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The Plight of the Hippies


A few months ago when I was researching the CIA-led LSD tests of the 50’s and 60’s (blogged about here), I came across a 1967 CBS short documentary with journalist Harry Reasoner. How ironic his last name becomes after watching what I thought was a pretty unreasonable depiction of the hippie generation. Watch for yourself:

Tell us what you really think…

My problem isn’t that Reasoner disagrees with the hippie or drug culture. What bothers me is how he classifies anyone near the hippie scene into one, generic lump, speaks of them like aliens, (“The Hippies are capable of extremely hard work, but…”), and then disregards them with statements like, “…this seems like the greatest waste of all.” My, you must have quite the view up there on your high horse!

The truth is, Reasoner might have a point. Unfortunately, his dismissive, judgmental reporting overshadows this, but for fairness sake let’s look at his side of things. Is LSD or any other drug anything more than a cheap shortcut to artificial inspiration that ultimately fails to stand the test of time? Think about how many artists have fallen victim to drug abuse and in turn lost sight of their art. Maybe the one thing they relied on to give them vision, destroyed them in the end. But wasn’t the Grateful Dead able to successfully use drugs to tap into a rare, undiscovered world that captivated millions? Of course, “successful” has varying definitions, but I think history and hard facts show us that the Grateful Dead was successful in a very [warped] traditional way.

How about the idea of wasted youth? Reasoner said we needed “attack and imagination and youthful energy” and that hippies were instead withdrawing from the world’s problems. The implication that hippies somehow lack imagination and youthful energy is beyond confusing to me. The Grateful Dead and the hippie generation were known for their dedicated experimentation (“imagination”), and if you’ve ever seen a hippie dancing at a Dead show, you know that their “youthful energy” has no bounds. That still leaves “attack”. Maybe dropping acid, dancing in the street, and hopeful philosophies aren’t proactive enough measures for creating a “peaceful planet”, as Jerry puts it. I would agree with this, to an extent. However, the assumption that all hippies are wasted youth is false and likely based off of appearances or off of the few bad eggs giving everyone else a bum rap. If you can look past the long hair and tie dyed (although, you should ask yourself why you need to do that in the first place) then you might be able to recognize that the hippie way is more proactive than imagined. Taking action and making changes is all well and good, but if there isn’t a fundamental change in thought, which the hippie generation certainly represented, then we won’t get too far. It’s like putting a band-aid over a gushing wound. Good for now, not enough for the long haul.

But let’s face it, the plight of the Deadheads is certainly not the first, last, or most severe. How many times have you seen infuriated stands for one’s beliefs when faced with an alternate view? It’s all around us. Change is scaring the shit out of everyone and in response, people are clinging on to what they know for dear life. Too often I see the idea of an opposing view taken so personally. As if by suggesting anything different is an act of rape against one’s beliefs. The result? A whole lot of nothing coupled with dangerous resentment for one another. Don’t get me wrong, the last thing I want is to live in a world where everyone is agreeable. I get bored too easily for that nonsense. Instead, I’d like to get back to a time (was there ever one?) where we could all respectfully disagree, throw some passion behind it, survive a few bumps and bruises, come to a solution, and keep at it. Nowadays, there’s a bit too much judgment and hatred thrown into that mix.

So, for all the Reasoners out there…

“I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It’s even worse than it appears
But it’s alright

Cows are giving kerosene
The kid can’t read at seventeen
The words he knows are all obscene
But it’s alright”

Touch of Grey

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Thank you to Deadheadland for reminding me about this video!

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