Counter Culture

The 1960’s refers to the years between 1960 and 1969, however over the last two decades, the term, the Sixties, has come to refer to the complex of inter-related cultural and political events that occurred in roughly that period, particularly in the United States (1960’s pp).

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But these events occurred in other Western countries as well, especially France, West Germany and Britain, and even Japan and Mexico experienced social upheaval during this same time period (1960’s pp). The Sixties is used nostalgically by those who participated in those events, and censoriously by those who regard those years as a period whose harmful effects are still being felt today (1960’s pp).

Actually, there are some events that did not occur in that decade, yet they are thrown into that decade (1960’s pp). For example, the Civil Rights Movement really began in earnest during the 1950’s, however since the most dramatic events of the movement occurred in the 1960’s, it is regarded as a Sixties event (1960’s pp). The women’s liberation and the gay rights movements did not begin until the late 1960’s and reached their “full flowering” in the 1970’s (1960’s pp). Yet, over the years, the term “Sixties” has become a convenient shorthand for all the new, exciting, radical, subversive and/or dangerous events and trends of the period (1960’s pp).

The majority of the Sixties’ trends were due to the demographic changes brought about by the “baby boom generation, the height of the Cold War, and the dissolution of European colonial empires” (1960’s pp). A few of the characteristics that defined the Sixties include the rise in social revolution, civil rights movements, human rights movement, anti-War movements, and the Counterculture movement (1960’s pp). Some experts attribute the 1960’s counter-culture revolution as being the result of the major social and political factors that stemmed from the previous decade, such as brinksmanship, continued fighting in the Third World, and a return to pre-World War II lifestyle (1960’s pp). The new generation of baby-boomers rebelled against the pre-World War II lifestyle, in which men wore suits and women stayed in the kitchen (1960’s pp). Although many believed this to be simply a Western phenomenon, the Sixties revolution spread far beyond the borders of American and Western Europe (1960’s pp). For example, revolutions were at a high level in South America, in the Eastern Bloc, movements began that were inspired by the Hungarian Revolution to reject Soviet domination, and the Middle East attempted to resist Soviet and American domination (1960’s pp). In fact, the decade of the 1960’s affected the entire globe (1960’s pp).

Initially, the movement for civil and political rights for African-Americans began as a non-violent movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. And other Gandhi-like figures (1960’s pp). However, the movement later produced radical offshoot such as the Black Power movement, resulting in competition between the Black Panther Party and the Black Muslims for primacy within the African-American community (1960’s pp). It may be worth noting that up until the early 1960’s, African-Americans were usually called Negroes, and by the late 1960’s, they were referred to as Blacks (1960’s pp).

The decade began with what was viewed as a new optimistic political era with the election of President John F. Kennedy in 1960, then sank into disillusionment with Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 (1960’s pp). This was followed by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. And Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, and then the collapse of the presidency of Lyndon Johnson (1960’s pp).

The opposition to the Vietnam War gave rise to a mass movement that culminated in massive Moratorium protests in 1969, and as well as the movement of resistance to conscription, the Draft, for the war (1960’s pp). Initially, the antiwar movement was based on the older 1950’s Peace movement that was controlled by the Communist Party U.S.A., however by the mid-1960’s it had become a broad-based mass movement that was rooted in the universities and churches throughout the country (1960’s pp). Fueled by this movement, yet expanding beyond it, came the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley in 1964, followed by the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, and then the shootings at Kent State University in 1970 (1960’s pp).

This New Left employed the rhetoric of Marxism, yet had little organizational connection with older Marxist organizations such as the Communist Part, and even less connection with the focus of Marxist politics (1960’s pp). Some of the ephemeral campus-based Trotskyist, Maoist and other anarchist groups had turned to terrorism by the end of the 1960’s (1960’s pp).

