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Sixties counterculture

This page is about sixties counterculture (a term popularized by Theodore Roszak in his The Making of a Counter Culture (1969). For a history of counterculture through the ages please click here.

Related: black pride - civil rights - cool - free love - gay pride - groovy - hippy - May 1968 (Paris) - lifestyle - Marxism - provo - sexual revolution - Woodstock - youth culture

People: Robert Crumb - Allen Ginsberg - Jim Haynes - Ken Kesey

East Village Other. Vol.2, no.10, 1967
image sourced here.

Sixties USA

The term "counterculture" is perhaps most commonly used in reference to the youth rebellion that swept North America and Western Europe in the 1960s. This movement was a reaction against the conservative social mores of the 1950s, the political conservativism of the Cold War period, and the threat to male American youth from the Vietnam War draft.

The 1960s youth rebellion largely originated on college campuses, as new theories about culture and personal identity began to spread rapidly in the student environment. The youth culture turned abruptly away from the sense of social responsibility embodied in the American Civil Rights Movement and the protests against the Vietnam War, and pursued instead a lifestyle of personal gratification and "exploring inner space." Instead of campus political activity (of which the University of California at Berkeley was one leading center), there was the youth cultural rebellion that centered in nearby San Francisco in the Haight-Ashbury district.

The most radical social element of this counterculture were the hippies, whose sexual revolution challenged conventional notions of sexual behavior, who engaged in recreational drug use (particularly LSD and marijuana), and who challenged social norms in the areas of religion, music, art, living arrangements, clothing and even hygiene. This aspect of the movement rejected the mainstream and, following the dictate of Timothy Leary to "tune in, turn on and drop out", attempted to change society by dropping out of it.

As members of the hippie movement grew older and moderated their views, the 1960s counterculture was absorbed by the mainstream. It had a lasting impact on morality, lifestyle and fashion. The New Age religious movement also has certain roots in the 1960s counterculture. More broadly, the 1960s counterculture's advocacy of hedonism spread throughout the society, and could be seen especially in areas such as the economic policy of the 1990s, where all long-term planning was de-emphasized in favor of "instant gratification" through stock market speculation. Counterculture icon Jerry Rubin went from being a hippy anarchist to being a yuppie stock broker. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counterculture [Oct 2004]

Other Western countries

The influence of American culture and politics in Western Europe, Japan and Australia was already so great by the early 1960s that most of the trends described above soon spawned counterparts in most Western countries. University students rioted in London, Paris, Berlin and Rome, huge crowds protested against the Vietnam War in Australia and New Zealand (both of which had committed troops to the war), and politicians such as Harold Wilson and Pierre Trudeau modelled themselves on John F. Kennedy.

An important difference between the United States and Western Europe, however, was the existence of a mass socialist and/or Communist movement in most European countries (particularly France and Italy), with which the student-based new left was able to forge a connection. The most spectacular manifestation of this was the May 1968 student revolt in Paris, which linked up with a general strike called by the Communist-controlled trade unions and for a few days seemed capable of overthrowing the government of Charles de Gaulle. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sixties [2004]

List of countercultural films

* Dog Star Man (1961-64) * The Misfits (1961) * Flaming Creatures (1963) * Scorpio Rising (1963) * Dr. Strangelove (1964) * Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) * The War Game (1965) * Chappaqua (1966) * Chelsea Girls (1966) * Hallucination Generation (1966) * The Wild Angels (1966) * You're a Big Boy Now (1966) * The Graduate (1967) * How I Won the War (1967) * I Am Curious... (1967) * Magical Mystery Tour (1967) * The Trip (1967) * Week End (1967) * Alice in Acidland (1968) * Barbarella (1968) * Faces (1968) * Flesh (1968) * Head (movie) (1968) * I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1968) * If... (1968) * Maryjane (1968) * Psych-Out (1968) * Revolution (1968) * Skidoo (1968) * Three in the Attic (1968) * Wild in the Streets (1968) * Yellow Submarine (1968) * Alice's Restaurant (1969) * Easy Rider (1969) * The Magic Christian (1969) * Medium Cool (1969) * More (1969) * Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) * El Topo (1970) * Getting Straight (1970) * M*A*S*H (1970) * Performance (1970) * Punishment Park (1970) * The Revolutionary (1970) * The Strawberry Statement (1970) * THX 1138 (1970) * Woodstock (1970) * Zabriskie Point (1970) * A Clockwork Orange (1971) * A Safe Place (1971) * Billy Jack (1971) * Gas-s-s-s (1971) * Harold and Maude (1971) * Shaft (1971) * The Last Movie (1971) * Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) * Vanishing Point (1971) * W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) * Cisco Pike (1972) * F.T.A. (1972) * Pink Flamingos (1972) * The Final Comedown (1972) * Fritz the Cat (1972) * Last Tango in Paris (1972) * Silent Running (1972) * Electra Glide in Blue (1973) * Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) * The Final Programme (1973) * Godspell (1973) * The Harrad Experiment (1973) * The Holy Mountain (1973) * Serpico (1973) * Themroc (1973) * Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) * Steppenwolf (1974) * Dirty Duck (1974) * The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1974) * The Trial of Billy Jack (1974) * A Woman Under the Influence (1974) * Zardoz (1974) * Dog Day Afternoon (1975) * That's the Way of the World (1975) * All's Fair (1976) * Helter Skelter (1976) * The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) * Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1976) * Opening Night (1977) * Coming Home (1978) * The Deer Hunter (1978) * The Last Waltz (1978) * Up in Smoke (1978) * Apocalypse Now (1979) * The China Syndrome (1979) * Fast Break (1979) * Hair (1979) * More American Graffiti (1979) * Over the Edge (1979) --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_counterculture_films [Jul 2006]

