Counterculture in the US: Naturality of Bohemianism

Dane Larsen | @_danebailey

The counterculture of the United States took the Western world by storm in the late 1960s. It was a cultural progression against the political and social establishment that emulated bohemianism. The movement achieved common goals underlying issues interpreted in a unique way. It was during this time that the unconventional lifestyle that had taken root long before Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock ’69 finally became orthodox.

Origins of the Hippie: Rejecting the Mainstream

While the 1950s were a time of social conformity among citizens of the United States, the cultural revolution of the Millenials sought to turn these notions around. A wave of social liberalism outlined a society quite at odds with the prior decade. These members of society were more open to an eastern way of life, including unconventional philosophies and religion. In spite of the conservative values of the preceding generation, the movement encompassed much of the new voice.

The new unified voice looked at the past and present from an entirely different perspective. The new point of view brought to the table took a humanitarian approach to issues prevalent in society. The emancipation of children from their parents allowed them to tackle challenges they themselves deemed a priority.

In modern times, the countercultural crowd has collectively taken issue with a vast array of issues. Through technological advances, the interconnectedness of the world by phones has barred face-to-face connection. Even in third world countries of today, the wages factory workers make in Vietnam, for example, does not suffice a healthy life. Normal Americans neglect this consequence of buying a $5 t-shirt at H&M. The fast-food industry has mechanized the life of animals across the country on factory farms. By running large-scale plants, the industry can supply the burgers on McDonald’s $1 menu. Inhumane techniques are considered unnatural to the hippies of today. To a large majority of Americans, nothing is questioned, as this way of life is deemed normal.

Bohemianism at a Glance

It was during the time of the counterculture that experimentation and Bohemianism of the preceding century took reign yet again. As all phenomenons come and go, Bohemianism was the strict alternative style of living of Anglican descent in the 1850s, with the publishing of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel “Vanity Fair”. Bohemianism rejected materialism and private property, and instead replaced it with communal life.

Originally stemming from the French word for “gypsy”, the Bohemians were refugees from central Europe. Bohemia is a region of the modern-day Czech Republic and the group that emigrated from Bohemia were often vilified. This nomadic group was subject to xenophobic policies of the Frech government and Europe as a whole, no matter where they migrated to. The word evolved after the spread of Slavic culture, to encompass French artists and fashion. By the time Bohemianism made it to the United States, it had been rid of its negative connotation.

Predictions of Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau drew his inspiration from Makepeace, American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, and British feminist Florence Nightingale. Thoreau embodies the modern humanitarian philosophies adopted by many Libertarians in today’s political sphere. In his critically-acclaimed works, he explores preservationism, transcendentalism and civil disobedience. Thoreau is known for isolating himself from society, the government, and reality in a log cabin along Walden Pond. There, he neglected to pay taxes and lived deliberately in search of simplicity. Thoreau is, at his very core, the personification of the countercultural roots in America.

While on his spiritual journey and societal hiatus, Thoreau found himself writing about the rejection of material possessions. “Walden” is a collection of thoughts, poems, and experiences that reflected his time living in the human’s most natural state. At one point, he notes that “bare feet are older than shoes, and [man] will make do”. He goes on to criticize the international clothing industry, without knowing how exponential and global companies would grow in the manufacturing sector.

“Our outside and often thin and fanciful clothing are our epidermis, our fake skin” -Henry David Thoreau, “Walden”

Summer of Love

It was during this time that the emergence of the drug culture and expansion of marijuana usage was prevalent.

US-ART-EXHIBIT-SUMMER OF LOVEPsychedelics and other substances were used to escape reality and broaden the creative mind. Dawning at the climax of undying protest during the Civil Rights Movement, the policies that followed the March on Washington included the ending of discrimination of people based on skin color, sexual identity, income levels, and more. The sexual openness during this time was unprecedented, bringing a fluidity that appealed to the new generation.

This sexual freedom was intensified by the Summer of Love. The cultural phenomenon of 1967 put hippie-culture on a pedestal for three whole months in a San Francisco neighborhood called Haight-Ashbury. As portrayed in the picture, as many as 100,000 people participated in the vast amount of music festivals, drug use, open sexual conduct, and spiritual practices. Bands like the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Buffalo Springfield, and The Doors lit a fire under the politically active generation that embraced new ideas.

The songs played reflected the antiwar, peaceful feeling of the hippie crowds. Folk and psychedelic sounds blended to create the picture-perfect soundtrack of the hippie movement, again taking inspiration from Eastern instrumentation. The music pushed boundaries, experimenting with different styles, resulting in a new genre – psychedelic rock.

Points of Protest in the Countercultural Movement

Perhaps the most common point of protest in the Counterculture movement was the objection of US involvement in Vietnam. The Vietnam War involved a Soviet-backed communist regime under Ho Chi Minh above the 17th parallel against a US-backed Democratic South Vietnam. The US seemed to be threatening any other country thinking about switching over to a Communist policy-driven government. Man feared that the countries of the world were polarizing to two extremes, much of the same trend we see today within our own.

As quick as the movement shot up, it fizzled out. There are, however, aspects of the counterculture still visible today. The modern sexual liberation movement revolves around remnants of the hippie movement. The LGBT community intends to stay at the forefront of countercultural thought in the future, just as they have proven in the past. Anti-capitalist, anti-establishment, and anti-racist, this collective group continues to fight for social justice in the 21st century. Aspirations include ridding the world of gender in and of itself and replacing the nuclear family with something more accessible to queer parents.

The Phenomenon of Dumpster Diving

Another surviving anomaly of the counterculture of the flower children is dumpster diving. John Hoffman, a published author and known as the “Guru of Garbage”, reflected the notions of the counterculture of the 1960s in a particularly abstract way. Fed up with the materialism and built up waste, a small sect of the American public have taken part in dumpster diving. Dumpster Diving uses the trash already among us, instead of buying new materials. This idea connects to the Bohemianism of Henry David Thoreau in the 19th century across the Western World.

According to a 1988 Supreme Court ruling, California v. Greenwood, when a person throws something into the garbage, that trash is ruled public domain. As a result, this pertains to all situations unless a dumpster is against a building or behind a fenced enclosure marked “No Trespassing”. The Supreme Court ruled that garbage placed at the curbside is not, in fact, protected by the Fourth Amendment.

John Hoffman was born into a low socio-economic situation, following the lead of his parents. Hoffman started dumpster diving for necessities to make ends meet. Even before the protection of the Supreme Court, Hoffman partook in these actions illegally just to get by. He began the “Freeganism” movement with bare essentials: cooking products, discarded food, bedding, and more. Large congregations of dumpster divers at times band together for the common good.

Charitable Nonconformist Diving Organizations

The Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia, for example, are a charitable organization. Donation drives to this day to provide for poverty-stricken neighborhoods are held by the Philly Divers. By collecting tools, materials for projects, and cosmetic accessories for local artists, the organization has provided a service to the community. The Philidelphia Dumpster Divers get their inspiration from a problematic and controversial group circa 1966: the San Francisco Diggers. This group would hold food drives in Golden Gate Park to feed the growing homeless population in the hearth of the counterculture. They distributed free stew and other large meals made from stolen meat and vegetables.

The dumpster diving phenomenon is not showing any signs of slowing down in recent years. With almost 1/3 of produced food globally being wasted, surmounting to 1.3 billion tons, the dumpster divers feel an obligation to reduce, reuse and recycle. Divers use a natural and nonviolent means of expressing discontent and rejection of the consumer culture. This abstract idea reflects the counterculture’s linked roots to the lifestyle in Bohemianism.


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