The Yippie Show

How some media-savvy leftists inadvertently helped the right, and vice versa

(Page 2 of 3)

Krassner never cared for that sort of thinking—as a stand-up comic, he says, he was "always willing to sacrifice a target" when an unjust leader left office—but he understands it, and occasionally he felt flashes of it himself. I mentioned the memo that made Nixon scrawl Good! He replied with a memory of his own:

When Cronkite came on and reported the Kent State shootings, he said, 'Something has happened that many Americans were afraid would happen,' something like that. It was a moment of horror, but I remember saying to myself, 'Good.' I wasn't glad it happened, I had terrible sympathy for the people who were killed and their families and fellow students. But a month or a couple of weeks before that, in some southern college, some black students got killed. And I thought, Now white people will see that it's their own that are getting it. Now maybe they'll get more involved.

That sort of strategizing doesn't always work out as planned. "The right wing believes so intensely in their own bullshit," Rubin wrote, "that they are too stupid to deceive and govern effectively. Unlike the liberals, they don't know how to divide-and-conquer." It turned out that Nixon and Reagan were adept at dividing and conquering after all. In politics, it's a mistake to assume you're the only one who understands how the media work.

Understanding Media

Forty years ago, the yippies seemed unusual because they fused the political radicalism of the New Left with the long-haired, grass-smoking lifestyle of the counterculture. Today that combination is so familiar that many people don't even realize that the protesters and the hippies initially distrusted each other. What seems most curious about the yippies today is the way they mixed hard left politics with a deep appreciation for pop culture. Abbie Hoffman announced that he wanted to combine the styles of Andy Warhol and Fidel Castro. Jerry Rubin dedicated Do it! not just to his girlfriend but to "Dope, Color TV, and Violent Revolution." Even when praising a form of mass culture that had earned some grudging respect from the late-'60s left—rock 'n' roll—Rubin's list of musicians who "gave us the life/beat and set us free" included not just raucous originals like Jerry Lee Lewis and Bo Diddley but Fabian and Frankie Avalon, commercial confections that most lefty rock intellectuals disdained as insufficiently authentic. In one chapter, Rubin complained that if "the white ideological left" took over, "Rock dancing would be taboo, and miniskirts, Hollywood movies and comic books would be illegal." All this from a self-proclaimed communist whose heroes included Castro, Chairman Mao, and Ho Chi Minh.

It's not that the yippies swallowed pop culture uncritically. (Hoffman kept a sign attached to the bottom of his TV that said "bullshit.") It's that they saw the mass media's dream-world as another terrain to fight in. Krassner remembers the yippie circle analyzing virtually everything on the tube, even "watching shows like The Smothers Brothers and comparing that with Laugh-In, that Laugh-In was using easy reference jokes about controversial issues, whereas the comedy in The Smothers Brothers really represented how they felt."

Seven years after Chicago, Jerry Rubin turned up on the second episode of Saturday Night Live, pitching a product called Up Against the Wallpaper. Hoffman attacked the sketch as "a major sellout....He was a caricature of Jerry Rubin making fun of the '60s, but he was not pushing a point, an alternative." If you're plotting Rubin's political trajectory, you can mark 1975 as the year he moved to the right of Tommy Smothers.

Trajectories

To fully comprehend the yippies, you have to look at what they did in the '70s and '80s as much as the '60s. Hoffman got arrested on cocaine charges and subsequently spent six years underground. Rubin plunged into the New Age movement and sampled a series of self-improvement techniques. In his 1976 book Growing (Up) At 37, Rubin wrote about his experiences with everything from primal scream therapy to est; in one bizarre section, the man who once preached the life-changing virtues of LSD now waxed poetic about carrot juice.

Meanwhile, out on the lam, Hoffman wrote this in a letter to his wife:

Drugs have no intrinsic value. All communist countries have correctly outlawed them. There are loads of other exhilarating ways to get high. Communist governments have a cultural revolution to achieve that is national in scope. Our task in the U.S. is to build countercultural institutions that make the raising of children breeding grounds for revolution and rebellion against the wishes of the dominant, decadent culture.

His real views revealed at last? A temporary affectation by a man whose underground life had unleashed an identity crisis? Or maybe just a spasm of guilt in the wake of the coke bust? Who knows for sure? When he surfaced in the '80s, Hoffman crusaded against Reagan's drug war, and his passion for the issue certainly seemed sincere then.

