The Hippies originated as a youth movement in the United States of America in the 1960s and gradually evolve into the subculture it is today. I have selected to study the Hippies because I am intrigued by the values that they espouse that oppose the society I live in, and I am also attracted by their style (demeanor, image and argot) that is so different from mainstream culture.
According to Merton’s Deviance Typology, the Hippies would fall under the “Retreatism” category because they reject the institutionalized means to obtain goods and even reject the very cultural goods consumed by the mainstream society. Occasionally, they fall under the “Rebellion” category where they invent new cultural goods such as the organic and environmentally friendly products. Many also share their resources with others, thereby inventing new means of obtaining these goods.
The typical characteristic physical stylistic features include long, unkempt hair and colourful tie-dyed clothing and these make up the image component of the concept of style, the other two being demeanor and argot. According to Willis (1978), the hippie culture and style represents a “cerebral critique of bourgeois ideology”. It was the Hippies in a sense, trying to resolve their parent culture of uncritical subscription and consumption of mainstream culture and exploitative, profit-focused nature of the capitalist world.
Clarke describes subcultural commodification that involves two processes, diffusion and defusion. Diffusion refers to “the spread of subcultural style beyond the specific locality in which it was created”. In my example of the article from Vogue magazine (Germany), defusion occurred when the beauty editors took what was characteristic of the Hippies and that conveyed a message of resistance and rebellion, to become a commodity without meaning in the mainstream and/or high fashion. Fine and Kleinman talk about adaptation and modification, along with commodification and purpose of profit maximization and these are demonstrated here. As Patrick Williams puts it, in his book ‘Subcultural Theory”, “diffusing style also defuses it, rendering it relatively harmless (or meaningless) to the mainstream and thus acceptable for mass commodification.
The Hippie women also display a form of resistance in their rejection of emphasized femininity (Roman, 1988) through the rejection of bras, drug abuse that oppose the mainstream society’s perception of what women should be like; “clean and pure”, and the refusal to shave or remove body hair. These methods of resistance also link to issues of gender and society’s normative standards of femininity.
The movie “Taking Woodstock” explores the meso-level of society as the main character finds friends among the Hippies, negotiates relations and conflicts with his family and deals with his sexuality.
With the concepts of fandom, I talked about the Grateful Dead who are a popular band among the Hippies and their fan base. These fans, known as “Deadheads”, not only consume the merchandise related to the Grateful Dead but also create their own fan art and products, thus negating the notion that fans are only simple-mindedly consuming the goods and services produced in their subculture.
There is a contention of what makes a “real” Hippie. Is it the one who holds values close to what the Hippies are known for, or is it the one who dresses in the appropriate attire and consumes the right products? Opposing groups could all have a substantial number of supporters or people who agree upon and thus legitimize a particular set of characteristics which they think makes a “real’ Hippie, which group is right then? The debate goes on.
The systematic and organized manner in the concepts and theories in this course were taught, as well as how I was tasked to apply them to my selected subcultural group has given me a better understanding of how they can be used. It is crucial to keep in mind that these concepts and theories that I have learnt are not only applicable to the Hippies, but also to other subcultures (as evident in what my fellow course mates have done). This course has provided me with the tools and ability to look at subcultures in general and understand why and how they exist. It has also taught me the awareness and importance of being tolerant towards them.