The American counterculture refers to the period between 1964-1972 when the norms of the 1950s were largely rejected by youth.
Interpret the countercultural movement of the 1960s
A counterculture developed in the United States in the late 1960s, lasting from approximately 1964 to 1972, and coinciding with America's involvement in Vietnam. Counterculture youth rejected the cultural standards of their parents, especially with respect to racial segregation, the Vietnam War, sexual mores, women's rights, and materialism.
Hippies were the largest countercultural classification, and were comprised of mostly white members of the middle class.
The counterculture movement divided the country. To some, it reflected American ideals of free speech, equality, and world peace; while to others, it reflected a self-indulgent and unpatriotic assault on America's moral order.
In an effort to quell the movement, government authorities banned the psychedelic drug LSD, restricted political gatherings, and tried to enforce bans on what they considered obscenity in books, music, theater, and other media.
Several things caused the decline of the movement in the early 1970s, including significant progress on the goals of the movement and rising economic troubles that forced many former hippies to rely on mainstream institutions.
Inflation accompanied by stagnant growth, unemployment, or recession.
The Emergence of the Counterculture
A counterculture developed in the United States in the late 1960s, lasting from approximately 1964 to 1972, and coinciding with America's involvement in Vietnam. It was characterized by the rejection of conventional social norms—in this case, the norms of the 1950s. The counterculture youth rejected the cultural standards of their parents, specifically regarding racial segregation and initial widespread support for the Vietnam War.
As the 1960s progressed, widespread tensions developed in American society that tended to flow along generational lines regarding the war in Vietnam, race relations, sexual mores, women's rights, traditional modes of authority, and a materialist interpretation of the American Dream. Thanks to widespread economic prosperity, white, middle-class youth—who made up the bulk of the counterculture—had sufficient leisure time to turn their attention to social issues.
Unconventional appearance, music, drugs, communitarian experiments, and sexual liberation were hallmarks of the 1960s counterculture, most of whose members were white, middle-class, young Americans. Hippies became the largest countercultural group in the United States. The counterculture reached its peak in the 1967 "Summer of Love," when thousands of young people flocked to the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. The counterculture lifestyle integrated many of the ideals of the time, including peace, love, harmony, music, and mysticism. Meditation, yoga, and psychedelic drugs were often embraced as routes to expanding one's consciousness. Spiritually, the counterculture included interest in astrology, the term "Age of Aquarius," and knowing people's astrological signs.
Rejection of mainstream culture was best embodied in the new genres of psychedelic rock music, pop-art, and new explorations in spirituality. Musicians who exemplified this era include The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, and Pink Floyd. New forms of musical presentation also played a key role in spreading the counterculture, mainly large outdoor rock festivals. The climactic live statement of this occurred from August 15-18, 1969, with the Woodstock Music Festival held in Bethel, New York. During this weekend festival, 32 of rock and psychedelic rock's most popular acts performed live outdoors to an audience of half a million people. Countercultural sentiments were expressed in song lyrics and popular sayings of the period, such as "do your own thing"; "turn on, tune in, drop out"; "whatever turns you on"; "eight miles high"; "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll"; and "light my fire."
Cultural Divisions and the Collapse of the Movement
The counterculture movement divided the country. To some Americans, the movement reflected American ideals of free speech, equality, world peace, and the pursuit of happiness. To others, it reflected a self-indulgent, pointlessly rebellious, unpatriotic, and destructive assault on America's traditional moral order. In an effort to quash the movement, government authorities banned the psychedelic drug LSD, restricted political gatherings, and tried to enforce bans on what they considered obscenity in books, music, theater, and other media.
Ultimately, the counterculture collapsed on its own around 1973. Two primary reasons are cited for the collapse. First, the most popular of the movement's political goals (civil rights, civil liberties, gender equality, environmentalism, and the end of the Vietnam War) had made significant gains, and its most popular social attributes (particularly a "live-and-let-live" mentality in personal lifestyles; i.e., the "sexual revolution") were largely co-opted by mainstream society. Second, a decline of idealism and hedonism occurred as many notable counterculture figures died, and the rest settled into mainstream society to start their own families. The "magic economy" of the 1960s gave way to the stagflation of the 1970s, and many middle-class Americans no longer had the luxury of living outside of conventional social institutions.
The counterculture, however, continues to influence social movements, art, music, and society today, and the post-1973 mainstream society has been in many ways a hybrid of the 1960s establishment and counterculture—seen as the best (or the worst) of both worlds.