How helpful the concept of counter-culture is in understanding the changes that took place in the 1960’s
How helpful the concept of counter-culture is in understanding the changes that took place in the Sixties, with reference to History, History of Science and Music. The view that many people take of there being a widespread counter culture in the sixties, that opposed many views within society can be justified by looking at the many events and the changes in opinion that occurred in that decade, which went against many prevailing attitudes.
The fact that many things happened before and after the sixties could suggest that the movements, historically within society and within science and music, was a culmination of a gradual shift in attitudes within society rather than a culture that was wholly opposed to it. The change in attitudes occurred mainly in western society. Many attitudes that were prevalent before and during the sixties, were directly opposed by many movements that were widely supported and heralded a definite change in attitude towards many issues.
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The civil rights movement was concerned with ensuring society at large recognised the rights of people, of different races’ to be on an equal basis with all members of society. The prevailing attitude towards black people in particular was one of inferiority to a mostly white society. This is particularly true of the American south where black people were segregated from white people and suffered violent abuse when they protested on their unequal status. This violent reaction of authorities to the civil rights movement faced in southern America, shows that in society the movement was in direct opposition to the prevailing attitude.
The feelings of injustice are clearly shown by a published letter written by Martin Luther King, when he was imprisoned in nineteen sixty-three after leading a non-violent protest in Birmingham Alabama. The extreme reaction against the peaceful nature of this protest and the criticism of King by some white ministers who supported the civil rights movement, shows how the prevailing cultural attitudes attempted to stop the progress of the counter movement. The movement of feminism began in the early sixties as women began to question the existing attitudes towards the roles of gender in society.
The views of mainstream society were that women were not fit for certain roles in work or in authority. The dominant attitudes of society were oppressive towards women, in a similar way to the treatment of black people at this time. In Sexual Politics by Kate Millett she affirms that the ‘birthright priority whereby males rule females’ is more rigid in society’s attitudes than other forms of dominance, such as race and class. Due to the feminist movements that occurred all over the world during the sixties the views of many people were changed.
This is particularly evident during the Bobigny abortion trial in nineteen seventy-two. The public opposition to this trial, in which a woman was tried for procuring an abortion for her daughter, showed the widespread disapproval of a male dominated society setting the rules and laws for what a woman could do with her body. This feeling was summed up by by the defending barrister, Gisi??le Halimi, in his final address ‘Would you be willing gentlemen to be brought before a tribunal of women because of what you do with your own bodies? . The confrontation between the authorities and people protesting against the prevalent attitudes in society, often ended in violent confrontation such as the violence faced by civil rights protesters in Alabama. Some changes did not come through opposition or confrontation. As the decade wore on material changes to peoples lives increased in many places, such as Italy, to bring greater comfort and the introduction in some areas of electricity and lavatories for the first time.
These changes were not a result of massive protest or opposition but a gradual change that started after the second world war and continued after the sixties had ended. Within the sixties the changes in attitude towards certain areas of science created a shift in the views of wider society as well as within the scientific community. The views on the U. S forces use of chemical weapons in Vietnam, causing massive devastation in the environment of that country. These actions helped to promote wider concerns on the environment in society and questions upon the use of scientific research for military purposes.
The fears of the President of the U. S. A, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in nineteen sixty-one in his farewell speech were of the rise of a ‘military-industrial complex’ in which military and industrial research would dominate research in all areas of science including universities which he describes as being ‘the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery’. This attitude was opposed to the burgeoning attitude of focusing research on military and industrial uses, it was looking for a more traditional approach to research that was based on the expression of individuals within science.
This was true with a lot of younger scientists who, according to Edward Shils, were ‘against the involvement of science with the military’. The demands of many were of scientific research that would serve the needs of the people, that to attain this more women should enter into science to provide a different way of looking at research. These demands sought to rectify the inequality between male and female scientists reflecting the wider attitudes in society. The outlining of the attitudes in the sixties towards women in science are summed up in Alice S. Rossi’s article from nineteen sixty-five.
In it she shows that the attitudes that people were educated into at school and university were concerned with specific gender roles, and that young girls were to be seen as potential wives and mothers. The fact that women who worked were forced to choose between work and family life, Rossi saw the change in social attitudes as vitally important to encourage men to take up some proportion of family life ‘We must educate boys and girls for all major adult roles’. The influence women had began to become apparent in the sixties.
