Saturday, July 28, 2007

Here's an article by Cinnamon Sitwell about another summer forty years ago.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007 (SF Gate)
Rethinking the Summer of Love
Cinnamon Stillwell



This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the so-called Summer of Love,
that mythical three months in 1967 in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury
neighborhood when visions of peace, love and harmony -- aided by bountiful
quantities of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll -- reigned supreme.

The Summer of Love has since become legend-- an expression of
countercultural revolution, particularly in the minds of those
recollecting the glory days of their youth. However inaccurately, this
three-month period encompassing a tiny fraction of the population and an
eight-block stretch has become a symbol for the entire decade.

Among '60s disciples, it's an article of faith that everything that came
out of that summer was a boon to American society. This has certainly been
the impression conveyed through popular culture. Rarely are the more
pernicious offshoots of the social and political experiment known as the
Summer of Love referenced in the glowing and groovy portrayals seen on PBS
and the History Channel.

But in its haste to dispense with all tradition that came before, the
Summer of Love generation threw out much of the good along with the bad.
The attempt to live in a manner that is essentially unsustainable led to a
proliferation of divorce, drug-use, promiscuity, sexually transmitted
diseases, and all the perils and problems associated therewith. Too many
people left their families, became addicts, and in some cases, lost their
lives.

When all social boundaries are tossed aside and self-fulfillment becomes
one's raison d'etre, society breaks down and, with it, all sense of
morality. Seen in this light, the Summer of Love starts to seem more like
the Summer of Folly.

Innocents in the park

Yet the temptation to look back at that period through rose-colored lenses
remains strong. I grew up romanticizing the era myself, believing that the
largely playful picture put forth in films such as the adaptation of the
play "Hair," which was an early favorite of mine, was the reality. The
childlike innocence of the film's hippie characters roaming free in
Central Park appealed to my own youthful naivete.

I had more than a passing familiarity with the type of people portrayed in
the film because, as can be discerned as soon as I introduce myself, I am
inexorably linked to the Summer of Love generation. I was born in 1970,
but it is the '60s to which I owe my first name. And I'm not alone.
Indeed, one would be hard pressed to pass through states such as
California, Oregon and Colorado without running into those of a certain
age, all bearing the unmistakable mark of the hippie baby.

Growing up in Marin County, back when artists and hippies were just as
likely to inhabit its enviable environs as the rich and famous, the
remnants of the Summer of Love were all around me. I knew many true
believers who didn't just talk the talk, but also walked the walk. Aiming
for a simpler life, they moved to rural parts of Northern California and
coastal areas such as Stinson Beach, Bolinas and Point Reyes. I grew up
alongside their kids and we became the children of the counterculture.

While there was many a happy childhood among the bunch, including my own,
also evident around us was the fall-out of the '60s. There was nary a
classmate of mine growing up whose parents had not been divorced, and more
than a few had been through rehab by the time they got to high school.
Casual sex and, inevitably, abortion were de rigueur.

As the children of the counterculture grew older, we sought to emulate
what we viewed as our parents' participation in a mythical time of peace
and pleasure, but instead ended up inheriting patterns of self-destructive
behavior. While most of us made it out unscathed, there were definitely
bumps along the road. This is a darker side of what the Summer of Love
ushered in and it's one we don't often read about in the history books.

My mother's reflections from that period bear out this picture. She didn't
experience the Summer of Love itself, but was caught up in the cultural
wave still cresting in the late '60s. Having grown up in Australia and
spent two years entertaining the troops in Vietnam, she arrived in San
Francisco in April of 1969. She had met my father, a U.S. Marine, in
Vietnam and they spent some time together in San Francisco before
eventually going their separate ways. Thus was I, like so many of my
peers, the result of a fleeting pairing.

When I was a toddler, we lived briefly in two communal settings, one in
Santa Cruz and the other a gay household in San Francisco. It was in such
environments that my mother witnessed the type of anonymous sex, rampant
drug use, narcissism and opportunism (she maintains that many of the men
in the countercultural movement were there to get laid) that soon
propelled her off in her own direction. Unlike the acid casualties and
other sacrificial lambs to the excesses of the '60s, she made it out with
mind and body intact. The same cannot be said for our nation, which has
never been quite the same since.

A lost war

Along with the social upheaval, the political fallout of the period also
took its toll. The political climate of the late '60s eventually forced
America to lose a war in Vietnam that, many argue, it was winning
militarily. Two years after with withdrawing U.S. personnel in 1973,
cutting off funds to our South Vietnamese allies was the final blow.

While it's often thought that the 1960s antiwar movement encompassed the
entire nation, in reality a relatively small portion of the population was
involved. This explains why, despite the military draft, two-thirds of
those who served in Vietnam were volunteers. By comparison, in World War
II, two-thirds were draftees.

But the antiwar movement had a great influence in helping to shape the
outcome of the war in Vietnam, for better or for worse. The millions
killed, imprisoned or made refugees under the banner of communism in both
Vietnam and Cambodia following U.S. withdrawal would seem to indicate the
latter. The Summer of Love may have been pleasant in theory, but when
applied to the world stage, the facade quickly crumbled.

None of this is to say that all that came out of that period was negative.
As in all experimental movements, there was joy to be found and knowledge
to be gained. I have many pleasant memories of the gentle spirits that
brought to the post-Summer of Love period their kindhearted, if naive,
hopes for an unattainable world.

But in looking back, it can only be concluded that their attempts to
change the world didn't exactly turn out as planned. Human nature will
inevitably rear its sometimes ugly head. Only through confronting that
reality can progress be achieved.

Eventually, the true story of the Summer of Love will be told. And along
with the good times and good intentions will be seen the darkness that
lurked just below the idealism.

Cinnamon Stillwell is a San Francisco writer. She can be reached at
cinnamonstillwell@yahoo.com. Read her blog at
cinnamonstillwell.blogspot.com/. She also writes for the blog at
campus-watch.org.

2 comments:

Bob said...

It is an important subject that merits a lot of analysis. I see far more negatives than positives.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Good article Gecko.
It's good to know there are still a few conservatives, or should I say classical liberals, in San Francisco.