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Stereotyping - I Was a Teenage Hippie

 

Imagine a 17-year-old kid. He is five feet eleven inches tall, weighs 180 lbs., with very long hair and a beard. His hair parts in the middle and stops at his waist, meaning his hair is about three and a half feet long. He dresses not for the fashion of the day, but with old standards: blue jeans and a flannel shirt in the winter or blue jeans and a short sleeve shirt in the summer. Generally, his shirts in summer are T-shirts, typically with some provocative text or an advertisement for a rock group. That kid was me in 1974.

 

I was the stereotypical "hippie," and my social circle during that year and the four years preceding it (two of those years in middle school and two years in high school) included other hippies. The hippie subculture has often been subject to a stereotyped image over the years. The image identified with the hippie is one of an individual that is generally unclean and unkempt, usually lives in squalor, has a drug habit, and is not very smart. Of course, male members of the hippie subculture all had long hair. Though the conservatives stereotyped me and my friends by what they saw, they did not know a single thing about us.

 

The group I was involved with socially was made up of eight other guys besides myself and two girls, but the eleven of us were known by our peers as "The Dirty Dozen." We were looked upon by the conservatives in our town as being "just a bunch of damn hippies." Obviously, The Dirty Dozen was stereotyped because of our appearance. Indeed, it would have been easy for any of us to change our image to something more socially acceptable. For example, cutting my air, shaving off my beard, and changing my wardrobe to the "yuppie" fashion of the day would have been sufficient to accomplish that goal. Ironically, that would have further enforced the premise of stereotyping because I then would have been stereotyped as a yuppie.

 

As a group, The Dirty Dozen defied the stereotypical image of the hippie; the prejudice against us was prevalent nonetheless. Did we care that we were stereotyped? No. In fact, we "fueled the fire," so to speak. It was a conscious decision to maintain the hippie image. It was fun and invigorating to give the conservatives something to point at and talk about. We used to love to hear comments like, "Damn hippies. They're just like all the rest of 'em."

 

The American public came to develop their perception of the hippie through the influence of the media and the entertainment industries. The media provided negative imagery of the hippie, starting with the first published story about the hippies which appeared September 6, 1965. Other stories ensued, such as the cover story featured in the July 7, 1967 issue of Time magazine, entitled "The Hippies: The Philosophy of a subculture." Subsequent television coverage of the hippie movement in this country also helped give the public the images that would typecast hippies forever.

 

In addition, the portrayal of hippies in the movies did much to burn the mental picture of the "typical" hippie into the minds of the American people. The entertainment industry garnered unwanted attention to the hippies with popular films such as Easy Rider (1969) and Woodstock (movie and soundtrack, 1970). Easy Rider and other films made during the late 1960s and early 1970s portrayed hippies as living in communes, in generally dirty conditions, and openly using drugs. And, because of the sheer numbers of people who slept in the elements during the day and a half of rain and consequently lived in the mud at the Woodstock music festival, hippies were generally looked upon as unclean.

 

The Dirty Dozen defied the stereotype regarding cleanliness. I bathed daily, which included washing all that long hair, and I can tell you that I spent enough time with other members of the group in close enough quarters that I can attest to their cleanliness as well. I suppose we did consciously lend to the image of hippies being unkempt because we wore tattered jeans and wore loose fitting clothing that was generally two sizes too large.

 

As for living in squalor, I can again speak for the group and testify to the fact that we lived in a clean environment. Since we all had the good fortune of living in a household that included both parents who required us to help at home with the house cleaning chores, we did not live in squalor. In fact, it was not atypical for me to go pick up one of my friends who would keep me waiting because he had not yet finished his chores! Even though our daily bathing and the cleanliness of our living environment was something The Dirty Dozen had in common, the conservatives considered us unclean.

 

Another misconception about hippies was that they all were drug users, thanks to the media and entertainment industries again. The television media provided extensive coverage of gatherings organized by Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey, during which they encouraged and facilitated the open use of the hallucinogenic drug LSD (commonly called "acid" by users of the drug). When these events, called the "Acid Tests," were staged, LSD had not yet been declared illegal, and no further events took place after LSD was outlawed. For years after, however, society would believe that all hippies perpetrated its continued use. The entertainment industry, too, was instrumental in keeping alive the image that the lifestyle of a hippie nearly always included drug use; in movies of that time, hippies were often portrayed as drug users. The media coverage of Leary's gatherings and the portrayals of hippies by the movie industry led the conservatives to believe that what they saw was indicative of the behavior of all hippies. While it is true that there was a small segment of the hippie population that were drug users, it is not true that all hippies were drug users. Our group certainly experimented with marijuana (and I should add, very clandestinely), but we purposefully chose not to experiment with "hard drugs" (narcotic and hallucinogenic drugs), and avoided contact with other hippies who were known users of hard drugs. I hardly think that our behavior constituted having a drug habit, yet we were all labeled as such.

 

Furthermore, the conservatives believed that hippies could not possibly have any academic achievements. I was academically sound in school; I earned a B average and graduated a year early in the top 10% of my class and was accepted to the University of Illinois on the Early Admission Program. In fact, most of The Dirty Dozen were well grounded academically. All of us were earning A's and B's, with the exception of Avery, who by choosing not to put forth the effort only maintained a C average. Incidentally, Avery really was very smart, having achieved the highest ACT score of the entire group; he then went on to earn a Master's Degree in Political Science and became a member of the House of Representatives in Hawaii. After high school, every one of The Dirty Dozen went on to start businesses or earn college degrees. So, were we not very smart?

 

After high school, I maintained the hippie image for a few more years and, therefore, continued to be stereotyped. I did that to prove a point. I felt I needed to prove to the conservatives that their perception of me had been inaccurate. I wanted to show them, after their years of thinking I was just "one of those damn hippies," that there was something else inside me. I wanted to prove to them that I was a person they did not know. Over the next several years following high school, I became a business owner, got married and began raising a child before finally cutting my hair and shaving my beard. Many of the conservatives were surprised by my business savvy, my success and my settled down lifestyle, which defied the hippie image I portrayed.

 

Reflecting back on the years of my youth, I now gain a different perspective on the youth of today. I find myself not being so quick to judge by looks alone. I find myself consciously thinking that I should not stereotype what I see before me. I do not know the person; I only know the image. I certainly do not want to consider myself so narrow minded that I engage in the very behavior displayed by the conservatives in the 1960s and 1970s.

 

Because of the tendency of people to stereotype others, I hold the belief that I would be subject to stereotyping today. While I maintain views that might be politically incorrect and continue to hold dear a bit of the non-conforming attitude embraced by the hippie subculture, would people guess that to look at me today? Considering my conservative image today, would people guess that on the inside I might still be a "hippie?" Or would they look at me and see me as a "boring old fart" conservative yuppie?

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