1960s: the Psychedelic Lifestyles

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The 1960s was a time of paradoxical contrasts, with peace coexisting alongside war and love intertwined with hate. It also witnessed numerous groundbreaking innovations. This era bore witness to significant historical events that left an indelible mark, such as the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy, followed by Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech five years later and his subsequent assassination. Additionally, it saw the monumental achievement of U.S. astronauts landing on the moon for the first time and the passing of the initial Civil Rights Bill aimed at eliminating racial discrimination.

During this period, the American population grappled with a wide range of contentious issues including the Vietnam War, nuclear armament, drug use, nonconformity, and sexual liberation.

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The 1960s were marked by several legacies, including a defiance of authority, an emphasis on environmental awareness, individualized politics, increased social acceptance, and shifts in perspectives regarding marriage, gender roles, and raising children. Moreover, this era was accompanied by various slogans like “turn on, tune in, and drop out” popularized by the hippies and “Stop the War” chanted by students. Prominent political figures such as Lyndon Johnson pledged to establish a “Great Society,” while John Kennedy urged Americans to pursue a “New Frontier.”

During this time period, people from various backgrounds and age groups were united in their strong belief in America’s capacity to establish a new society. This society aimed to eliminate exploitation and poverty, while ensuring accessible education for all. Additionally, it sought to eradicate historical wrongdoings such as racism within the country. The 1960s witnessed a pivotal moment with the Civil Rights Movement playing a crucial role in reshaping America. It all began when four African-American students boldly occupied a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, refusing to leave. This act sparked the fight for civil rights that would define the entire decade.

Many black people joined these four students by sitting at the same lunch counter daily, gaining widespread support. In addition, thousands more protested at segregated shops and restaurants in the upper South. Their actions brought national awareness to the brutality, unpredictability, and unfairness of Jim Crow laws. Consequently, we are said to be on the brink of a New Frontier – the frontier of the 1960s that is defined by unknown possibilities and dangers while being filled with unfulfilled dreams and promises.

In his inauguration speech, Kennedy urged Americans to explore uncharted areas of science and space, tackle unsolved problems of peace and war, overcome ignorance and prejudice, and find solutions for poverty and surplus. He emphasized that it was not just the responsibility of the country to serve its citizens but also the duty of citizens to contribute to their country. Kennedy’s call inspired many Americans to actively participate in social justice initiatives or join organizations like the Peace Corps. The nation embraced a hopeful outlook towards the future, as if there were no limits to what could be achieved. One significant frontier that emerged after Kennedy’s speech was sending an American into space. The Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957 surprised Americans and ignited their determination to catch up in the space race.

Under President Eisenhower, NASA was launched by the Congress in response. President Kennedy issued a challenge to land a man on the moon before 1969, which prompted Congress to provide billions of dollars for this mission. During Kennedy’s presidency, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth and Alan Shepherd became the first American to go into space. In 1969, as Americans reflected on Kennedy’s challenge, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon.

President Kennedy carried on the progressive tradition of Democrats Roosevelt and Truman by implementing a range of policies. He directed funds towards enhancing impoverished rural regions and backed research on mental illness through fundraising campaigns. Moreover, he enacted laws to fortify Social Security benefits and raise the minimum wage. Furthermore, Kennedy exhibited his support for the Civil Rights Movement by endorsing James Meredith’s admission to the University of Mississippi.

Despite not achieving all of his domestic objectives, President Kennedy’s proposals and supported ideas endured following his untimely death. He even instructed his brother Robert Kennedy, who held the position of Attorney General at the time, to provide legal defense for the freedom riders in Southern states. Unfortunately, Lee Harvey Oswald tragically assassinated President Kennedy in November 1963. Lyndon Johnson’s implementation of the Great Society initiatives encompassed Wilderness Protection, Medicare, and federal funding for education. The assassination of Kennedy further heightened public demand for these significant programs, and his absence remains a source of everlasting sorrow.

Prior to 1964, the federal government had limited participation in the civil rights movement. However, President Johnson played a significant part by advocating for and successfully passing a Civil Rights Act. This act made it illegal to discriminate in public places, allowed the Justice Department to take legal action against states engaging in discrimination, and ensured equal employment opportunities for all individuals, including women and minorities (History.com). In the subsequent year, the Voting Rights Act was implemented with the goal of eradicating literacy tests, poll taxes, and other tactics employed by white individuals in southern states to hinder black voters from exercising their voting rights.

