Counterculture of the 1960s  

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"When your wind-blown, electronic-ukelele toting, motorcycle-riding, marihuana-smoking "folksinger" or composer hears the word Intellect, he too reaches for the safety-catch of his automatic, as earlier remarked by Baldur von Schirach, head of the Hitler Jugend."--"The Fake Revolt" (1967) by Gershon Legman

By the late 1960s, revolutionary Che Guevara's famous image had become a popular symbol of rebellion for many youth.
By the late 1960s, revolutionary Che Guevara's famous image had become a popular symbol of rebellion for many youth.

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The term counterculture came to prominence in the news media as it was used to refer to the youth rebellion and sexual revolution that swept North America, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand during the 1960s and early 1970s. The term counterculture was first attested in the English language in 1968.

The counterculture of the 1960s began in the United States as a reaction against the conservative social norms of the 1950s, the political conservatism (and perceived social repression) of the Cold War period, and the US government's extensive military intervention in Vietnam. The movement quickly spread to Europe and the rest of the world.


Roots in the 1950s

Another important movement existed in a more fragmentary form in the 1950s, both in Europe and the US, in the form of the Beat generation (Beatniks), who typically sported beards, wore roll-neck sweaters, read the novels of Albert Camus and listened to jazz music.


The counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s generated its own unique brand of notable literature, including comics and cartoons, and sometimes referred to as the underground press. This includes the work of Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton, and includes Mr. Natural; Keep on Truckin'; Fritz the Cat; Fat Freddy's Cat; Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers; the album cover art for Cheap Thrills; and contributions to International Times, The Village Voice, and Oz magazine. During the late '60s and early '70s, these comics and magazines were available for purchase in 'head shops' along with items like beads, incense, cigarette papers, tie-dye clothing, DayGlo posters, books, etc.


Music history of the United States (1960s and 70s)

During the early 1960s, Britain's new generation of blues rock gained popularity in its homeland and cult fame in the United States. Folk singers like Peter, Paul & Mary ("Puff the Magic Dragon") and Bob Dylan (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan) influenced the British groups, and popular music became more closely aligned with the counterculture.

An international sound developed that moved towards an electric, psychedelic version of rock. In 1962 (see 1962 in music), The Beatles (Please Please Me) emerged from England and popularized British rock, while The Beach Boys' success brought harmony-laden surf music to the forefront of the American scene. With country and soul musicians unable to maintain their hipness, both faded from mass consciousness.

The Beatles went on to become the most prominent commercial exponents of the "psychedelic revolution" (e.g., Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band) in the late 1960s. American bands that achieved commercial success include the The Mamas & the Papas (If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears), Big Brother and the Holding Company, (Cheap Thrills), Jimi Hendrix (Are You Experienced?), Jefferson Airplane (Surrealistic Pillow) and The Doors (The Doors). The Grateful Dead are considered the first jam band of the 1960s. Psychedelic rock came to dominate the popular music scene for both black and white audiences.

While the hippie psychedelic scene was born in California, an edgier scene emerged in New York City that put more emphasis on avant-garde and art music. Bands such as The Velvet Underground came out of this underground music scene, predominantly centered at Andy Warhol's legendary Factory Club.

Detroit, Michigan's MC5 (Motor City 5) also came out of the underground rock music scene of the late 1960s. They introduced a more aggressive evolution of garage rock which was often fused with sociopolitical and countercultural lyrics of the era, such as in the songs "Motor City Is Burning" (a John Lee Hooker cover adapting the story of the Detroit Race Riot (1943) to the Detroit Insurrection of 1967), and "The American Ruse" (which discusses U.S. police brutality as well as pollution, prison, materialism and rebellion). They had ties to radical leftist organizations such as Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers and John Sinclair's White Panther Party (composed of white American socialists seeking to assist African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement). MC5 performed a lengthy set before the 1968 Democratic Convention held at International Amphitheatre in Chicago, Illinois where an infamous riot subsequently broke out between police and students protesting the recent assassination of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Vietnam War. MC5, as well as The Stooges and the aforementioned Velvet Underground, have now been seen as among the most influential bands in rock music history and developed the protopunk sound that would lead to punk rock in the late 1970s.

As the psychedelic revolution progressed, lyrics grew more complex and long playing albums enabled artists to make more in-depth statements than could be made in a single song. Even rules governing single songs were stretched--singles lasting longer than three minutes emerged for the first time (Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" was the first of these).

Though not unheard of before the 1960s, the idea that popular music could and should lead social change came into its own during this period. Most existing musical styles were influenced, and new musical genres came into being, including heavy metal, punk rock, electronic music and hip hop.

Key figures

The following people are well known for their involvement in 1960s era counterculture. Some are key incidental or contextual figures, such as Beat Generation figures who also participated directly in the later counterculture era. The primary area(s) of each figure's notability are indicated, per these figures' Wikipedia pages. This section is not intended be exhaustive, but rather a representative cross section of individuals active within the larger movement. Although many of the people listed are known for civil rights activism, some figures whose primary notability was within the realm of the Civil Rights Movement are listed elsewhere. This section is not intended to create associations between any of the listed figures beyond what is documented elsewhere. (see also: List of civil rights leaders; Key figures of the New Left; Timeline of 1960s counterculture).

