emphasis on changes in major cultural stereotypes. Sex, for example, was looked at as a form of self-expression, passion, and love rather than something that should remain within marriages, a norm of this time period. Additionally, few Americans had concern for the environment in the early ’60s, so the hippies’ environmentalism shed new light on a rising movement (Issitt). The hippies did not possess ethnocentrism as Americans did, for they viewed everyone as equal.
Cultural relativism defines as the belief that cultures should be judged by their own standards (Thomas). Average Americans completely judged and criticized the hippies, looking at their movement as indiscriminate, unhygienic, and irresponsible. In a society where equality for women was not generally accepted, the hippie women leaving their homes to join the movement brought them the risk of severe judgement of others. Americans must have understood that the hippies acted the way that they did for a reason; they desired to express themselves and to rid their lives of negative energy. Sociologists refer to the behavior of the hippies as deviant behavior, which means they surely act opposite of the norm (Issitt). They did so because of their desire to alternate the demanding, negative aspects of American society.
The Hippie Movement, although controversial at that time, appeals to me in the way that hippies supported peace and individualism, as do I. Apart from the drugs and crime, I admire the outlook on life in which the hippies braced; they sought stress-free lives where negativity is marginalized. They mainly focused on love, and I believe everyone should incorporate aspects of hippie ideology into their lives. They envisioned a world of cooperation and sharing where everyone spreads love to one another, and their pure love for the world inspires me to do the same. Their spirituality was the opposite of self-centered, which a majority of Americans had at the time and still do. Hippies were the ultimate model for the term “counterculture,” as a majority of sociologists would agree, and their movement overall served significantly to the world and sociology all together.
Cogswell, Ned. “The History of the Hippie Cultural Movement.” 16 November 2016. Culture Trip. Web. 7 March 2017.
Issitt, Micah L. Hippies: A Guide to and American Subculture. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press, 2009. Text.
Perera, Thivanka . “Why the Hippie Movement Declined .” 29 September 2016. Culture Trip. Web. 7 March 2017.
The Hippie Movement. n.d. Web. 2 March 2017.
Thomas, W. LaVerne. Sociology. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston , 2003. Text.
Analyzing 1920s Counterculture: Flappers
American culture has undergone great change throughout its history, specifically through challenges brought about by countercultures to the traditional values of the larger society. By definition, a counterculture is a group that rejects the major values, norms, and practices of the larger society, replacing them with a new set of cultural patterns (Thomas). During the 1920’s, Americans saw the rise of one particular counterculture that would challenge the traditional values of women in a significantly modest society. Flappers, they were nicknamed, consisted of northern, urban, middle-class women who defied the traditional Victorian gender roles of the era wherein women were expected to act and behave in a modest, conservative way. The once feminine ideal of staying at home and out of the workforce would drastically change socially and politically as Flappers began a life of smoking, drinking, dancing, and voting. They defied traditionalist values by cutting their hair, wearing makeup, and taking risks (Rosenberg). In an attempt to liberate themselves and eliminate social double standards, the Flappers created a new role for women in society to play.
With World War I underway, young men were being sent off to fight for the ideals and mistakes of the older generation, while young women took over their jobs and entered the workforce (Rosenberg). During the war, nearly an entire generation of young men had died, leaving nearly an entire generation of young women who became significantly independent and steered away from the conventional marriage norms of finding a sufficient suitor and starting a family (Rosenberg). The return home from the war proved that settling back into normalcy would be difficult for the young men AND women after each had already broken out of the structure of society (Rosenberg). These liberated young women had emerged from the aftermath of World War I and jumped right into the Jazz Age and an era of Prohibition. They adopted their carefree attitudes specifically in this era of alcohol, jazz music, dancing, and, of course, rebellion. The Jazz Age inspired a change in style and dress that ultimately became the scandalous Flapper look, diverging greatly from the traditional style and dress of early American women. A key contributor to the Flapper culture was Cara Bow, the single most famous Flapper of the era, starring in films and inspiring the younger generations to adopt the carefree manner and style of the new women’s era. Perhaps the most significant historical event that encouraged Flappers to promote their cause of eliminating social double standards was the passing of the 19th Amendment, which ended women’s suffrage and gave women the right to vote (Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia).