Despite the disappearance of these tools, the new laws were not effective in addressing the challenges African Americans encountered. Poverty and racism still persist, and urban neighborhoods continue to face adversity. Consequently, many black leaders modified their objectives, adopting a more assertive stance that included self-defense and separatism. Additionally, other individuals began to reconsider their daily existence, aspiring for a genuine peace movement. Collectively, these individuals were referred to as “the counterculture.”

According to P. Braunstein in The American Counterculture of the 1960’s and 70’s, the term “counterculture” encompassed various demonstrations and protests, including the use of bongs, ashrams, and social nudity. A television special in 1997 featured two former Playboy Playmates discussing the era, noting that during the Sixties, a rebellious generation of young people defied societal norms, expanded their minds, and embraced unconventional lifestyles. In simpler terms, they indulged in drugs, parties, and neglected personal hygiene. The fashion of the 1960s shattered many traditional fashion norms and introduced a wide range of trends. Two iconic items that originated during this period and remain popular today are the mini-skirt and the bikini. Many individuals used fashion as a form of expressing their support for the peace movement by wearing paisley prints, batik fabrics, and vibrant tie-dye designs. Designers responded to the demand from young adults by creating more clothing options specifically targeted towards them, contributing to increased sales and interest in fashion due to the counterculture movement.

Even the Presidential election campaigns brought fashion into the spotlight. The wives of both Presidential candidates became the subject of controversy, with headlines focusing on the cost and source of their clothing, their personal wardrobes, and their ranking in the international “best dressed” list. During this time, Jacqueline Kennedy had a significant impact on fashion. As President Kennedy visited numerous countries in 1961, Jackie consistently stole the show.

During their global trip, newspapers worldwide praised her beauty and charm, with Nikita Krushchev from Russia and Charles de Gualle from France being charmed by her. In the U.S., her famous bouffant hairdo and pillbox hat were imitated by many women, which are still well-known today. Her unique style in the early 60’s became known as the “Jackie Kennedy look,” characterized by semi-fitted jackets, hip-length blouses, and A-line skirts falling to the knees or slightly below (Farber).

In the counterculture era, advancements in automation, industrial development, agricultural productivity, and economic growth within the United States led to a hopeful belief in a postscarcity society. This progress made people believe that employment needs could soon be significantly reduced or eliminated altogether (Braunstein).

The baby boomer generation deeply felt the impacts of war on every aspect of life.

During the Vietnam War, people sought solace through various means such as speeches, organizations, freedom chants, demonstrations, and drugs as they witnessed their siblings losing their lives on the battlefield. This war took place during the Cold War era and was fought in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia between 1955 and 1973. The United States government viewed its involvement in this conflict as a way to prevent communist control of South Vietnam and as part of its broader containment strategy against communism for the protection of American security.

In the early 1960s, there was a rapid increase in U.S. troop levels which deepened American engagement in the war. On October 16th, 1962 at around 9:00 AM, President Kennedy summoned Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a respected U.S. historian and Democratic Party supporter, to his office. During this meeting, Kennedy informed Schlesinger about new intelligence obtained from a U-2 aircraft that confirmed Russia’s covert placement of missiles and nuclear weapons in Cuba – an event known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This crisis brought together two nuclear superpowers – the USSR and the U.S., posing a threat of worldwide destruction and potentially leading to humanity’s demise. After thorough discussions, Kennedy decided on implementing a naval blockade surrounding Cuba as a response strategy. Additionally, he ordered the destruction of missile sites along with any existing missiles already present in Cuba to prevent further military supplies from being provided by Soviet forces.The response of Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev to the demands and naval blockade was uncertain, but both leaders acknowledged the potential danger of a nuclear war. They publicly agreed that the Soviets would dismantle weapon sites if the United States promised not to attack Cuba. As 1963 approached, tensions between the two nations seemed to lessen. President Kennedy used his commencement address at American University to call on Americans to reassess Cold War stereotypes and strive for peace in a diverse world. Actions taken towards peace included signing the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and establishing a “Hotline” communication system between the White House and Kremlin. In 1965, U.S combat units were sent to carry out operations along Cambodia and Laos borders, while in 1968, during the Tet Offensive, U.S involvement reached its peak. Eventually, as part of Vietnamization efforts, U.S forces withdrew from the war.

