Lehigh University, Class of 2003
May 2003

The Hippies: Sex and Community Forever Changed

[1]    There are many tremendously memorable scenes from the three-day event Woodstock. One that is very thought provoking to me concerning community during the 1960s is a picture of naked people bathing together in a muddy pool amidst the shade of a few lingering trees.  This picture of the pair bathing is controversial because it completely negates in one swift flash of a moment society’s accepted terms of sexuality and its place in public…more specifically people’s aversion to it being represented in public.  This new breed, “Hippies” as they are referred to, began their releasing/emancipating new lives by living in communes, having liberated sex, and drastically changing the rules of community in general.  New things were accepted in these young minds that before in society were looked down upon, or with fear.  Open sexuality such as shown in this picture may have been the hardest concept for traditional society to bear.

[2]    Looking closely I can’t be sure of the sexes of these two bathers, but they are a pair nonetheless. As the young person on the right enters the water, a friend gingerly helps him/her.  They bond carefully in the pool and even though we see them from behind, we can also assume that these two are enjoying themselves.  They are unclothed and freely bathing in a shaded pond.  If someone were able to snap a picture, they were of course not alone, but this pair is indeed in their own world as they share this private moment.  The change in the idea of privacy especially about sex and nudity signified by this example is probably the easiest way to mark how Hippies changed the public sense of community.

[3]    The Hippies brought “private moments” into the public eye. Here we can see that something so common, yet so intimate as bathing is being performed for all to see.  All were permitted to look and be curious about what these Hippies were doing…according to the Hippies.  These free spirits were very willing to share this type of hushed business with each other and the world, and in doing so made their actions noticeably loud. The Hippies felt that general common acts like bathing and the idea of living communally in peace to share freely were part of nature and should be accepted throughout society.  The question society had to ask was, “Who is willing to look at them and what they are doing and be ok with it.”

[5]    The truth is that mainstream society was uncomfortable with all of this sharing.  The Hippies practiced free expression, hedonism, and anarchy.  All this freedom to show nudity and sexuality was scary.  Living arrangements changed, and views of sexuality and sex were distorted to make a conglomerate of new beliefs.  These two bathers were considered extremists or immoral.  Besides the fact that humans aren’t quick to change anyway, there was already a standard set for society.  What Hippies represented was frightening to a mainstream public that prided itself on lifestyles aimed at productive work and earning money.  Modesty, which made sexuality non-distracting, was key to making such a world practical.  Hippies rebelled against how sexuality specifically operated in the mainstream culture.  The Hippies of the sixties believed in a new order, “wherein the past, in a sense, is irrelevant” according to Timothy Miller.  To say it quite crisply, there was no sexuality in the populace other than the act of hiding it, and the Hippies were ready to expose what was concealed.

[6]    Even though these free spirits had been living out their ideals for life since the early sixties, Woodstock, the climactic rock festival of the sixties, was the first time that free love, liberated sex, and casual drugs were shown and appreciated on a national scale.  And the documentary Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music helped draw that national attention to what really happened there.  This festival certainly had a lot going on, and the film specifically showed us many other examples of how the Hippies wanted to live with each other. In one scene, for example, Jim Clewley tell us “The trumpet plays, and the people line in 16 lines to get their food. The scene then pans into a shot of the crowds lining up, and you can truly see the sense of community that these people possess as they all enjoy a meal with one another " (http://www.Lehigh.EDU/~ineng/jac/jac-scenelog.htm).  Over and over again, the documentary portrays a loving and sharing environment.  From the announcer warning the listeners of “bad acid” to everyone huddling under huge plastic tarps for shelter from the rain, the Hippies truly seemed to care about each other.  A sense of peace in it all was shared among the people, but they were there also to have fun.  We are shown pictures of people running down a muddy isle between the crowds and sliding on their backs in the muddy puddles.

[7]    This sharing and loving and fun really affected the sense of community that already existed in mainstream culture, though.  It pulled families apart and tortured those who were afraid of what it all meant.  For certain, society did not find it morally right or see the love in all the open sexuality.  They found it preposterous that teenagers were sliding around in the mud naked with strangers and much more offensive that these people were bathing together.  The fact that teens left their homes to go live in communes damaged families who tried to blame themselves for not protecting their children from the Hippies.  Society was afraid of change, and, unfortunately, change was inevitable.  Hippies felt that society was getting too strict and too caught up in materialistic identities.  They wanted to be free, au naturel, and to share.  Their sexuality was a part of nature, and they were attuned to everything natural.

[8]    It’s easy to see that while one side of society saw this type of engagement as endangering and wrong, the hippies felt that it was the most natural way and the best way to tap into their inner-souls.  The present society is made up of a pool of people who have different individual agendas.  We still have issues over respecting each other’s needs and actions, but we have been forever changed by what the Hippies did.  We will always connect the culmination of the Hippie Era with Woodstock because of the great assembly of people who gathered together and chose to show us how to live with these new ideals.

[9]    Unless one was alive during the sixties he/she would never fully understand what went on at that time.  Similarly if one was not at Woodstock in 1969 he/she could not really know what went on…even if we see some very good pictures or clips of film.  It’s important, though, to understand the great modifications that were proposed at the time and how America dealt with the change that rose up from within.  There were many turbulent times during the Hippie Era, but our society has grown to expand its horizons.  Even if the Hippies were extremists at showing their ideals, America is a different country because of them.  The sixties acted as a catalyst that continues to perpetuate America into liberality and transformation.