Would you have been a hippie?

22 02 2010

The Cast of "Hair"

I saw “Hair” on Broadway this past weekend with my parents.  The music was great– “Age of Aquarius” is one of my favorite songs, and it was cool to see it dramatized live.  The play itself was ok.  It isn’t really story-driven so much as it is a snapshot of the extreme hippie culture of the late 60s.  Two minutes into the play, the main character had taken his pants off and was teabagging (aka dipping his balls onto the head of) one of the lucky front-row audience members.  The entire cast was pretty much making out and humping each other throughout the play, and just before intermission they dropped all their clothes on stage and faced the audience, buck naked.

There was plenty of pot smoking, of course, and plenty of hippie lingo.  The white cast members had long, wild hair, and the black actors had afros.  They all hopped around like mental patients, slapping the ground and licking each other and shouting unintelligible exclamations about freedom and love.  One of them gets drafted for Vietnam, and they all stage a “love-in,” where they dance around in technicolor outfits and burn their draft cards.

Now, I’ve seen the “hippie” thing dramatized before.  I saw Dazed and Confused, Forest Gump and footage from Woodstock.  I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what hippies were like, and I understand the historical significance of the movement.  But this play took the character of the hippie to a new level.  They were downright insufferable.  I thought I was going to leap onto the stage and punch one of the guys in the face if he acted like a psychologically unstable freak for one more second.

I thought that surely these hippie characters had been exaggerated for the stage, so I asked my Mom.  “That wasn’t what they were really like, right?  They weren’t that nuts.”

“No, that’s pretty much what they were like,” she said.  “They were obnoxious, but they had to be, or they wouldn’t have gotten heard.”

Assuming my mom is right, I have to wonder: If I had been living in the late 60s, and my friends and brothers were getting drafted for a war I didn’t believe in, would I have grown my hair down to my butt and started taking hallucinogens and babbled all day about peace and love and the universe?  Would I have attended sit-ins and danced around naked and stopped taking showers?

I guess what bothered me the most about the hippies in the play is that they were just militantly counter-culture– whatever it was that was normal to do, they wanted to do the opposite.  How is that useful?  I’m not a champion of normalcy or pop-culture, but I also don’t understand how it’s productive to position your entire life and personality as a reaction to that.  Why not just be yourself, like the things you like and dislike the things you dislike?  The hippie movement was such a dramatic production.  Even if there was an important motivating cause behind it, it was still just a social trend that people were buying into.  Can’t you hold strong opinions on the war and protest the draft without eating mushrooms and wagging your genitalia around in public?

I guess, retrospectively, it’s easy to say how you would have behaved during any particular historical social movement.  What if you were a German during the Holocaust?  Would you have hidden Jews in your basement? Everyone would like to say yes, but based on the statistics, most people would actually not have done that.

I’d like to say that I would have struck some kind of a balance in the 60’s.  I’d be a peaceful protester, minus the obnoxious hippie affectations.  But who really knows?  I definitely would have had a sick record collection.




15 responses

22 02 2010

this country is today what it is partially due to ‘obnoxious’ hippie behavior which drastically expanded the realm of personal expression, social mores, not to mention politics (genger, sex, and otherwise). half of what you are allowed to do, be, and say today is thanks to hippies and their tactics.

22 02 2010

how about successive re-interpretations of state and federal law to come into agreement with the basic statements on liberty and freedom in the U.S. Constitution? I have trouble making the connection between hippies (or what I think of as hippies) and most of what the Supreme Court or Congress has done over the last 100 years. Considering hippies never made up a substantial part of any congressman or senator’s constituency or were organized enough to appeal cases to the highest level, I just don’t buy it. Unless you want to say NAACP, ACLU, or Southern Christian Leadership Conference are hippie organizations. Or LBJ or FDR. Nixon created the EPA for crikey’s sake!
Hippies are SWPL types, a very narrow set of people. Since we are all SWPLs, more or less, hippies show up on our radar as bigger than the are.

22 02 2010

I think you just broke the world record for most acronyms in a paragraph.

what is a SWPL?

I dont thin the above argument and my assertion are at odds with one another but I am not necessarily talking about changes in society that are codified by congress or the supreme court, but are just changes in what is acceptable at the ground level. it doesnt take acts of congress to make us more accepting of questioning the powers that be, being more sexually liberal and accepting, being more tolerant towards pot, etc.

I wasnt making the case that they were a politically organized bloc pushing for formal legislation.

22 02 2010

You did say ‘tactics’. I interpreted that to mean some type of organization. I think your are right, we are not exactly disagreeing. I was citing groups that I feel have helped to change the country, and our everyday lives, more than they have. But, the list of social changes you provide occurred across the 20th century, even ebbed and flowed across it, not just the late 60s. So again, too much credit given to hippies. I just feel like they have become a bit of a cultural myth and their role blown out of proportion.