In the midst of the Vietnam War, drug usage was prevalent among those deeply affected by the conflict. Marijuana, LSD, and other hallucinogens were frequently used substances. Even educated individuals endorsed and championed these drugs. LSD, also known as lysergic acid diethylamide, was thought to temporarily disable the brain’s perception-regulating filters. This allowed unfiltered stimuli to overwhelm the mind without logical processing. DeGroot’s quote highlights how LSD facilitated a shift in consciousness. Timothy Leary, a renowned psychologist, became an emblematic figure in the counterculture movement.

Timothy Leary’s research on the effects of LSD and other substances played a significant role in establishing him as a counterculture symbol. As a Harvard teacher in 1960, Leary conducted studies on the impact of LSD on graduate students who willingly participated. Additionally, he utilized LSD for psychotherapy purposes with prison inmates. Despite the drug being enjoyed by both inmates and students, Harvard University authorities disapproved, resulting in Leary’s departure from the institution in 1963. Even during the peak of the hippie movement, Leary continued to advocate for LSD usage in California despite its illegal status.

Despite being called “the most dangerous man in America” by President Richard Nixon, Leary dismissed the title due to his celebrity status and associations with famous figures like John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix. He was also well-known for his phrase “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” which served as a guiding principle for young people. The concept of “turning on” involved using drugs to unlock untapped neural processes, ultimately leading individuals to “tune in” and establish a deeper connection with the world that would otherwise be inaccessible without drugs.

In the 1960s, dropping out became an act of rebellion influenced by Marcuse’s criticism of technocratic society. The Beatles, a popular rock band from Liverpool composed of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, were strongly linked to drug consumption and achieved significant commercial prosperity.

The Beatles rose to prominence for their pop ballads and psychedelic rock tracks, which incorporated classical and distinctive elements. They symbolized the cultural and social upheavals of the 1960s. Bob Dylan, another influential artist during this period, continues to thrive and is widely esteemed as an activist, songwriter, musician, poet, and folk artist. He emerged as an unofficial spokesperson for the counterculture movement, with countless young Americans seeking his counsel on societal issues.

Dylan, a renowned singer known for his socially and politically conscious songs, performed at the March on Washington in 1963. This event advocated for peace, economic equality, and civil rights for African Americans and featured Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic speech. Dylan’s unique singing voice and melodies have solidified his reputation as one of the most recognized and respected artists in music history.

Another significant moment in music history is the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair. Originally planned as an organized event, it eventually became a chaotic yet legendary rock festival held on a six-hundred-acre farm in Bethel, New York. Approximately two hundred thousand people attended this iconic gathering.

Despite initial expectations, the festival was much larger than anticipated, drawing almost 500,000 attendees, primarily in their twenties and teens. The sheer size of the crowd overwhelmed the organizers, making it impossible to charge admission beyond a certain point and taxing the available facilities. Although approximately eighty people were arrested for possession of hard drugs, the police did not bother making arrests for marijuana possession due to the overwhelming number of cases. Fortunately, the event remained peaceful, resulting in no arrests related to fights.

Woodstock, which was considered the epitome of peace and “flower power” during the hippie movement, did not come as a surprise to many. Hippies emphasized love over war and Woodstock came to symbolize a time of love, non-violence, and drug use. The performers at Woodstock included Blood, Sweat and Tears; Joan Baez; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Arlo Guthrie; Creedence Clearwater Revival; Sly and the Family Stone; Jefferson Airplane; the Grateful Dead; Ravi Shankar; Janis Joplin; the Who; and Jimi Hendrix.

According to a person who witnessed the event, Woodstock was a time of social change, human freedom, and expression. The festival encouraged acceptance of nudity and the use of marijuana to enhance the music experience. It also promoted spending time with family and pets, setting a new standard for families. Woodstock became a symbol of peace, music, people, and expression, challenging the prevailing narrative of violence and hatred. It was a celebration of life. Another attendee, who remains unidentified, described Woodstock Nation as the ideal conclusion to a heavenly decade.

According to DeGroot, Woodstock represented the ultimate expression of freedom – not only in terms of love and drugs, but also in terms of liberation from repression. The music itself seemed to embody this sense of freedom. Swami Satchidananda, a guru, arrived via helicopter to bless the crowd and further strengthen their belief in a new era. He proclaimed that the future of the world was in the hands of the attendees, emphasizing their ability to either make or break it. Furthermore, he asserted that American youth’s actions would be known worldwide for their contributions to humanity. Belief in Woodstock Nation required such profound faith that it erased all the excessive hype surrounding the event, including the overpriced hot dogs.

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1960s: the Psychedelic Lifestyles. (2017, Apr 01). Retrieved from


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