1960s is one of the most transformative decades on the timeline of America, though those old days were gone now, its impacts were still so eventful and momentous that they cannot be neglected even in nowadays (which is already half a century away from then on). The impacts were mostly on popular culture, it had changed people’s view on societies and it had also increased people’s capabilities and tolerance on different cultures, or more specifically, countercultures.
The youth movements of the 1960s were extremely remarkable, they were basically due to a series of social problems, in which the activators were mostly young students; they wanted liberty, peace & love, claiming that they were establishing a new America. Though the countercultural movements surely have their advantages and disadvantages, their influence was undeniable and they should be regarded as positive movements since they permanently changed American society.
When a youthful and enthusiastic John F. Kennedy became the president of America, the 60s began with high public hopes; the society believed that he was transforming Washington into what some considered a version of “King Arthur’s Camelot”, which was actually due to the elegance and idealism appearance of his administration. Soon the sixties were become the most conflict ridden, turbulent decade in the history of America, the one in which the gap between teens and adults widened to such proportions on so many issues…which caused the youth movements. The political events and wars were the main reason that started the Cultural Revolution which turned the America inside out.
At the beginning of the decade, the industrialization of colleges and the extremely close connections between colleges and the Ministry of Defense were just unbearable in some students’ visions; the colleges were full of racists and accomplices of war. The radical youths were enraged by this and were not willing to surrender. In the September of 1964, a student of Berkeley University named Mario Savio gave a speech, “Put your bodies upon the gears! ” which headed the free speech movement to explode. Right after the free speech movement, as the Vietnam War escalated, the Anti-war movements emerged quickly.
The movement had begun in 1963 but the scale of it was not as large as in 1966, since that was when the government started to recruit teenage soldiers in order to replenish the military. The students refused to join the army, so they protested it by demonstrating on the streets. Afterwards in 1968, another dramatic riot located in Columbia University, the original idea of it was still trying to stop the war and racist, which pushed the youth movements to a new high level. 19-year-old James Simon Kunen, who had been participating and observing the whole movement while writing journals, stated “I do not want to fight in Vietnam, of course.
But I also don’t want to have to fight the draft, or fight the law, or fight anything. I’m a 19-year-old civilian, and I am tired of fighting. One of these days I may fight in earnest and altogether so that I won’t have to fight anymore. ” at the end of his book. It’s not hard to tell that the though youth movements may seemed to be a chaos, their purpose and idea was positive, that the war and endless fight should be stopped; peace, equality and liberalism were the basic rights for everyone. The youth movements had established a foundation for American’s ideology later on.
If the youth movements had totally changed the way the American think, then the pop culture had changed even more on the American culture that America is still keeping the main parts of the changes in nowadays. The Hippies appeared in the 60s, a group of teens, similar to the beat generation, but they were far more enthusiastic and passionate: multicolored clothes with psychedelic designs, flowers, rock music, drugs, long hair and the peace sign…A gentle and passive rebellion was what they stood for, they were also a part of the movement.
Also during the 60s, rock musicians and folk musician were like some kind of spiritual leaders, for example: Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, also including the British invasions…Lots of messages and ideas were floating through their lyrics and melodies, though some of the musicians said that they didn’t intend to do this, they successfully instigated the youths. Especially Bob Dylan, the sharp lyrics full of metaphors and parables of his was one of the best weapons to protest at that time, through him, the ideas of resistance and intransigence got a chance to spread over the teens.
Dylan once stated “The teachers in school taught me that everything was fine, but it ain’t fine. There are so many lies have been told, so many things are kept back…They (people who have similar ideas with him) are scared to step out. But I ain’t scared to do that, man. ” during his interview. Step out and stand up, he inspired a generation and his influences were undeniable and unforgettable. The main idea and theme of rock music eventually occupied a large area of American ulture, the power of this kind of music is not that strong now but it’s still remaining and already became a part of America that could never be split away.
Not only the music, the literatures and poems of the 60s were also some precious treasures of America, for example, To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, who won the Pulitzer Prize for this. Due to the youth movements, after the equality and liberalism were claimed, literatures about other races and other cultures were introduced to the country, which made the nation became more and more open-minded.
This decade was truly turbulent and it was like the brightest flame in the night—it never lasts too long, it ended just like everything else, but it had burnt down all the old and conservative thoughts, brought changes and vitality for American society, the 60s was just like a nirvana of America: a new America was born after this. Youth had changed even more than just the minds and popular cultures of America…for example, the multicultural studies in American Universities.
New courses were added in the universities, instead all of those western cultural studies before the 60s, other cultures about other countries and races are now being taught by the schools, such as Eastern philosophy and religious beliefs. Human races which were ignored by Americans before are now gained attention again, just like the black people; people were beginning to realize that these races had also done lots of contributions to America. Lots of the teachers who gave lectures on these new courses were the students that were once involved in the youth movements.
In Stanford University, students must at least take one course on other cultures. The new courses were named “Culture, Thoughts and Values”, which indicated the diversity of different cultures. All kinds of classes, cultures, sexes are endowed with equality, in order to provide a complete and integrity education for the students. In a word, the youth movement had also brought light to the America education system. Just like any other decades, there were also series of problems left by the youth movements. The terrible aftermaths of the Cultural Revolution were mainly located on the abuse of sex and drug during the 60s.
The sexual liberalism which was led by the movements had caused the excessive of sex, which is why the sexual transmitted diseases began to spread all over the country; though this situation was terrible enough, the sexual liberalism also brought some incredible changes: through the decade, lots of hippies had long hair, which was kind of difficult for people to tell whether they were male or female, their appearance were neutral and just as the lyrics “love is all you need” by The Beatles, they didn’t care much about sexual orientations. This helped a lot for people to accept homosexuality.
Another problem was the abuse of drug; LSD and weeds were wildly used by people at that time, trying to find “a peace of mind” in this way. The overuse of drug was nearly uncontrollable, but this was stopped any way since America had issued series of laws to stop the abuse of the drugs, such as Kefauver-Harris Amendments in 1962, Drug Abuse Control Amendments in 1965, and Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 in 1970. Even though there were some bad consequences of the youth movements, the problems can be fixed or covered by the advantages and important contributions.
In a summary, the youth movement of the 60s was not only a political movement, but also a social movement and a cultural revolution. Despite of the disadvantages, the movements had affected American society in different aspects deeply: the thoughts, the ideology of not compromising, the multicultural environment, the great changes of the institutions of higher education…the youth movements should be regarded as positive movements without any doubts since they permanently changed American society thoroughly.
Courtney from Study Moose
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