The Counterculture of the 1960s

The 1960s were a decade of enormous social change. In many respects, the unpopular and misunderstood Vietnam War served as the catalyst for a counterculture movement where young people openly questioned the status quo and decisions made by older generations. The birth control pill, which was introduced in 1960, gained popularity as well, leading to a sexual revolution and a change in lifestyle for many. By 1973, about 10 million women were using the “pill.”

Some of those who dropped out of traditional society were called “hippies,” and they gravitated to areas such as the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco. They became known as “flower children” because they believed that utopia was found in nature.

When was “the Summer of Love”?

The Summer of Love refers to the summer of 1967, when thousands of young people traveled to San Francisco from all over the world and the hippie counterculture movement came into public awareness. The Human Be-In (modeled on the sit-in) in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park is said to have started the Summer of Love.

In August of 1969, more than 300,000 young people gathered at Max Yasgur's dairy farm in the small Catskills town of Bethel, New York, for the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Youth also experimented with mind-altering, illegal drugs such as LSD. The movement found its expression in alternative newspapers such as the Chicago Seed and the Village Voice, which promoted radical ideas. People such as Abby Hoffman and Jerry Rubin led the counterculture, and musicians such as the Beatles also contributed. They were disciples of transcendental meditation (Eastern religions caught on in force during the decade), and after John Lennon married Yoko Ono, the unconventional pair decided to host a “bed-in for peace” for their honeymoon. They stayed in the presidential suite of a large Amsterdam hotel for seven days, protesting the war.

More Sixties Pop Culture

From movies such as Dr. No, marking the debut of James Bond, 007, early in the decade to the rise of Motown recording stars, Americans enjoyed a vast array of entertainment. Barry Gordy, an African-American who made Motown Records of Detroit, Michigan, the most profitable minority business of its time, also built the fortunes and fame of artists such as Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Diana Ross and the Supremes. Successful musicians like these showed by example that blacks could achieve stardom. Their achievements helped break down the racial divide in America.

Comedies and talk shows aired at night, and the networks broadcast events such as man's landing on the moon. Space exploration of the fictional variety could be seen with the starship Enterprise, as the show Star Trek launched in 1966 with characters Captain James Kirk and Mr. Spock.

As the 1960s continued, folk music carried with it songs of protest with a sense of growing militancy against the war in Vietnam. Peter, Paul, and Mary, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan caught on with their music and their message. But there was also more traditional music. In 1966, The Sound of Music won an Academy Award for best film, and with it the voice of Julie Andrews, fresh from her recent success with Mary Poppins.

In sports, U.S. boxer Cassius Clay, who would later be known as Muhammad Ali, won the world heavyweight title. Andy Warhol startled the art world with pop art, a whole new style evident in images of Campbell's soup cans. And in the 1960s, being fashionable meant wearing false eyelashes, Vidal Sassoon hairstyles, and miniskirts as the rail-thin model Twiggy displayed so well. Knee- or thigh-high boots completed the fashion ensemble.

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