How useful is the term “counter-culture” to describe developments in Western Society during the 1960s? Discuss with reference to any three of the five disciplines represented in Block 6. The sixties was a “period of exceptional cultural and social change (Arthur Marwick, (Block 6, Pg 23). A young decade, which saw the coming of age of the post war baby boomers generating an unusually large and due to a rise in economic standards – affluent youth culture who challenged the established values and ideals of “mainstream” society.
“Counter-culture” is a useful term to describe a cultural group whose values and behavior run “counter” to those of mainstream society. The sixties was indeed a time when the “counter-culture” challenged the “mainstream views on issues including authority, racism, subordination of women and introduced a new found tolerance, acceptance and a greater freedom of expression.
Protests, movements, drugs, rock n roll, sexual liberation, freedom of expression and unconventional modes of dress were all characteristic of the sixties “counter culture” often seen by “mainstream society” as a rebellious and destructive force systematically destroying the moral fabric of society. However, although the “counter-culture” was opposed to many aspects of “mainstream” society they were not an organized threat against the political or economic foundation of society.
Although convenient terms to use the “mainstream” culture and “counter-culture” existed together and many facets of “mainstream” society allowed the “counter-culture” a place to voice their opinions, such as Art, Music and Cinema. Movements considered “counter-cultural” were also supported by many who did not consider themselves part of the” counter-culture”, opposition to the Vietnam War, Nuclear War, and concerns for the Environment were concerns, which existed throughout society.
This new freedom of expression and concern for Human Rights began in the late fifties but saw an acceleration of change during the sixties and continued into the early seventies. This period categorized as “the long sixties by Eric Hobsbawn, in his work “Age of Extremes” (Block 6 pg 31) was a time when developments attributed to the “counter-culture” reached a climatic stage, movements for Civil and Women’s Rights and Protests against the Vietnam War gained prominence.
Thousands moved by the brutal injustice of the Vietnam War protested in the form of rallies, gatherings and concerts, the fight against the war intensified due to the introduction of the compulsory military draft and as the war dragged on what started out as protests attributed to the “counter-culture” now encompassed most of American society, public opinion polls showed that by 1967 the majority of Americans now opposed the war After the Second World War the West benefited from an economic recovery and for the first time the young benefited from a more affluent society.
However, poverty and inequality continued for many, especially Black Americans who had not benefited from the Civil Rights and Social Change they’d been promised. The Civil Rights movements emerged and proved many victories during the sixties. After a decade of protests and marches beginning peacefully with the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-56 to the student-led sit-ins of the 60s and the march on Washington in 1963, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Act of 1965 guaranteeing basic Civil Rights for all Americans regardless of race.
The movement for Civil Rights grew increasingly violent in the late sixties resulting in the death of several prominent civil rights activists, including the leaders, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Inspired by the Civil Rights movement saw the emergence of women’s rights movement who questioned the unequal treatment of women and fought for equal educational and employment opportunities. They also challenged the perceptions of female sexual behaviour and encouraged “sexual liberation”.
The introduction of The Contraceptive Pill and the Abortion Act of 1967 allowed women greater sexual freedom and liberation as well as opening the door to more liberated discussion. This more tolerant environment opened the doors for Gay liberation and in 1967, Britain legalized homosexual acts between consenting adults. The sixties also brought about the relaxation of the censorship laws with the introduction of the New “permissive” Obscene “Publication Act of 1959. And in 1960 “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” previously deemed obscene and banned since the twenties won its case in court and is ruled not obscene.
Although these changes affected “mainstream” society, this liberation further gave a voice and outlet for the “counter culture”. Music was an important backdrop to the sixties; it was both influential and influenced by society. The dug culture, religion, Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War all the major issues of the day were either written about or adopted by the “counter-culture” movement. With its strong ties to youth culture much of the music of the sixties had strong elements of rebellion and anti establishment potential but there was no real rebellion against society, more an outlet for teenage expression.