Counterculture cinema

by Jeffrey Hoberman

From the onset, the counterculture was a powerful force in the marketplace. Beginning with independent rock documentaries (Don't Look Back, You Are What You Eat, Monterey Pop), post-Blow Up evocations of "swinging" London, and appropriately, as we will see-American International drive-in flicks (The Trip, Wild in the Streets, Psych-Out), youth oriented films flooded the market. Within two years, The Graduate had been followed by I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, Three in the Attic, Skidoo, Last Summer, Easy Rider, Chastity, Alice's Restaurant Hail, Hero, and countless others. Mainstream releases (Chappaqua, 2001, Head, Yellow Submarine, Midnight Cowboy, Medium Cool) assimilated the techniques and themes of avant-garde films, while quasi-underground comedies like Brian De Palma's Greetings and Robert Downey's Putney Swope were considerable commercial hits. Among the counterculture intelligentsia, the fragmented pop-political meditations of Jean-Luc Godard reached the acme of their prestige. Meanwhile, everinventive Hollywood was experimenting with suburban wife-swapping sitcoms, homosexual comedies of manners, and even an elaborate biopic of Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara.--Midnight Movies (1983) - Jeffrey Hoberman

Perhaps in response to the combination of porn sleaze and counterculture commercialism (not to mention the escalating social chaos of American life), the film avant-garde retreated from the populism of the early and mid-sixties into a rigorous involvement with issues of film form. Between 1966 and 1971, many of the most vital and innovative works of the New American Cinema-such socalled "structural" films as Tony Conrad's The Flicker, Michael Snow's Wavelength, Ken Jacobs's Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son, as well as those of younger men like Paul Sharits and Ernie Gehr-were austere explorations of film's specific qualities as a medium, closer to art-world minimalism than underground movies. Warhol aside, there were two other major avant-gardists who were temperamentally suited to address the new hippie subculture. However, Stan Brakhage's intensely subjective, visionary home movies proved too demanding for the youth audience, while Kenneth Anger was unable to finish Lucifer Rising, his occult ode to the Age of Aquarius, when his original footage was stolen in San Francisco by Bobby Beausoleil (a future associate of Charles Manson). --Midnight Movies (1983) - Jeffrey Hoberman

The counterculture cash-in peaked in 1970: Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point, Jean-Luc Godard's Sympathy for the Devil, and Nicholas Roeg's Performance raised the youth film to new heights of artistic pretension: The Strawberry Statement and a halfdozen other visions of campus revolt escaped from Hollywood; Woodstock and Gimme Shelter established the opposite poles of the ecstatic rock documentary; Federico Fellini's Satyricon displaced the counterculture to the pre-Christian era and remade Flaming Creatures in Roman drag; Michael Sarne's Myra Breckinride repackaged "camp" for the American heartland; exploitation films took on the perverse topicality of Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and John Avildsen's Joe; Paul Morrissey's Trash apotheosized the underground comedy. Still, the "Movement" which had first captured national media attention during San Francisco's 1967 "summer of love" was already in retreat as its momentum halted by the bullets of Ohio National Guardsmen at Kent State in the spring of l970. In its waning days, however, the counterculture was to seize upon an obscurely mystical and grotesquely violent film by a peripatetic forty-one-year-old Latin American avantgardist and, in so doing, invent the ritual of the midnight movie.--Midnight Movies (1983) - Jeffrey Hoberman