22 02 2010

I also think there was a broad spectrum of hippie behavior-it wasnt monolithic, and it evolved over the years and who was doing the defining. sometimes it was enough to just be against the war to be called a hippie. wearing a black armband but otherwise displaying no body parts or doing a whole bunch of drugs was still enough to be a hippie. I dont think there was a code of genitalia and drugs in order to be ‘in group’.

22 02 2010

kind of makes the word hippie almost meaningless, beyond describing them as people who did not completely adhere to the status quo. i agree, the term is thrown around a lot, and usually has more to do with dress code than behavior.

22 02 2010

I’m talking about the extreme hippie movement depicted in the play. They were obnoxious, and I am fully aware of how important the movement was in shaping where we are today, and I’m grateful for that. But that doesn’t make them any less obnoxious.

22 02 2010

i agree. i want to slap the shit out of the cast of Hair. on the other hand, i’m all for freedom of expression and i generally mince around like kind of a hippie myself, so i’m not sure what to make of this internal conflict.
meteorology chapter is calling me. back to work!

22 02 2010

think of them as hipsters except with actual use value.

22 02 2010

I hate hipsters.

22 02 2010

Well, damn! I liked the play. However, now that you have made me think more about it I will just have to resort to the fact that the music was amazing.

22 02 2010

It is difficult to describe the sixties and all that went on leading up to the Vietnam war. The hippies in Hair were caricatures and their characteristics exaggerated. There were “Bergers” everyone knew who were “pure” hippies who used their free spirit culture as an excuse not to work so they could do drugs and have sex all the time. Many hippies were more like Claude. They were conflicted.

Hippies started about the time of the Vietnam War, but not necessarily because of it. Their predecessors were beatniks who lived in Greenwich village, played bongo drums and said cool things. Beatniks were considered harmless by most and we all loved Maynard G Krebs, the most famous beatnik. When hippies first arrived they were much like beatniks, cool people who did not work.

In retrospect its probably hard for young folks today to understand why we were in Vietnam. We were taught back then that communists planned to conquer the free world as part of their manifesto. The Domino theory was popular. John Kennedy, a very bright and even liberal president, told us “Burma, Thailand, India, Japan, the Philippines and obviously Laos and Cambodia are among those whose security would be threatened if the Red Tide of Communism overflowed into Vietnam”.

When the Vietnam war started most Americans saw it as a necessary evil. Some hippies may have protested back then based on philosphical opposition to the war. Just as many or more hippies simply didnt want to be in the army for selfish reasons. They liked hanging out, doing drugs and having free sex.

In the early sixties the mainstream view was that being anti war was being anti american. Over time american casualties mounted while more and more mainstrean people began to question the war. Protests started at universities, partly fueled by young people who did not want to die in Vietnam fighting for a cause they did not understand.

I remember as a high school senior a protest march down St Charles avenue. A handful of my classmates wore black armbands in support of the protest. The ones who wore armbands were among the brightest students at the school. It was the moment I thought maybe protesting the war was not so unpatriotic.

The hippie movement was now gaining traction and going mainstream. Many of us became “weekend hippies”. We went to great lengths to subvert school rules that kept our hair short.

For our generation the part of “Hair” where Claude was caught between the enticing lifestyle of being a hippie and wanting to please his parents rang very true. Still, thousands more teenagers reported to induction centers than burned their draft cards. It was a very confusing time. Our fathers fought in WW2 for our freedom and burning a draft card seemed a cowardly thing to do.

A watershed moment in opposition to the war happened in 1968 when Walter Cronkite, a news reporter often called “the most trusted man in america” reported in an editorial the war was going nowehre and we needed to get out. Lyndon Johnson supposedly said that “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

While not all war protestors were hippies, hippies became the face of the war protest. Passion inspires people. I do not know that the great songs of Woodstock could have been written if it wasnt for the war. Music and protest songs helped end the war.

And that is part of Hair’s legacy. In its early years one might be consdiered a traitor to have gone and seen it. Over time it gained traction and it became a symbol for all those who gradually came to conclude the “hippies” were right after all.

The play was never slow for me. It was very nolstagic and sentimental. And while I can understand how some may not have seen it as having a good story line, it did for me. As described in wiki:

“Hair tells the story of the “tribe”, a group of politically active, long-haired hippies of the “Age of Aquarius” living a bohemian life in New York City and fighting against conscription into the Vietnam War. Claude, his good friend Berger, their roommate Sheila and their friends struggle to balance their young lives, loves and the sexual revolution with their rebellion against the war and their conservative parents and society. Ultimately, Claude must decide whether to resist the draft as his friends have done, or to compromise his pacifistic.”


I think Hair will always have more meaning to people of my generation. Many of us who grew up with the likes Richie Havens, Jimmi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young like to think some part of us were hippies.

22 02 2010
DC's oto-san

23 02 2010

I didn’t even have a war I was opposed to and I was still taking hallucinogens and running around acting the fool for the sake of spurning classical.

It was great fun!

8 07 2011
Grateful Hippie

My name is Grateful Hippie. Does that answer the questions well?

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