In order to develop a better understanding of the mentality of the Flappers, it is important to view the behavior of the group in a systematic way, or through a sociological perspective (Thomas 4). Specifically through the interactionist perspective, Max Weber asserts that individuals act according to their interpretations of the meaning of their world through symbolic interaction (Thomas 17). And then, using sociological imaginations, those individuals have the ability to see the connection between the larger world and their personal lives (Thomas 5). During World War I, young women began interpreting the world slightly different from before. Flappers basically realized that life was too short to live a confined life and wait for a husband who might never come home; flappers felt rightfully entitled to make their own decisions regarding how to live their lives (Celania). Serving as a symbol of freedom, the invention of the automobile is an example of how Flappers were given the liberation to go and do anything they pleased (Rosenberg). However, automobiles were not only used for travel and escape, and the flapper was less hesitant to experiment sexually than previous generations. Flappers began to realize that the larger world was holding them back, so they rebelled and brought attention to themselves which helped bring about major cultural change. America underwent major cultural changes because of the Flappers attitudes and completely redefined the role of women in society at large.
In addition to their defiance of traditionalist values, Flappers also adopted a new sexual frankness that widened the eyes of the older generation. Many older generation traditionalists were the ones who developed ethnocentric views towards the shocking erotic and sexually alluring behavior of the Flappers (Kennedy and Cohen, Lizabeth). By definition, ethnocentrism is the tendency to view one’s own culture and group as superior to all other cultures and groups (Thomas 35). The older generations considered themselves guardians of respectability and morality, thus they looked negatively on and were baffled by the dress and antics of the Flappers (Kennedy and Cohen, Lizabeth 710). In fact, traditional moralists were offended by their actions and attitudes. Their feelings of ethnocentrism came from the idea that a single kiss had once been the equivalent of a marriage proposal, and now Flappers were flaunting and exploiting their bodies like never before (Kennedy and Cohen, Lizabeth 709). Stuffy traditionalists continued to defend the modest and conventional way of life that they believed women were supposed to lead. For example, the Flappers began sporting the one piece bathing suit on beaches during the summers; however, they were disrupted in their leisure and measured from the knee up to ensure that not too much leg was showing (Kennedy and Cohen, Lizabeth 710). Out of pure rebellion against stuffy moralists, flappers adopted the short hair style, leaving the long, curly, traditional locks on the floors of barber shops everywhere (Celania).
Just as women do today, women of the 1920’s felt confined to act and behave a certain way. Their freedoms to express themselves had been diminished all of their lives by a traditional upbringing. Cultural relativism is the belief that cultures should be judged by their own standards, and not by the standards of others (Thomas 36). Through cultural relativism, the larger society can understand why flappers behaved in the manner in which they did. Sigmund Freud claims that the libido was one of the most natural of human needs that allowed Flappers to explore and experiment sexually (Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia). He believed that a variety of nervous and emotional ills came directly as a result of sexual repression, concluding that Flappers were not acting out of the norm for mere pleasure alone, but for health reasons as well. (Kennedy and Cohen, Lizabeth 708). By the Flappers standards, they had been denied sexual gratification and liberation all their lives. Once they received that small taste of individualism and excitement that came with the aftermath of World War I, these women could not undo themselves and decided to completely defy gender norms, thus creating the undeniably flamboyant Flapper culture.
Although I am not a hardcore feminist, I definitely agree with the Flapper philosophy of expressing individualism and putting an end to social double standards. Women deserve to express themselves, not only at home, but in the workforce as well. Flappers did not necessarily protest or actively participate in women’s movements that gave rise to important milestones; however, the Flapper was a symbol of empowerment and liberation that changed the course of a woman’s role in America. In fact, I might not have the freedoms I do today if flappers had decided to remain silent and stick to the status quo. I greatly admire them taking the first steps to break out of the mold that women had been shaped into. As a person who buries herself in schoolwork, I especially admire the carefree and fun attitude of the Flapper and I like to think of their motto as living life to the fullest which definitely makes life more exciting if followed as the flappers had. I also agree that repression causes rebellion, and, in this way, the Flapper had a right to experiment and find a life for herself, according to her own standards. Although women still have a long way to go, the Flapper culture most definitely inspired generations of women to come out of the wood work and express themselves as empowering individuals.
Celania, Miss. “The Society Pages.” 25 March 2013. The Rise of the Flapper. Web. 11 March 2017.
Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia. U.S. History – Precolumbian to the New Millenium. 2016. Web. 11 March 2017.
Kennedy, David M. and Cohen, Lizabeth. “The American Pageant.” Boston: Cengage Learning, 2016. 708. Textbook.
Rosenberg, Jennifer. “thoughtco.” 2 February 2017. Flappers in the Roaring Twenties. Web. 11 March 2017.
Thomas, W. LaVerne. “Sociology- The Study of Human Relationships.” Austin: Holt, Rinehart,
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