In December 1970, Jonas Mekas was organizing one of his periodic festivals of avant-garde films at the Elgin, a rundown six hundred seat theater, not unlike the Charles, on Eighth Avenue just north of Greenwich Village. Although the program was laden with major avant-garde figures, the most widely attended screenings were those on the three nights devoted to the films of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The Elgin management took advantage of the hippie crowds to announce an added feature-Alexandro Jodorowsky's El Topo to be shown at midnight because, as the first ad announced, it was "a film too heavy to be shown any other way." --Midnight Movies (1983) - Jeffrey Hoberman

Sixties films

However, the exploitation of this fascination as an oppositional cultural strategy was not unique to postmodernism. The anti-disciplinary politics of the sixties counterculture was also based on deploying captivating popular culture themes in its language of protest. As already noted, the figure of the 'outlaw', borrowed from Hollywood film, became the conscious archetype for the anti-authoritarian revolutionary both parodied and revered by groups like the Diggers or the Weather Underground. -- Julie Stephens [...]

Media activism

Counterculture: Alternative Information from the Underground Press to the Internet is a comprehensive historical exhibition that examines the role of the alternative media in fostering social, cultural, and political change in America from 1965 to the present. The independent and underground press had its flowering in the United States during the 1960s and can be seen as a component of the "alternative" space movement. As such, Counterculture explores the function of alternative media as a site, a public space within popular culture that facilitates the formation of social groups through collective cultural practices. Counterculture not only documents these counter practices but also chronicles censorship battles and other conflicts over the control of information. Over 2,000 newspapers, magazines, 'zines, and new digital publications, covering thirty years of media activism, will be included in Counterculture. These publications feature an innovative approach to graphic design, technology, journalistic prose, and cultural politics.

Counterculture begins with the rise of the underground press in the mid-1960s. Cheap offset printing allowed for the production of elaborately designed tabloid newspapers ranging from the psychedelic Oracle to the movement-oriented Black Panther Party Paper. The exhibition also traces the Yippies attempts at media intervention and the efforts of the FBI's COINTELPRO program to harass, censor, and even confiscate underground papers. Fueled by the youth movement and its outspoken opposition to authority, official information, and the War, as well as its advocacy of sex, rock, and drugs, the underground ushered in a new era in American culture.

A second generation emerged in the years 1975-85 with different issues and ideas. In the wake of Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War, Americans began to accept alternative views on the environment, women's rights, and gay and lesbian issues. These new concerns are reflected in such pragmatic publications as the Whole Earth Catalog and Our Bodies, Our Selves. The punk subculture, though centered on alternative music, also had a strong influence on alternative media in the 1970s. In particular, the proliferation of self-published 'zines like Maximumrocknroll, Punk and Murder Can Be Fun satirized the first generation of underground. This period also coincided with the rise of the "alternative" art gallery which presented new art forms by artists whose work resisted the art market. As part of the "alternative" space movement, publications such as Franklin Furnace's newsletter The Flue informed and proliferated ideas about independent art practices. This section offers a surprising mix of anarchist political views, alienation, and cut-and-paste graphics.

In the past decade, battles over freedom of expression and access to new media have characterized the "culture wars," AIDS activism, and the new computer technologies of the Internet. and the World Wide Web . Counterculture looks at the relationship of artists publications like The Fox to the explosion of alternative art spaces during 1980s, the use of public posters and actions by gay and lesbian activists (such as Gran Fury and ACT UP), and challenges to definitions of information, privacy, and property in cyberspace.

Counterculture will present the legacy of cultural revolutions and perpetuate the climate which encourages citizen-based information.

Brian Wallis, the curator of the exhibition, is a cultural critic, writer, and independent curator. He is the editor of Art After Modernism and the coeditor of Constructing Masculinity. During the 1980s, he published the radical arts journal Wedge. --http://users.rcn.com/exitart/exhibit/95-96/counterculture.html


  1. Woodstock - 3 Days of Peace & Music (The Director's Cut) (1970) - Michael Wadleigh [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    The three-day Woodstock music festival in 1969 was the pivotal event of the 1960s peace movement, and this landmark concert film is the definitive record of that milestone of rock & roll history. It's more than a chronicle of the hippie movement, however; this is a film of genuine historical and social importance, capturing the spirit of America in transition, when the Vietnam War was at its peak and antiwar protest was fully expressed through the liberating music of the time. With a brilliant crew at his disposal (including a young editor named Martin Scorsese), director Michael Wadleigh worked with over 300 hours of footage to create his original 225-minute director's cut, which was cut by 40 minutes for the film's release in 1970. Eight previously edited segments were restored in 1994, and the original director's cut of Woodstock is now the version most commonly available on videotape and DVD.

