Ten positive counterculture identities

Returning that matter of bohemian identity, here are ten more options.

  1. Peace activist.
  2. Yogi.
  3. Organic gardener.
  4. Vegan.
  5. Feminist.
  6. Civil rights activist.
  7. Environmentalist.
  8. Poet.
  9. New England contradancer.
  10. Sanctuary volunteer.

What more would you suggest for the list?

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Ten counterculture identities

I’ve been considering some differences and similarities of beatniks and hippies, but they’re just part of a much longer tradition that is often called bohemian.

Without trying to distinguish what identifies each of these (I do get awfully confused at times), here are ten to consider.

  1. Hipster.
  2. Boho.
  3. Grunge.
  4. Punk.
  5. Goth.
  6. Dread.
  7. Deadhead.
  8. Freak.
  9. Punk.
  10. Stoner. (Oops, I just saw that this one can be broken down into ten more categories!)

How would you distinguish any or all of these?

What would you suggest for the list?

Considering the negative image of some, what would you offer as more positive alternatives when it comes to alternative awareness and living?

Ten things hippies and beatniks had in common

While many beatniks despised the hippies who followed on the counterculture trail, the two did have some commonalities.

Here are ten I see.

  1. Alternative living: They both dressed in ways that weren’t socially acceptable, part of their rejection of bourgeois attitudes of American respectability. Hippies, especially, advanced that into group living.
  2. Beards: The beat goatee was signature. Hippies took facial hair in many distinctive directions.
  3. Sandals: On men, especially. Forget the polished wingtips.
  4. Incense: It became a staple of small alternative stores, along with interesting teas like Earl Grey and Gunpowder.
  5. Pot: Jazz musicians were the root for the beats. Having a toke together became a communal expression among hippies.
  6. Free love: Although the birth control pill was approved for public use in 1960, it was still illegal in eight states four years later. Still, it quickly grew in popularity, garnering the condemnation of Pope Paul VI in 1968. Well, if extramarital sex was already taboo, what additional fault would using the contraceptive have? This was having fun while scoffing at conventionality at the same time.
  7. Eastern spirituality: Zen Buddhist and Theosophist influences championed by the beats spread into yoga, Sufism, and other strands of Buddhism in the hippie era.
  8. Pacifism: Opposition to war, though, did not always carry a corresponding nonviolent outlook by hippies, who instead focused their opposition on the military draft and stopping that by any means possible.
  9. Cool: Beatniks liked to “play it cool.” Hippies had their own nuance in preferring to “be cool” as a way of displaying their individuality.
  10. Mass-media caricatures: Both were portrayed negatively in the mass media, usually as warped stereotypes.

Ten ways hippies differed from beatniks

While many hippies were profoundly influenced by beatnik writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and their alternative lifestyles, many beatniks were contemptuous of the flowering of the hippie movement.

The term “beatnik” itself was coined by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen on April 2, 1958, after the Russian Sputnik satellite went into orbit. It quickly encapsulated what had been happening since the early part of the decade in the city’s North Beach district.

The word hippie probably springs from the much older word “hipster,” and came to prominence when 100,000 young people from across the country converged on the city for the Summer of Love in 1967.

Here are ten ways the two cultures differed:

  1. Prime time: 1950s and early ’60s, the beats. Late ’60s and early ’70s, the hippies. A half-generation apart. My guess is that unlike beatniks, hippies grew up with television in the house, along with rock ‘n’ roll, and that this influenced the thinking.
  2. Hangouts: Coffee houses and bookstores, especially in San Francisco’s North Shore and Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, for the beats. San Francisco’s Haight-Asbury districts before moving out to communes and college campus fringes, for the hippies.
  3. Philosophical roots: Nonjudgmental, noncombative attitudes influenced by Eastern religions and philosophies, along with nuclear arms opposition, for the beats. Hostility to the military draft and parental control, plus opportunities for sexual freedom, for the hippies.
  4. Personnel: The beats were a much smaller group, primarily poets and essayists, centered on the fine arts and artists themselves. The hippies sprang largely from runaways, initially, and drug experimenters, musicians, war protesters, and laissez-faire independents.
  5. Political orientation: Beatniks eschewed political involvement but did benefit from crucial court decisions, especially involving pornographic expression. Hippies were politically vocal, especially with protests and rallies.
  6. The beat, er, sound: Jazz, primarily, and folk, for the beats. Breakthrough venue: Newport Festival in Rhode Island, starting in 1954. For the hippies, rock and some folk, for the hippies. Breakthrough venue: Woodstock, 1969, as well as the Filmore Auditorium in San Francisco beginning in 1966.
  7. Threads: Dark clothing, usually black with a European look, for the beats. Women went for dark leotards and long, straight dark hair. For the hippies, clothing was anything comfortable, often ratty, drab as well colorfully excessive with occasional global or back-to-the-land historical flavors. Think Gypsy, Native American, even India for influence.
  8. Recreational drugs: Beatnik pot use became widespread among hippies. LSD, though, was definitively hippie. Beats were known for cool. Hippies, for stoned.
  9. Mass media stereotypes: Turtleneck sweaters, bongos, berets, and dark glasses, for the beats. Tie-dye, long hair, headbands, tassels, beads, and bell bottoms, for the hippies. Both usually portrayed in negative light.
  10. Artistic expression: Poetry and novels, the beats. Rock and filmmaking, the hippies. Abstract impressionist painting, the beats. Installation art, performance art, and graffiti, for the hippies.