Overlapping this radical political atmosphere was the movement of youth cultural radicalism that manifested in the hippie and counter-culture, whose emblematic movements were the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967 and the Woodstock Festival in 1969 (1960’s pp). Along with this movement came the spread of the recreational use of cannabis and other drugs, particularly new synthetic psychedelic drugs such as LSD (1969’s pp). There also came a breakdown of conventional sexual morality among the younger generation, culminating into the sexual revolution (1960’s pp). Although this was initially geared to heterosexual male gratification, it soon gave rise to contrary trends, such as the Women’s Liberation and the Gay Liberation movements (1960’s pp). The rise of this alternative culture among affluent youth, created a massive market for rock and blues music produced by drug-cultured bands such as The Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, and The Doors, as well as radical music in the folk tradition pioneered by Bob Dylan (1960’s pp).

Many people believe that up until the 1960’s, everyone had a certain traditional morality imparted to them by the culture, the ambient culture, and then, beginning in the 1960’s, a different set of lessons began to be imparted (You pp).

Right up through the 1950’s, the divorce rate was low in the United States, whereas today the divorce rate is at least fifty percent (You pp). Moreover, although illegitimacy has always existed, prior to the 1960’s, the rate was low, whereas, today it hovers at an extremely high rate of thirty percent (You pp). And although accurate figures of abortion rates prior to the 1960’s are difficult to obtain, most agree that they were fairly low, whereas in 2001 there were 246 legal induced abortions per 1,000 live births in the United States (U.S. pp). Critics blame the Sixties Counterculture for the explosion of these pathologies (You pp).

Events that were happening in the political and social arenas were reflected in the literature of the era, such as Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ a story about a small southern town and social distinctions between races (American pp). Women of color such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou and Margaret Walker Alexander wrote about race and gender and helped create new insights on feminism as it developed in America (American pp). While Sylvia Plath and Mary McCarthy wrote of women in roles outside those of the happy mother and housewife of the 1950’s, and Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem led the feminist movement for an entire generation of women (American pp). And disillusionment with the whole system at large produced such books as Catch-22 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (American pp).

Basically, the Sixties saw a new generation who questioned America’s materialism and cultural and political norms, and sought a “better world” using music, politics, and alternative lifestyles to create what came to be known as the “counterculture” (Law pp). The counterculture lifestyle integrated many of the ideals and indulgences of the era, such as “peace, love, harmony, music, mysticism, and religions outside the Judeo-Christian tradition, and meditation, yoga, and psychedelic drugs were embraced as ways to expand one’s consciousness (Law pp). This spiritual awakening is still present today, as evident by the myriad of books and tapes available on meditation, yoga and other stress-relief techniques (Law pp).

This counterculture movement was greeted with enormous publicity and popular interest, and contributed to changes in American culture (Law pp). Legacies of this era include “a willingness to challenge authority, greater social tolerance, the sense that politics is personal, environmental awareness, and changes in attitudes about gender roles, marriage, and child rearing” (Law pp). Moreover, during the 1960’s, health foods and organic foods became popular among the children of the Sixties, and today are booming businesses, as most grocery stores now carry health and organic foods (Law pp).

A few of the things that characterize or gained popularity during the Sixties era include Beatlemania, the Apollo Man on the Moon mission, the drug Valium, Mickey Mouse watches, aluminum cans and pop-top cans for soft-drinks and beer, Tab and Diet Pepsi were introduced, felt tip pens, surfing, Foster Grant sunglasses, freeze-dried foods, home video recorders, The Duncan yo-yo, soft contact lenses, the first satellite in sky (Telstar), dirt bikes, touch-tone telephones, and Teflon cookware (1960’s1 pp).

Works Cited


1960’s1. Stack of Decades. 9/1/1994. HighBeam Research Library Web site.

American Cultural History: 1960-1969. Kingwood College Library.

Law, Lisa. 1960’s Counterculture.’scountercult.htm

U.S. Abortion Statistics.

You Said You Wanted A Revolution: 1968 and the Counter-Counterculture.”

Hoover Institution.