The change in the treatment of research in primatology was driven by female scientists who centred their research on female primates, The previous mindset formed in male dominated research was that female primates role were that of sexual availability to males and being mothers, this mindset was changed because of research done by women scientists. This change is shown in Londa Shiebinger’s Has feminism changed science? where the author states that ‘Feminists first overturned the conventional stereotype of the passive, dependant female. The mindset of the scientific community concerning the impermeable placenta allowed, to an extent, the tragedy of new-born babies being deformed by Thalidomide across many countries. The actions of female scientists prevented this tragedy spreading further. We see here that the change in attitudes towards women in science were in direct opposition to the male dominated scientific practises, also that the feminist movement and growing environmental concerns influenced the attitudes within science. However the countering notions within science did not all directly oppose traditional attitudes.
The dominance of military and industrial research were recently growing changes themselves and the countering attitudes were looking to a more traditional practice of free research as something that was slowly being lost. Certain attitudes within music were looking back to traditional forms of music that had been deemed too simple and old to be regarded as important. The early music revival looked further back in time beyond classical music to medieval music or music which originated before seventeen hundred.
Many performers of early music opposed the traditional styles in classical music that were dominant in the sixties. The way early music was performed was different from the styles of classical music which was fixed within a different set of values. The conflict between early music revivalists and traditional classical music came from many critics, who felt early music was of lesser artistic value. Distinguished music writer Martin Cooper described a performance of early music as ‘a most abstruse and unrewarding entertainment’ this shows the contempt many people in the classical world had towards the early music revival.
The influence of older musical styles was influencing popular music during the sixties, mainly folk music which was used to expound issues concerning many at the time. New popular musical forms generally stood alongside older forms of popular music. The Kinks were making music that was outside of the new movement of popular music, the songs they wrote were inspired by their own individual features that became typical of the sixties in a less apparent way than other groups such as The Beatles, whose music was adopted into mainstream society quite quickly.
The song Waterloo Sunset was started as a observational piece on the changes in society and popular music, as Ray Davies wrote in X-Ray that at the time he felt there ‘was a tide of reality and change that was soon to turn England on its head. ‘ A more openly aggressive style to counter attitudes was adopted by Jimi Hendrix when he performed a distorted version of the Star Spangled Banner. This piece of music was an ironic take on the American national anthem countering the rigid social hierarchy in America. This is a powerful and aggressive statement made by a black man symbolising a protest against racist attitudes of society.
As well as being directly countered by early music forms, classical music was going through enormous changes and innovation. Peter Maxwell Davies’ used early music to make a statement about the traditional form of classical music. The distortion of Handel’s Messiah,in his work Eight Songs for a Mad King, is similar to Hendrix’s distortion of the Star Spangled Banner, parodying the piece to convey an opposition to traditional attitudes to classical music. The style of Davies’ music created a confrontation between new classical music and the older more established style of classical music.
His work in general throughout the sixties was met with a mixed reaction, in Maggie Parham’s article she describes the reaction to his work Worldes Blis that it ’caused many of the audience to walk out booing. ‘ The decade saw many innovations in uses of music that were quite often met with widespread opposition in mainstream audiences, who were used to a particular style and technique of classical music. Much of popular music at this time was used to oppose attitudes in wider society, many of these new styles in popular music became quickly adopted into mainstream society though some were still left out on the fringes of society.
The concept of counter-culture can be applied to many things that took place in society in the sixties. The change in attitudes concerning race and gender relationships may be seen as a wider reaction, society felt towards traditional view points, as a whole. Reactions within the scientific community towards the relationship of genders within science, helped to change the attitude of many scientists and that feminism was important in changing these reactions in science. The manifestation of these counter movements were reflected in many forms by popular music which countered many views within society.
The growth of new and subversive forms of classical music opposed many traditional ideas about music that society had. These changes in attitude could be said to constitute small parts of a wider mass counter-culture that was in direct opposition to mainstream society. Many changes in views were looking back to attitudes that were traditional but were being, or had been, lost. Such as the fears over the direction research in science were taking and the early music revival. Other widespread changes such as social welfare and material conditions improving, could be seen as slow gradual changes that evolved ver time reaching a culmination within the sixties. Also the changes that occurred were largely within mainstream society itself with different movements being adopted by different people and not representing a wider shift in the attitudes of society. So society may not have had a sudden shift in attitudes to counter the prevalent viewpoints which caused the massive changes, but the sixties may have been climactic period of increasing awareness that had been ongoing and continued long after the decade ended.