Full version How The Hippies Changed The World

How The Hippies Changed The World

This print version free essay How The Hippies Changed The World.

Category: Social Issues

Autor: reviewessays 03 December 2010

Words: 1887 | Pages: 8

“People today are still living off the table scraps of the sixties. They are still being passed around- the music and the ideas” - Bob Dylan (1992)

From 1964 to 1968, there swelled a gigantic wave of cultural and political change that swept first the city of San Francisco, then the whole United States, and then the world.

The efforts of the pioneers in the Haight-Ashbury to create an enlightened community took about two years, from 1964-66, to reach the flashpoint, and during those years the music reached an artistic high point. But the Summer of Love in 1967 lasted only a few months, and by the end, overcrowding and the negative reaction of police and the city's government combined to make life in the Haight miserable for everyone. Still, the taste for enlightenment had left a lasting impression on the minds and hearts of those who participated in the "hippie scene".

The term hippie is derived from "hip" or "hipster" used by the beats to describe someone who was part of their scene. It literally means to know, so someone who's "hip" is wise. Hippies never adopted this term for themselves. They preferred to be called the "beautiful people". However the media played up "hippy" as the catch-all phrase to describe the masses of young people growing their hair long, listening to rock music, doing drugs, practising free love, going to various gatherings and concerts, demonstrating and rejecting the popular culture of the early 60's. Hippies were the adults of the baby boom post-World War II. They wanted to test and enjoy the limits of life adopting a motto of - “Being alive should be Ecstasy”.

They were also associated with participation in peace movements, including peace marches such as the USA marches on Washington and civil rights marches, and anti-Vietnam war demonstrations including the 1968 Democratic Convention. A popular slogan of the time was “Make love not war”.

Philosophically, hippie thought drew upon the earlier Beat generation. Hippies started the ecology movement. They combated racism. They liberated sexual stereotypes, encouraged change, individual pride, and self-confidence. They questioned robot materialism. In four years, they managed to stop the Vietnam War. They got marijuana decriminalised in fourteen states during the Carter Administration.

Hippie political expression often took the form of dropping out of society to implement the changes they sought. The back to the land movement, cooperative business enterprises, alternative energy, free press movement, and organic farming were all political in nature at their start.

The music of the time enveloped the movement. It was quite different to the music that came before it e.g. Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly etc. Bob Dylan wrote meaningful lyrics to his folk songs and later electrified rock sound, which made people take notice. The blues continued to be popular at this time and were championed by The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. The Doors music contained poetic and sexually-charged lyrics from Jim Morrison and was often inspired by the band’s frequent use of LSD and it’s true that we would not have Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band - often deemed “the greatest pop album of all time”, were it not for their use of psychedelic drugs.

Drug Culture

In the 1960s the hippies, undertook the largest uncontrolled experiment with drug use in the history of mankind. Drugs were portrayed as wonders of modern technology. We were led to believe that soon all diseases would be conquered by taking some drug. It was a time of unbridled optimism.

Many of today's technological wonders including the personal computer and the Internet are due to the inspiration and enlightenment of LSD and marijuana.

Timothy Leary - the high priest of LSD and a former Harvard University professor wrote numerous books about the mind-expanding potential of psychedelics.

Evidently, although many hippies used drugs like LSD and marijuana, there were hippies that were against the use of recreational drugs. This group of hippies tends to be overshadowed by the image of drug-using hippies.

The Sexual Revolution

Many people accuse hippies of being promiscuous, having wild sex orgies, seducing innocent teenagers and every manner of sexual perversion. There's no denying that many hippies were involved in temporary sexual relationships and sexual experimentation unlike any generation before them, yet this huge experiment with Free Love was an actual sexual revolution that liberated millions of Americans from the prevailing puritan sexual attitudes and hang-ups of the 1950's.

As kids growing up in the '50s and early '60s, sex was rarely discussed. This lack of communication between adults and children helped create the generation gap. Kids were taught that proper sex was reserved for those who loved each other, got married, and had children. Thus sex, love, marriage and children were sold as a complete package that couldn't be seperated.

The concept of Free Love as expressed by hippies encouraged spontaneous sexual activity and experimentation. Group sex, public sex, sex with minors, homosexuality, all the taboos went out the window. “If it feels good, do it”. The open relationship became an accepted part of the hippy lifestyle. Janis Joplin is remembered for her wild sex antics. She outraged many by saying no to convention in refusing to wear make-up, comb her hair and dress pretty at a time when it was expected that a woman should always maintain a pretty appearance.

America's willingness to discuss sex today is a result of the profound Sexual Revolution. Sex was everywhere, and the media played it up. The fashion industry took its cue and raised hemlines drastically, creating the mini-skirt and see through blouses.