    The film deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, and it's still a stunning achievement. Abundant footage taken among the massive crowd ("half a million strong") expresses the human heart of the event, from skinny-dipping hippies to accidental overdoses, to unpredictable weather, midconcert childbirth, and the thoughtful (or just plain rambling) reflections of the festive participants. Then, of course, there is the music--a nonstop parade of rock & roll from the greatest performers of the period, including Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Canned Heat, The Who, Richie Havens, Joan Baez, Ten Years After, Sly & The Family Stone, Santana, and many more. Watching this ambitious film, as the saying goes, is the next best thing to being there--it's a time-travel journey to that once-in-a-lifetime event. --Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com


  1. Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960's and 70's - Peter Braunstein [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    This deep and detailed work examines the many elements of the American counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. Its underlying theme is the rejection by mainly young but also older people of prevailing political, social, and cultural norms through experimentation with drugs, sex, music, and identity to construct alternative ways of life. The 14 essays, written by academics and journalists, are arranged into sections covering cultural politics, racial and sexual identity, the media and popular culture, the deconditioning of the human mind through drugs and feminist consciousness-raising, and alternative visions of society based on technology and communal living. Each section opens with a brief essay covering the major themes appearing in its chapters. Editors Braunstein and Doyle, who are both journalists, open the work with an excellent essay critical of both romantic and conservative views of the 1960s and stressing the need for strict historical analysis for a better understanding of the period. Particularly good essays include David Farber's study of drug use and David E. James's chapter on film. This is not an easy read, but it marks a major reexamination of the period. --amazon.com Peter Braunstein

  2. Albert Goldman - Freakshow: Misadventures In The Counterculture, 1959-1971 [Amazon.com]
    This collection includes over a decade's worth of Albert Goldman's critical writings, and reads like a travel guide to a modern Inferno. Albert Goldman was the author of controversial music biographies, and this book includes his essays on Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley and many more. Albert Goldman is also the author of the 1978 book on disco music. -- [...]

  3. Catch-22 (1961) - Joseph L. Heller [Amazon.com]
    There was a time when reading Joseph Heller's classic satire on the murderous insanity of war was nothing less than a rite of passage. Echoes of Yossarian, the wise-ass bombardier who was too smart to die but not smart enough to find a way out of his predicament, could be heard throughout the counterculture. As a result, it's impossible not to consider Catch-22 to be something of a period piece. But 40 years on, the novel's undiminished strength is its looking-glass logic. Again and again, Heller's characters demonstrate that what is commonly held to be good, is bad; what is sensible, is nonsense.

The Movement and The Sixties - Terry Anderson

The Making of a Counter Culture (1969) Theodore Roszak

The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition (1969) Theodore Roszak [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

When it was published twenty-five years ago, this book captured a huge audience of Vietnam War protesters, dropouts, and rebelsand their baffled elders. Theodore Roszak found common ground between 1960s student radicals and hippie dropouts in their mutual rejection of what he calls the technocracythe regime of corporate and technological expertise that dominates industrial society. He traces the intellectual underpinnings of the two groups in the writings of Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown, Allen Ginsberg and Paul Goodman. In a new introduction, Roszak reflects on the evolution of counter culture since he coined the term in the sixties. Alan Watts wrote of The Making of a Counter Culture in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1969, "If you want to know what is happening among your intelligent and mysteriously rebellious children, this is the book. The generation gap, the student uproar, the New Left, the beats and hippies, the psychedelic movement, rock music, the revival of occultism and mysticism, the protest against our involvement in Vietnam, and the seemingly odd reluctance of the young to buy the affluent technological societyall these matters are here discussed, with sympathy and constructive criticism, by a most articulate, wise, and humane historian." --Product Description via Amazon.com