Emergent media


For those born after World War II, the emergence of television as a source of entertainment and information—as well as the associated massive expansion of consumerism afforded by post-war affluence and encouraged by TV advertising—were key components in creating disillusionment for some younger people and in the formulation of new social behaviours, even as ad agencies heavily courted the "hip" youth market. In the US, nearly real-time TV news coverage of the civil rights movement era's 1963 Birmingham Campaign, the "Bloody Sunday" event of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches, and graphic news footage from Vietnam brought horrifying, moving images of the bloody reality of armed conflict into living rooms for the first time.

New cinema

1960s in film, countercultural film

The breakdown of enforcement of the US Hays Code concerning censorship in motion picture production, the use of new forms of artistic expression in European and Asian cinema, and the advent of modern production values heralded a new era of art-house, pornographic, and mainstream film production, distribution, and exhibition. The end of censorship resulted in a complete reformation of the western film industry. With new-found artistic freedom, a generation of exceptionally talented New Wave film makers working across all genres brought realistic depictions of previously prohibited subject matter to neighborhood theater screens for the first time, even as Hollywood film studios were still considered a part of the establishment by some elements of the counterculture. Successful 60s new films of the New Hollywood were Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, The Wild Bunch, and Peter Fonda's Easy Rider.

The counterculture was not only affected by cinema, but was also instrumental in the provision of era-relevant content and talent for the film industry. Bonnie and Clyde struck a chord with the youth as "the alienation of the young in the 1960s was comparable to the director's image of the 1930s." Films of this time also focused on the changes happening in the world. A sign of this was the visibility that the hippie subculture gained in various mainstream and underground media. Hippie exploitation films are 1960s exploitation films about the hippie counterculture with stereotypical situations associated with the movement such as marijuana and LSD use, sex and wild psychedelic parties. Examples include The Love-ins, Psych-Out, The Trip, and Wild in the Streets. The musical play Hair shocked stage audiences with full-frontal nudity. Dennis Hopper's "Road Trip" adventure Easy Rider (1969) became accepted as one of the landmark films of the era. Medium Cool portrayed the 1968 Democratic Convention alongside the 1968 Chicago police riots.

Inaugurated by the 1969 release of Andy WarholTemplate:'s Blue Movie, the phenomenon of adult erotic films being publicly discussed by celebrities (like Johnny Carson and Bob Hope), and taken seriously by critics (like Roger Ebert), a development referred to, by Ralph Blumenthal of The New York Times, as "porno chic", and later known as the Golden Age of Porn, began, for the first time, in modern American culture. According to award-winning author Toni Bentley, Radley MetzgerTemplate:'s 1976 film The Opening of Misty Beethoven, based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw (and its derivative, My Fair Lady), is considered the "crown jewel" of this 'Golden Age'.

In France the New Wave was a blanket term coined by critics for a group of French filmmakers of the late 1950s and 1960s, influenced by Italian Neorealism and classical Hollywood cinema. Although never a formally organized movement, the New Wave filmmakers were linked by their self-conscious rejection of classical cinematic form and their spirit of youthful iconoclasm and is an example of European art cinema. Many also engaged in their work with the social and political upheavals of the era, making their radical experiments with editing, visual style and narrative part of a general break with the conservative paradigm. The Left Bank, or Rive Gauche, group is a contingent of filmmakers associated with the French New Wave, first identified as such by Richard Roud. The corresponding "right bank" group is constituted of the more famous and financially successful New Wave directors associated with Cahiers du cinéma (Claude Chabrol, François Truffaut, and Jean-Luc Godard). Left Bank directors include Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and Agnès Varda. Roud described a distinctive "fondness for a kind of Bohemian life and an impatience with the conformity of the Right Bank, a high degree of involvement in literature and the plastic arts, and a consequent interest in experimental filmmaking", as well as an identification with the political left. Other film "new waves" from around the world associated with the 1960s are New German Cinema, Czechoslovak New Wave, Brazilian Cinema Novo and Japanese New Wave. During the 1960s, the term "art film" began to be much more widely used in the United States than in Europe. In the U.S., the term is often defined very broadly, to include foreign-language (non-English) "auteur" films, independent films, experimental films, documentaries and short films. In the 1960s "art film" became a euphemism in the U.S. for racy Italian and French B-movies. By the 1970s, the term was used to describe sexually explicit European films with artistic structure such as the Swedish film I Am Curious (Yellow). The 1960s was an important period in art film; the release of a number of groundbreaking films giving rise to the European art cinema which had countercultural traits in filmmakers such as Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luis Buñuel and Bernardo Bertolucci.

New radio

By the later 1960s, previously under-regarded FM radio replaced AM radio as the focal point for the ongoing explosion of rock and roll music, and became the nexus of youth-oriented news and advertising for the counterculture generation.

See also

countercultural film, countercultural music, May 1968

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Counterculture of the 1960s" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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