The Sexual Revolution also resulted in the free flow of information about sex, an expansion of women's and gay rights, and society's keen interest in the health issues surrounding sex.

Hippies and the Environment

The hippies wanted an entire relationship with the earth. They walked barefoot, wore flowers in their hair, lived at communes where they grew their own food. Hippies were frustrated with the lack of government initiative towards cleaning up the environment and leniency with corporate polluters. They organised, protested and contributed to environmental groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, and by 1970, the Ecology Movement was in full swing. They were the first to promote biodegradable products, and the use of natural ingredients in everything from fabrics to shampoo. They boycotted companies whose products polluted the environment; used animals for testing; were pro-war or very reactionary; or manufactured dangerous chemicals or weapons. The National Environmental Policy Act was signed into law and on April 22, the first Earth Day was declared. This landmark event, involving 20 million people, raised awareness about how humans were treating the planet and ways to mitigate the impending dangers to the environment.

Hippies have pioneered numerous lifestyles and alternative businesses including communes, cooperatives, holistic medicine and health food.

An Alternative Diet

Hippies helped popularise Indian food, especially curries and basmati rice. Asian foods like tofu and soybeans are now part of many healthy American diets. Whole grain bakeries all over the country now offer a variety of multigrain breads which are healthier than the traditional American white bread.

Hippies also practiced eastern philosophy, yoga, Hare Krishna and got more in touch with their spiritual being.

Downsides of the counter culture

Unfortunately not everyone was in favour of the changes that were taking place during the Sixties. Martin Luther King was assassinated as well as John F. Kennedy. This devastated millions and left many artists including Bob Dylan with a huge sense of apathy.

The touristic influx that accompanied the highly-publicised San Francisco Summer of Love did nothing to intensify the counterculture. In fact, by the time Hippiedom became commercialised, mid-late 1967, being a hippie had lost its real purpose. The people responsible for the Summer of Love held a “Funeral for Hippie” at the end of the summer.

The media started reporting the negative side of hippy poverty, living in the streets, heroin and speed epidemics, teen pregnancies, rapists and the antiwar movement that split the country; hippie came to mean something negative to a great many Americans.

Today the term still generates anger, fear, hostility and resentment among many people. America was transformed in the 1960s, but the exhilaration of changing the culture was matched by shattering personal defeat. The list of casualties included Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrisson. Acknowledging the casualties, the price of all that high-risk experimenting, isn’t to say that the sixties were a mistake.

There was much unresolved as the culture went through this period of change. There are still many essential cultural and institutional arguments made during the Sixties that still rage today…

John F. Kennedy said “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind”.

This is an expression that has strong resonance today with fighting in Iraq continuing and the threat of nuclear war hanging over us. Anti-war demonstrations are taking place in countries all over the world to try to put an end to the war in Iraq.

There is also a sense of distrust between the American people and their leader today as there was in the 1960s when the American people felt confused and hurt by President Johnson regarding the betrayal of the Vietnam War.

Musicians are questioning the current political climate through their music eg Green Day’s latest album “American Idiot” and U2’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”. This is similar to the message behind Bob Dylan’s powerful folk songs eg “Masters of War” and to when Jimi Hendrix performed Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock in 1969.

Bono, of U2 uses his celebrity status to promote fair trade with third-world countries and he’s an advocate for eliminating third-world debt. He could perhaps me regarded as a modern day hippy.

The attempt to legalise cannabis continues with those in favour gushing of its medicinal values to AIDS and cancer patients.

The pressure on society to conform still exists more than ever. In developed countries, the focus on most people’s minds is on material goods. Many people have several different plastic cards which control them.

Regarding music, popstars today are always pretty and their talent is often questionable. They along with super-thin models adorn magazine covers in provocative clothing putting pressure on regular girls to conform. This stems to many problems including eating disorders and an obsession with appearance, but it was also a problem in the Sixties, when those who didn’t “fit in” were treated as “freaks”.


The hippies shared a growing awareness of themselves, humanity, and the environment. They taught America about life, love, sex, drugs, peace, activism, freedom, cooperation, beauty, art, and music. It’s true that there were downsides to the hippie culture but I think the positives clearly outweigh the negatives.

There is no denying, that after more than thirty years we are still intrigued by hippies and the 1960s. Look at the 90s revival which included two Woodstocks, the Austin Powers movies, the rebirth of colourful hippy fashions, and the increasing use of psychedelic plants and chemicals.

In my opinion the world needs hippies to point out alternatives to the entrenched system and warn us of the impending disasters that await us if we don’t change our lifestyle.


To assist me in writing this paper, I watched Woodstock, Hair, and Making Sense of the Sixties (Vol. 1-4). I read Scars of Sweet Paradise -the life and times of Janis Joplin and I found a wealth of information on a website called hipplanet.org.