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.