Return of the Secaucus 7 (1980) - John Sayles

  1. Return of the Secaucus 7 (1980) - John Sayles [Amazon.com]
    John Sayles began his commendable directing career with this terrific portrait of 1960s counterculture survivors, now teetering on the brink of turning 30. A homegrown movie all the way, Return of the Secaucus Seven was made for around $60,000 of Sayles's own money (earned writing horror pictures such as Piranha). An effortlessly funny and thoughtful ensemble piece, Secaucus unmistakably provided the template for the bigger-budgeted The Big Chill: old friends reunite for a weekend to sort through fond memories, old resentments, and new problems. Sayles, longtime producing partner Maggi Renzi, and then-unknown David Strathairn are among the actors. The marvelous back-and-forth patter of the characters and the sprightly pacing show Sayles already had a sure sense of what he wanted on screen, and his mastery of the running gag is in place (the name Dwight won't ever sound quite the same again). This is the definition of "low-budget classic," from an indie pioneer. --Robert Horton, amazon.com

    Nation of Rebels : Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture (2004) - Joseph Heath, Andrew Potter

    Nation of Rebels : Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture (2004) - Joseph Heath, Andrew Potter [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    The Rebel Sell: Why the culture can't be jammed is the name of a popular non-fiction book written by Canadian authors Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter in 2004. The claim of the book is that counter-cultural movements have failed, and that they all share a common fatal error in the way they understand society. Thus counter-culture is not a threat to "the system". (The U.S. release of the book is called Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture) --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rebel_Sell [Mar 2006]

    Culture jamming
    Culture jamming is the act of transforming existing mass media to produce negative commentary about itself, using the original medium's communication method. It is a form of public activism which is generally in opposition to commercialism, and the vectors of corporate image. The aim of culture jamming is to create a contrast between corporate image and the realities of the corporation. This is done symbolically, with the "detournement" of pop iconography.

    It is based on the idea that advertising is little more than propaganda for established interests, and that there is a lack of an available means for alternative expression in industrialized nations. Culture jamming is a resistance movement to the perceived hegemony of popular culture, based on the ideas of "guerrilla communication".

    Culture jamming's intent differs from that of artistic appropriation (which is done for art's sake) and vandalism (where destruction or defacement is the primary goal), although its results are not always so easily distinguishable. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_jamming [Mar 2006]

    See also: rebellion - consumerism - counterculture

    More swinging sixties films

    1. I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1968) - Hy Averback [Amazon US]
      Poor Harold Fine (Peter Sellers)... he's a suit-and-tie-wearing Jewish professional who's being pressed by his fiancée (Joyce Van Patten, in a supremely whiny and irritating performance) to nail down a wedding date. Harold's bored and dissatisfied with his life, though; when he meets Nancy (Leigh Taylor-Young), a hippie-chick friend of his brother's, he decides to tune in, turn on, and drop out, in a big way. He flees the altar, leaving Joyce standing alone, and pursues the counterculture life. Soon, though, Harold discovers that the hippie life isn't all it's cracked up to be, with its hipper-than-thou hypocrisy adding up to little more than a different brand of conformity. Screenwriter Paul Mazursky skewers the shallowness of the '60s with dead-on humor and some hilarious set pieces; the scene where Harold and his straitlaced parents eat some of Nancy's "funny" brownies is especially memorable. Sellers's comic timing and physical awkwardness, paired with Mazursky's dialogue, makes this one of the better '60s-time-capsule flicks. --Jerry Renshaw

    2. Psych-Out / The Trip (1968/1967) - Richard Rush/Roger Corman [Amazon US]
      The "best" trip movie is also the best known: Roger Corman's classic The Trip. Written by Jack Nicholson and starring Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, and Dennis Hopper (acidheads all), The Trip chronicled the adventures of a young director of TV commercials who, feeling that his life has no meaning, takes a hefty dose of LSD and spends the rest of the film hallucinating his brain away. Corman, to better understand the subject, actually took acid before making the film. Along with 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Trip became required viewing for anyone into LSD. -- Jim Morton

    3. Petulia (1968) - Richard Lester [Amazon US]
      This Richard Lester film will tell you more about how confusing the '60s were than any hackneyed NBC miniseries ever could. In this fragmented love story, told in a nonlinear fashion that bounces back and forth in time, George C. Scott plays a newly divorced surgeon who meets a charming if scattered young woman, Petulia (Julie Christie). He falls into an affair with her, only to discover that she is married to a seemingly normal guy (Richard Chamberlain)--who also happens to be extremely abusive. But his efforts to extricate her from the marriage, set against the flower-power scene in San Francisco, only frustrate him with her indecisiveness. The film features performances by the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company, and captures a sense of the confusion caused by the youthquake that swept the nation. --Marshall Fine for amazon.com

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