I was listening to the 70s station on satellite radio yesterday, and up pops "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo," a song I haven't heard or thought about in probably twenty years. In my opinion, this song is right up there with "Signs" (by the Five Man Electrical Band) as the embodiment of the hippie ideal of the late 60s.
The whole thing got me to thinking about the hippie movement, and how much has changed in forty years. The hippies of the sixties were not thought of as the fringe, the weird, comically out-of-touch characters that they are today. Back then, the hippies were the cutting edge; the rebels, the Threat to Society -- a little dangerous, and (to the establishment) more than a little scary. The Flower Children seemed, in the minds of most middle-class Americans, to be part of a smooth continuum whose end was formed by Charles Manson and the Symbionese Liberation Army. Their rejection of everything that the middle class stood for -- especially property ownership, etiquette, monogamy, and public education -- and their acceptance of drug use, loud music, and commitment-free sex, seemed to be not just a slippery slope, but already to represent the bottom of the pit.
Now, hippies have evolved into nothing much more than a caricature. When one of my students calls another "a hippie," usually that just means that the student in question has long, unruly hair, or favors tie-dyed shirts, or has a "Peace Now" bumpersticker on his/her car. There aren't many people any more that really represent what the hippies did back in the sixties and early seventies.
Honestly, this is probably a good thing, and I'm not saying this because I'm a white, middle class, establishment member with a bank account and a career. The hippie movement never really could last, because it was founded on a lie -- that it was possible to separate yourself entirely from "the establishment." The burning of draft cards and drivers' licenses was supposed to represent a severing of bonds with the government -- but as long as you're on American soil, and there is any kind of law enforcement around, you aren't really going to be free of connection to laws and restrictions, regardless of what document you choose to burn. The ideal of freedom -- as represented in "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo" by leaving everything behind and getting "back on the road again" -- is only possible if you own a car, which means that you have to have it registered, purchase gasoline, and so on. Even the back-to-the-basics idea that came out of the hippie movement turned out not to be very easy to achieve. The sad fact is that unless you own a lot of land, it is virtually impossible to raise enough food to subsist on, and even if you have enough land, it requires a great deal of expertise and means doing manual labor pretty much 24/7. Note that in "Me and You" (if you know the song) our free-as-a-bird road travelers get caught robbing a chicken coop for eggs. The hippies justified this sort of thievery as being a Robin Hood-like "stealing from those who deserve to be stolen from," but in reality this only occurred because in practice, it takes less time and effort to be parasitic on the culture you claim to despise than it does to learn enough skills, and save enough money, to actually become self-sufficient.
I'm not claiming that the hippie movement was all bad, or was all a sham. Their resistance to the Vietnam War represented a watershed moment in our nation's attitude toward blindly trusting the government; we've never been the same since. Their stance on civil rights and race relations was twenty years ahead of its time. It was in part the hippie movement that gave rise to the environmental movement of the 70s and the "Greens" of today. They were a reaction to a corrupt government, that was pursuing a divisive and bloody war, and as such there was a certain honor to their stance. But like all reactive movements, it couldn't last. Vietnam ended; idealism faded in the face of practicality. Most of the former hippies of the 60s had already cut their hair and settled down by the time I was in college, and the wild radicalism had been replaced by a reluctant acceptance that you can't really change society by refusing to take part in it.
Anyway, these are my musings on a stormy, unsettled morning. Given that tomorrow's Sunday, it seems appropriate to end with the last verse of "Signs:"
"And the sign says, 'Everybody welcome, come in, kneel down and pray,'
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all, I didn't have a penny to pay.
So I got me a pen and a paper, and I made up my own little sign,
It said, "Thank you, Lord, for thinking about me, I'm alive and doing fine..."