The 1960s counterculture represented a major digression in mainstream American society as youth culture began to question the American way of life and the authorities creating and enforcing the law. Rejecting the ideals and structure of the ever-developing “technocracy,” the movement brought together like-minded individuals eager to transform the hegemonic and normative values that ruled the country.
Rather, the counterculture attempted to capture the essence of human experience in its pursuit of personal freedom. While many of the beliefs and practices from the 1960s counterculture have disappeared over the last several decades, some elements of the era still partially exist in modern-day society.
Today’s generation resembles some of the cultural ideologies and practices from the 1960s counterculture, including the experimentation of sex and drugs, music festivals, the urgency to travel and the anti-war sentiment. While many still condemn the nature of this lifestyle, such incorporations in today’s culture have remained positive in offering young, impressionable Americans a new outlook on life and the opportunity to expand their horizons.
The experimentation of mind-altering and conscience-expanding drugs was a frequent practice in support of the anti-conformist beliefs and rebellious attitudes during the 1960s counterculture. Today, young adults continue to use of drugs on a regular basis as a means for discovering new perspectives on life.
Although LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs no longer share the popularity that they once had during the late 1960s, the use of marijuana remains a common practice for experimentation in today’s day and age.
Furthermore, other illicit substances have entered the realm of popular culture since the conclusion of the 1960s.
In the 1980s, cocaine exploded into the disco era as the decade’s most popular substance. As larger amounts of cocaine were shipped to the United States, the abuse of this potent drug soon resembled the regularity at which the counterculture had used LSD to achieve self-enlightenment.
Moreover, the current generation has become exposed to other highly addictive and dangerous substances, particularly ecstasy and heroin, in the 1990s.
With the emergence of the grunge movement in Seattle, WA, heroin reached new heights in the drug market with its consistent group of users. Rock bands, such as Nirvana, Alice In Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots, also began to frequently abuse heroin to produce an intense euphoric experience.
At the same time, as the electronic music scene of Great Britain expanded into the United States, more teenagers and young adults began experimenting with ecstasy pills at raves and other dance parties.
Currently, the meth epidemic has become America’s newest drug crisis as the government fights against the spread of this high-powered drug. The production and use of crystal methamphetamine has been taken to another level with private, secretive labs set up in basements and garages of residences all over the country.
In the August 2005 edition of Newsweek, federal reports concluded that more than 12 million Americans have tried methamphetamine, and 1.5 million use the drug regularly.
As journalist David J. Jefferson explains, “Meth addicts are pouring into prisons and recovery centers at an ever-increasing rate, and a new generation of ‘meth babies’ is choking the foster-care system in many states.”
While the current development and production of drugs in the United States has become more focused on substances like heroin, ecstasy and crystal meth, the concept of personal expression through such experimentation-a central tenet of the countercultural movement-continues to permeate in society today.
In the live music scene today, hippies and other open-minded individuals attend multi-day festivals throughout the summer months that feature an expansive lineup of jam bands and other psychedelic rock bands. A long list of musical acts-Phish, The Dead, The String Cheese Incident, Widespread Panic and The Allman Brothers-perform throughout the day and late into the night.
Like Woodstock and Altamont in the late 1960s, these gatherings are often placed far away from civilization in small, rural towns. The location of the event provides an extraordinary journey in itself as fans travel from all over the country to meet other like-minded people and listen to inspiring musicians. Large groups of fans attending the event do not stay in hotel rooms but rather camp at local sites and value their experience with the natural world.
Most importantly however, modern-day festivals, such as Bonnaroo and Wakarusa, reproduce the spirit and character of the 1960s counterculture. Specifically, participants demonstrate a sheer disregard for the established laws of the United States; friends and even families can often be seen openly using a variety of illegal drugs and having sex with multiple partners in public.
In a sense, these festivals, much like initial ones held during the 1960s, become a psychedelic, surreal experience for its viewers. For instance, Burning Man, another type of countercultural festival in Nevada, captures a similar sentiment of absolute freedom, allowing people to choose their own peaceful and creative course of action-nude dancing, drugs, alternative music and psychedelic art all become a part of this hallucinogenic and self-liberating experience.
Thus, many countercultural elements of the 1960s music scene are still apparent in festivals and concerts held throughout the United States today.
The concept of life on the road became a revolutionary concept in the 1960s with the invention of the automobile presenting college students the opportunity to tour the country. Beginning in the 1940s with young travel authors like Jack Kerouac, Americans experienced this new phenomenon known as the American highway, which would allow them to gain freedom from their parents while witnessing new types of people and places.
Similar to the Beatnik generation, today’s generation also has an urgency to travel.
With the advancements in air travel over the years, young Americans continue to fly around the world to learn of new cultures and experience life outside of the United States. Large numbers of college students study abroad in foreign countries throughout the world as a means for self-exploration.
For many, traveling represents a spiritual journey and a chance to reflect on one’s own life through personal experience. Traveling for some adventuresome individuals has become a way of life, abandoning the conventional American concepts of a career, home and family.
Back in the states, the road trip has continued to represent a release from the social pressures of the capitalist system-the road still serves as an outlet for college students and other young adults to use while they search to find a place of society. This 1960s novelty of seeing something for the first time has continued to influence the decisions of people from the current generation.
Another incorporation of the 1960s counterculture in today’s generation is the open practice of sex.
In more recent years, young people throughout the United States have accepted the similar conception of free love as a part of their everyday lives. More teenagers today are having sexual intercourse at a younger age-sex offers adolescents and college students the ability to openly and freely express their sexuality while rebelling against their parents and Judeo-Christian values.
In addition, the overuse of sex in movies and mainstream media has trivialized the notion of “making love” to some extent-with the invention of “hooking up” as a common trend in social settings across the United States, sex no longer symbolizes a sacred and meaningful act.
In his 2004 book, I Am Charlotte Simmons, 1960s author Tom Wolfe addresses the issue of demoralization of sexual practices in contemporary society. In particular, Wolfe discussed the common “mating practices” of current young adults and the frequency of premarital sex in the modern American university.
Even though Wolfe, a pioneer of the New Journalism movement, had observed the initial birth of the sexual freedom in the 1960s counterculture, he strongly believed that sexual activity in today’s generation continues to be carried out with much greater regularity. Thus, the demoralization of sex in today’s generation surpasses the 1960s counterculture movement with the common perception that sex offers individuals a sense of personal freedom and expression.
From these examples, it remains clear that several different practices and methods of the 1960s counterculture movement are still performed in the current generation.
However, the question remains: how should we currently think of these progressive, freethinking elements of the counterculture and our current incorporation of them on a daily basis?
These elements of the counterculture that still exist today should not be criticized but rather appreciated. It is important for people at a young age to experience as many different avenues as possible and gain a new appreciation for the world.
Furthermore, people should be allowed to express themselves freely if they desire. While drug use and free love are considered somewhat dangerous activities, people need to understand who they are and what is important to them before they can move into the confines of the real world.
The ideologies and customs that we have adopted from the 1960s counterculture movement have supplied people with this absolute freedom to discover important and meaningful people, places and opportunities at any moment in their life.