The Vietnam War was undoubtedly one of the deadliest wars fought in the 20th century. The 1960s, a time when the war was at it’s peak, was also a time when television had made it’s entry into the houses of people. The influx of television in the lives of people and the birth of war journalism and photojournalism slowly started changing people’s opinion about the war. The blood and gore that people saw in their homes along with the reports of the loss of millions of lives from the war started an anti-Vietnam War protest in the United States. People came out on the streets in thousands and pressurised the American government to withdraw troops from Vietnam and stop the violence.
This was a time when a unique cult of youngsters following a subculture began to form. These youngsters started moving out of the cities to live on their own. This was a cult that rebelled against society and societal restrictions, to ‘find new meaning in life’. This cult rebelled against consumerism. This cult rebelled against war. They rebelled against mainstream organised religion. While many of them discarded the idea of religion and continued their search for spirituality, some embraced Eastern religions. This cult believed in the idea of free love. They believed in the idea of communal living. The members of this slowly evolving cult dressed up noticeably different as compared to the rest of the society. They wore bright colours, glaring contrasts, ornate lettering, symmetrical compositions, rubber-like distortions and psychedelic imagery. They found escape in rock music. They renounced alcohol but endorsed drug use, believing that LSD and cannabis expand your consciousness and help you find consciousness and ecstasy from within. They believed in travelling across lands with little or no belongings. They questioned the man-made concepts of family, education, economic success and careers. They redefined sexual relations. They disregarded taboos like homosexuality and promiscuity. They offered a new ‘authentic’ lifestyle to all those who wanted to break away from all social norms. This was the hippie cult. Born in The USA in the 1960s, they slowly started spreading across the world.
This cult had its own political ideology. They believed in war being the worst form of capitalism and political power play. They longed to see the world in colour and peace. They believed that the Vietnam War was the hitherto failure of the American democracy. Many say that this kind of an attitude was the result of the trauma some of their families had gone through in the Vietnam War. The hippies went to all extents to show their longing for world peace. Music was a major form of expressing dissent for the hippies. The 1960s and the early 1970s was in fact a time the world witnessed some of its best music. This era also gave the world some unparalleled music festivals. Woodstock, Altamont, anyone? Even the biggest music festivals in the world are struggling to meet those standards today.
The hippies believed in an unusual sense of freedom, which to many who weren’t a part of the cult, seemed as an effect of the drugs that these hippies endorsed. They believed in non violence, honesty, joy, open relationships and mysticism. To society, however, hippies were a counter culture that indulged in crime and were low on morals.
Sadly, this peace loving cult saw it’s dying down in the early 1970s. By the 1970s, much of the hippie culture had been passed on into the mainstream culture. An entire generation of neo-hippies was formed. A generation that joined this cult only for the glamour of it. As a result of this, hippie fashion and the drug culture was passed on but the ideology was lost. Even today, hippie fashion is very much alive and brings millions of dollars to the fashion industry, globally; but the purpose of global peace is lost.
Also, with technology starting to make it’s way into the lives of people, it was becoming impossible for those of the hippie cult to live with complete disconnect from society.
Even though the term hippie had a very derogatory connotation for the average American in the 60s and the 70s, the hippie cult managed to leave it’s influence on society.
However naïve one may find the hippie ideology of ‘free love’ and ‘make love, not war’, one must understand that this was the generation that produced birth-control pills, fought for feminism, queer rights, the liberation and idealism of the civil rights movement and questioned capitalism. The hippie movement could be considered as a serious attempt to attain utopian socialism. This cult actually followed pacifism and participated in all kind of non violent methods of bringing about world peace.
Mystic or utopian, whatever it is perceived as, in today’s world of widespread violence, war, communal hatred, sexism, politics governed by vested interests and exploitation, bring back the hippies, I say!