Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tragically hip

The past isn't always another country. Sometimes it hangs around, living on spare change and turning in bottles for deposit refunds, and they don't do things differently there. They just do the same repeatedly, like the spook in a haunted house who poses on the staircase again night after night.
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Gerard van der Leun at American Digest went to a latter-day counterculture event in the park, and came back with photos of species some of us thought were extinct, like the rediscovery of the coelacanth.

I gotta be me

Flashing, man! Am I drowning or having some other kind of near-death experience and undergoing a life review? I'm in Berkeley, 1968. Smoke gets in my eyes. I've been to more of these festivals than a reindeer has had hot dinners.

I've said before, and I'll no doubt say again (because I have only a limited store of ideas, and don't want to use them up too quickly) that there were good things about the '60s counterculture. The music, a lot of it. The un-ironic romanticism. The skepticism about technology. The — well, I don't want to get too personal.

So in that respect, I guess I'm different to most of today's cultural conservatives. But almost all of what was good about the '60s counterculture washed out, especially after it became politicized, and everything that was toxic survived and evolved into the political correctness of the Baby Boomer generation, or what I think of as the National Public Radio generation.
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What seems to me saddest about van der Leun's photos isn't the woman shown above who's doing the hippie hippie shake without quite having the … style to go with it. The distressing bit is the younger people, in the age group I was in as a Berkeley freak. Whatever you say about the original hippies (a tag we had contempt for: we called each other heads or freaks), you have to admit that they created a genuinely new subculture, including art forms like the psychedelic-inspired Fillmore posters, clothing, slang.

These poor kids (poor in imagination; I expect few are financially poor, which some of the original counterculture kids made it a point of honor to be) who think they're so cool, so out there, so dangerous, have invented sod-all. The only thing they seem to know how to do is copy what we did 40 years ago, with the possible exception of the tattoos and metal studs.

I think young people should have a culturally rebellious streak. (So should older people, for that matter.) We need to have our cage rattled from time to time. But these Haight-Ashbury re-enacters aren't introducing anything. They're just playing at being part of what they imagine was a Golden Age of transgressiveness, and thanking themselves for their daring.
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A few years ago, before Time magazine went into terminal irrelevance, it ran a thoughtful story about how the hip icons, from the Beat Generation to the bikers to James Dean to Jim Morrison, had been co-opted into the standard off-the-shelf popular culture. The headline asked something like, "If Everybody's Hip, Is Anybody Hip?"

A good question. One thing I'll take my oath on: these young people channeling the stoned dropouts who created their template aren't hip. They've turned on, but they've tuned in to their parents. Some rebels.

But I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
When the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away
— Simon and Garfunkel

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Gerard said...

An excellent commentary which mirrors, in many ways, my own perceptions. Especially astute since I too was in Berkeley in 1968.

Thanks for the link to my little photo essay.

Rick Darby said...

Your comment is much appreciated, Gerard. I wonder if we ever crossed paths back in Berkeley. My first dwelling there, in '67, was on Dwight Way, just a stoned throw from Telegraph Avenue.

Emily said...

Great post. Is there anything more boring than the strictly conforming "non-conformist"?

YIH said...

I might be able to put a real name to the face of 'Sir Tokes-a-lot'.
It might actually be Alex St. John!
CEO of WildTangent, former Micro$oft employee and columnist for CPU Magazine.
The pic I linked to is straight from the mag's site.
Because I'm a subscriber to that mag I grabbed a copy I had lying around flipped it to the page and compared photos.
The resemblence is uncanny, and he does indeed live in the Seattle area...