Food as the new cultural touchstone

My wife came across an article that noted the primary cultural focus in 21st century America is fine food and wine. It’s what intelligent people discuss, even argue about, in casual conversation. And just look at all the writing focused on it today.

A related factor the article raised was that in modern history, in each century one nation has dominated in one art form rather than many. That’s had me thinking, even though I think America led on two fronts in the 2oth century.

Here are ten examples that spring to my mind.

  1. Painting and sculpture. 16th century Italian masters.
  2. Theater. 16th century England. Shakespeare is unrivaled.
  3. Painting. 17th century Dutch masters.
  4. Painting. 19th century France culminating in Impressionism.
  5. The symphony. 19th century Germany towering in Beethoven and Brahms. Do we think of Vienna as essentially German?
  6. The novel. 19th century England and America. Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn may be flawed but they remain original masterworks.
  7. Opera. 19th century Italy. Verdi and Puccini remain the core of the repertoire.
  8. Ballet. 19th century Russia. Its great symphonists excelled here. And look where the great dancers and teachers still come from.
  9. Movies. 20th century America. (Shall we consider Hollywood as a nation unto itself?)
  10. Popular music. 20th century America as jazz and then rock evolve. (Note that this happens more in the eastern half of the country – New Orleans, Kansas City, Memphis, Cleveland, Nashville, but especially New York.)

I’ll leave it to others to look for the food trends over time. 

What else would you add to this list?

When a Chinese student stayed in our home

Last summer, we had a college student from China stay in our home while he worked an internship at the children’s museum in town.

We found it to be an enriching experience.

His big desire was to improve his English, which he did, but he also wanted to “eat American.” That meant, as we learned, that he really loved our homemade Mexican more than a Big Mac … and my fried rice more than the Chinese restaurant downtown. And don’t overlook the brownies and potato chips.

Lobster, on the other hand, required too much labor to dissect, as his friends agreed.

As a city boy, he was annoyed by the insects when we dined outdoors. Alas, we ate indoors a bit too often.

In return, we’ve been endowed with some of the best green tea in North America, along with some great memories.

His English was, shall we say, much better than my Spanish (my point of reference in trying to translate to another language), but our great discovery was of an effective way to translate when we got stuck on an interpretation. No, it wasn’t a dictionary. It was the ubiquitous cell phone.

Like when he wanted to buy some sleepers.

Pajamas?

No, sleepers.

After a few rounds of that, he pulled up the image online.

We were in the drug store.

Oh, flip-flops! Now I understood.

That is, slippers.

Made sense to me. An “i” can, after all, be pronounced as “ee.” It is in Spanish, for that matter.

We headed for the aisle behind him, found a suitable pair for under three bucks – made in China, actually. Small world?

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Defined by faith, especially

Many Americans participate in a congregation close to their homes – a neighborhood church, as it’s often called.

For others, though, the decision is more selective and may require travel to gather for worship, communal action, and other events.

Frequently, these members define their personal identity strongly by these religious circles – I certainly do as a Quaker. Still others, like Jews or Greeks, find their identity further enhanced by the use of a foreign language, such as Hebrew or Greek, in worship and possibly also at home, as well as unique holidays on dates the wider public doesn’t celebrate.

I am fascinated by the intensity of this identification for some people or its relative weakness in others. I rarely hear individuals define themselves as, say, Methodist or Presbyterian or even Baptist with the sense of intense core identity I hear in Quaker, Greek, Mennonite, or even “nonobservant Jew.”

Think about the Amish, with their German dialect accompanied by distinctive dress and horse-and-carriage transportation. Or Ultra-Orthodox Jews who also observe the dress restrictions and likely add Yiddish to the mix.

Let’s assume we’ll find similar patterns in new ethnic populations appearing in the nation – Islam, especially. Anyone else feeling some empathy?

What’s your experience of religion and personal identity?