Issitt, M. 2009. Hippies: A Guide to an American Subculture.

Issitt, Micah L. 2009. Hippies: A Guide to an American Subculture. Denver, CO: Greenwood Press.

1960s US counterculture as having many subcultures, including civil rights and student activists, anarchists, remainders of the Beat generation of the 1950s – in ways, many studies of hippies try to isolate this group from the other countercultural contexts. US hippie culture mirrored in Europe, South America. Place as important to hippie growth – hippie culture emerged within already situated countercultural communities.  Politics of hippies focus on antimaterialism, individualism, internationalism, cosmopolitanism, spiritualism, personal fulfillment, community-building, nascent environmentalism and back-to-land movements. Music as central to spreading hippie influence – originating from African-American roots of blues, gospel, rock and roll – folk, using drugs and cultural exchange/appropriation as a way to advance/adopt new music forms. Disorganization and improvisational music offered as space for innovation – acted as a center for hippies to join, socialize, concrete norms. Term hippie offered as an external marker – rarely did hippies call themselves hippies – a way to homogenize a diverse counterculture.  Travel, international and abroad, was central to hippieness – prompting early forces of globalization.  Most hippies were demographically white upper-middle class educated teenagers and young adults.

Counterculture as reactional to mainstream culture – here, marked by 1950s consumerism, conformity, and gendered divisions of labor. Instead, focus on literature, jazz music, poetry, and gender egalitarianism (kx^ kind of?) brought on by Beats. Growth of hippie communities, led by psychedelic spirituality, drug culture, cultural exchange with Europe, primarily Britain. Hippie “costuming” brought on by the often-chosen poverty, rag-market, traded, or thrifted finds – as well as Western and Victorian elements that strikingly differed from the styles of the time.

Hippie economics – often based on borrowing, stealing, handouts – critiqued even by figureheads of the hippie movements. Hippie culture guided by musical groups, spiritual leaders, drug use, hedonism – in ways, individualism and small-l liberalism. Use of drugs central to political movements, medicating physical and mental maladies, expanding creativity and innovation.

Sexuality within hippie culture was brought to a forefront, outside of the private and prudent discourses and activities of the times. Though hippies not always supportive of homosexual rights, feminism, and body positivity, the countercultural force helped make way for these movements. Small-l liberalism of the hippies offered people to “do their own thing,” helping free love movements and practice spread – as was as the expansion of accepted sexual moralities.

“By treating sex as just another form of pleasure, like eating, sleeping, or playing, the hippies hope to free themselves from the sexual obsession of the masses, in which sex was often used to control behavior”  (21). Allyn 2000: “For hippies, sexual liberation meant not being preoccupied with sex,” (116) – but instead love.  “Love was the central tenant of the counterculture […] love of nature, love of life, love of oneself, love of love. Sexual intercourse was merely a way to communicate with, and express love for, another person” (116).

Nudity prior to hippie era was stylized, commodified, and made-up. “While hippies didn’t abandon the consumer aspect of nudity, they inspired a new aesthetic that envisioned the raw human body as an object of beauty. Consumer culture was informed by this view and soon models in magazines were wearing less makeup and were often pictured in naturalistic surroundings” (22).

“The sexual revolution of the 1960s was very different for men and women. While men experienced relaxed social restrictions and were, in many cases, freed from concerns about marriage and family responsibilities, women often found that their hippie mates still expected them to fill traditional spousal and maternal roles”  (23). Hippie women were expected to be sexually-open, adventurous, spiritual – but also very traditional in terms of household labor and interests.  “Instead of undoing the deeply rooted sexual double standard, free love only masked it in counterculture pieties” (Echols 2002, 34).  — leads into feminist organizing of the 1970s.

“Some criticized or lampooned hippie sexual behavior as indiscriminate, unhygienic, and irresponsible, while others celebrated it as revolutionary and profound. The attention given to the counterculture allowed hippies to reach across cultural lines and convinced many Americans to reexamine their views on sex” (24).

Gathering of the Tribes (Human Be-In) of January 1967 had 20,000 attendees – a media shitstorm. “This was the story the media had been waiting for – an event of sufficient proportions that they could bring this new scene to the public’s attention. Those looking to condemn the hippies showed pictures of scantily clad women and told stories of unbridled decency, drug use, and immorality.  Those who wanted to celebrate the scene should pictures and told stories of the biggest hippie party the world had ever seen” (9). Followed up with 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival – one of the first of large-scale outdoor music concerts, prompted large-scale migration to San Francisco area, bringing hippie music and culture into the mainstream pop music charts.

Caricaturization and commodification of hippies was swift – bus tours of Haight Ashbury, the sale of “hippie clothing” and other paraphernalia promoted hundreds of stores to open.  Culminated in the “Death of the Hippie March”  (October 1967) – in protest of the commercialization of hippie culture, as well as the closure of Ron Thelin’s Psychedelic Shop. Stigmatization and media representations of hippies led to difficulties in finding work, housing, other forms of discrimination. “The capitalist system eventually adjusted to the new consumer base, many who had been a part of hippie culture. Even in the early 1960s, just as the hippie trend was beginning to coalesce, advertisers were geared toward the teen market. It wasn’t long before advertisers started using hippie slang, calling a pair of jeans ‘hip’ or a new car ‘cool.’ Even the concepts of ‘revolution’ and ‘rebellion’ were reduced to slogans and catch phrases for companies marketing to current and former hippies” (63 see also Danesi 2007).

Woodstock of August 1969 described as peak, pinnacle, and demise of the hippie movement – represented as a last large scale rebellion and cultural shift. Followed by deaths of major hippie music artists in the next years (Joplin, Hendrix, Morrison).  “In many ways, the music festivals were the culmination of hippie culture and hippie rock, but they also signaled an end of the golden age of hippies. Because of the huge turnouts, the festivals were afforded significant attention in the mainstream media, which both recruited new followers to the hippie scene and attracted intense scrutiny from authorities” (42).

“There was never a ‘standard hippie,’ whose behavior or beliefs could accurately represent the counterculture. Rather, hippies were a group made up of thousands of individuals, engaged in a multitude of activities, whose presence in and effect on society has been abbreviated in the necessity for historical simplification” (14).


Allyn, David Smith. 2000. Make Love Not War: The Sexual Revolution, an Unfettered History. New York: Little, Brown.

Danesi, Marcel. 2007. Why It Sells: Decoding the Meanings of Brand Names, Logos, Ads, and Other Marketing and Advertising Ploys. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Echols, Alice. 2002. Shaky Ground: The 60s and Its Aftershocks. New York: Columbia University Press.


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