Is it possible to be a real hippie in the modern world?
by Giulio Brandi, staff writer; illustration by Sarah Wool, editor
Do you hang a dream catcher in your car? If so, you might be asleep at the wheel—not just the wheel of your 4WD SUV, but also at the wheel of your life. The resurgence of hippie culture is in full bloom, but don’t be alarmed; this isn’t anything new. In fact, the hippie revival seems to be kind of old hat nowadays, as it’s changed its shape several times since the ’60s.
Hippies were the result of the beatnik generation. To understand hippies you have to take a close look at the beats, because that’s where a lot of their beliefs originated. The grandfathers of the beats (Burroughs, Ginsberg, Gysin and the like) were so elitist that by the time “beatnik” was a recognized word, they tried to avoid affiliations with that crowd—they regarded newcomers as posers. The beats were, well, a beat generation. They identified themselves as uncool, down-and-out, broken up deadbeats. In the early sixties, beats began transforming themselves into hippies. Outward appearances may have changed during this period, but ideals remained more or less the same. Hippie culture devoted itself to Eastern religious thought, anti-materialist attitudes, and a strong negation of mainstream American life. Ginsberg , a figurehead in both movements, embodied all of these values. Oh, and the beats were doing mescalin, not acid.
As far as subcultures go, the hippie niche isn’t out of the ordinary. Most subcultures have a defined list of clothing, music and—if they’re cool enough—drugs for its members to subscribe to. But what sets this mindset apart from others is its tendency to breed a very particular form of pseudo-intellectual smugness.
Modern “hippie culture” thrives on college campuses across North America, and CC is no exception; based purely on the presence of drug rugs, pipes, slack-liners and moccasins seen on campus, we seem to have a slightly more hippie-leaning student body than the average college. While the new hippie culture vaguely imitates the looks and attitudes of the past, it is founded on two shaky pillars: a reverence for the earth and all things “organic,” and an eager tolerance of everyone and everything.
On a basic level, these ideals don’t seem too bad. The problem is that they age and become hollow over time, doomed to be repackaged into clichéd symbols sold in storefront windows (i.e. Che Guevara t-shirts). Here’s a little piece of advice: Any ideology that can be expressed through purchases from a mall is not worth buying into.
These two fundamental ideas, while great in theory, require Ghandi-esque levels of self awareness in practice. For example, something as mundane as owning a car, the most basic of things needed to get by in the modern world, makes it difficult to keep the earth in mind. From the production process to the cost of maintenance and even disposal, most cars are hardly ecologically viable. Even if you are a little more serious about being green and choose to ride a bicycle, there are still ecological costs in owning one, from mining the metal used in its construction to the transport costs for delivering it to your favorite bike shop.
It’s easier to put a “coexist’’ bumper sticker next to your peace sign and trick yourself into thinking that your work is done than it is to devote yourself to self-sacrifice and earthly harmony. Congratulations on the bumper sticker, though! You are now absolved of your sins, and as a result you are no longer dependent on, nor responsible for, the dollar that funds your education, the gas that runs your car or the decades of tyranny that established your quality of life! You are now free to let your mind relax in apathy—you are no longer a bad person because you have chosen to make love, not war (or, as I saw on a rather clumsily phrased bumper sticker, “make out, not war”).
The practice of tolerance can be dangerously paradoxical. If you believe in tolerance, why would you limit yourself to one particular world view, especially one so critical of opposing beliefs? If you believe your world view teaches you to be open-minded, just tell me how you respond when a republican sits at the table.
There are also those modern hippies that are fighting hard to conjure up the past, and while they might be aware of the two shaky pillars, it isn’t those that they try to embody. In this case, the allure of hippiedom might not stem from the ease with which you can pick up a cause and fight for it. The bait could be the oldest and most deceptive of American promises–freedom. The instructions are fairly simple: latter-day hippies, don your bohemian clothing and set sail into the ebb and flow of life’s unknown waters!
The chance of coming across someone with this mindset at a high-ranking liberal arts college is as remote as the chance of finding soap in a commune. Don’t get me wrong—even I was tricked into the allure of the hippie lifestyle when a glimmer of it flickered through my TV screen. “Easy Rider” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” have left a generation inspired but unable to recreate a carbon copy of the past.
Unfortunately, if you are concerned about your GPA, no amount of wind through your hair on a bike will blow away your ties to the modern world. It’s a tough realization but, unlike blindly following a dead subculture, it’s one that will definitely bring some clarity to life. To put it bluntly, if you are worrying about what you’ll be doing tomorrow, you aren’t following the original hippie ideals very closely.
Finally, the last vestige of those youngsters in the ’60s that’s left for us to follow is rebellion. It’s fitting that this comes last, because it’s seldom seen nowadays. Sure, there are people fighting for causes, and we all know about the popular ones. What gets to me is that the fight is so simple nowadays. Do you want to contribute to the equitable treatment of subsistence farmers in South America? Then don’t buy that coffee, buy this coffee. Do you want to save the rainforest and recycle? Then don’t buy plastic water bottles, dummy! It seems that too much self-satisfaction is gained from too little action. Suspicions should always be aroused when money and purchases are part of the equation. Besides, what fight is worthwhile if it’s easy?
It’s not like the country is free of issues, but where are the piles of burning drivers licenses? When was the National Guard last called in to control student rebellions? It looks to me like this movement has gone from a collaborative, cross-country union of ideals—ideals that were dangerous and worth having—to fragmented individual identities.
Through their fragmentation these ideals have become anesthetized, and are now only harmless words and symbols on the back of a student’s car and on the front of his t-shirt, neatly written off as something that belongs to the “college lifestyle.” There may be “hippies” at CC, but to take them as accurate portrayals of the originals would be like taking a dream catcher in a car as an accurate portrayal of Chippewa culture.