By that time, Rubin had come up from the broader cultural underground, getting a job on Wall Street and later arranging networking parties for young professionals at the Palladium. I saw him debate Hoffman in the mid-'80s, when he and his sparring partner toured together as the Yippie vs. Yuppie show. Hoffman was high on the Sandinistas; Rubin preferred Gary Hart. The majority of the audience seemed to think Rubin was a right-wing sellout. Most of the rest thought Hoffman was a dinosaur who hadn't changed with the times.

Neither view was entirely accurate. Rubin insisted that his new self wasn't so distant from his old self, declaring in 1982 that his networking salons came "out of my 1960s organizing experience." He added, "I really don't think that I've become the person or symbol that I preached against in the '60s. I'm not a warmonger or munitions seller or corporate pig." Hoffman, in his own way, was intensely aware of the differences between the decades. In the last book he published before his death, 1987's Steal This Urine Test, he described a 1983 environmental fight in which "our protest song (as it should be in all environmental battles) was 'America the Beautiful.'...[I]t was very hard to sing it during the sixties as we were being shot, clubbed, jailed, and illegally wiretapped by the government. Especially hard while the mob sang all the patriotic songs. Today it seems appropriate." When Hoffman committed suicide in 1989, the Fifth Estate, an anarchist newspaper in Detroit, complained in an otherwise warm obit that his rhetoric had grown suspiciously patriotic in the last decade of his life.

This is what happens when the counterculture spills out of the '60s and sloshes all over society. It takes new forms, from Rubin's New Age capitalism to Hoffman's all-American socialism. I doubt the yuppie networkers at Rubin's Manhattan salons—young professionals hunting for business partners, bedmates, coke connections—thought of themselves as children of the '60s. But they were, just as surely as Hoffman's Springsteenian patriots were creatures of the Reagan era.

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  • Elemenope||

    Not for nothing, but seeing the police brutality in Chicago '68 on national television was the moment at which my grandfather decided that the American government was not to be trusted, or so he told me.

    A big leap for someone who had grown up during the great depression and served during WWII.

  • ||

    That cop had a BABY! WOW!

  • Naga Sadow||

    Hippies . . . (shakes head)

  • ||

    Why couldn't there be people who were doing political theater for like, liberty and stuff? Why does everyone have to be against the drug war but also a communist, or for free markets but also a racist, etc?

    I swear, 99% of these people take radical positions solely for self-aggrandizement and not for any sort of principle at all. They're basically the Material Girl with less staying power.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Even with my 22" Tim Allen flat screen, I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what the heck those (presumably) Chicago cops have got a hold of. It looks like something that ought to be saying precious, my precious...

  • Elemenope||

    Hippies were OK. When they transmuted into yuppies with a keen lack of self-awareness (or shame), that's when things went to shit.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Epi, the 60's lefites had few principals. For instance, they were only against the draft because the US didn't draft into the peace corps. Now that they're old they want mandatory public service for all 18 year olds and the irony is completely lost on them.

  • Elemenope||

    I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what the heck those (presumably) Chicago cops have got a hold of.

    A precious little pot-bellied pig named "pigasus".

  • ||

    Epi, the 60's lefites had few principals

    Yeah, that was my point.

    By the way, how is NoStar?

  • Elemenope||

    Epi, TWC --

    Is it completely beyond you guys that different groups which share goals in common on somethings and work at cross-purposes at others can still work together to cause change?

    I don't mean to be insulting, but it's kinda dumb to look at a disparate coalition of groups and dismiss them because they lack ideological consistency (which, BTW, they never claimed they had.)

  • ||

    Is it completely beyond you guys that different groups which share goals in common on somethings and work at cross-purposes at others can still work together to cause change?

    Yes. I am a moron.

    My moronic point had nothing to do with disparate groups, it was merely a lament that the loudest rabble-rousers are always holding some repulsive views.

  • Travis||

    "the 60's lefites had few principals. For instance, they were only against the draft because the US didn't draft into the peace corps. Now that they're old they want mandatory public service for all 18 year olds and the irony is completely lost on them."

    Never trust anyone over the age of 30 they're working for the man.

  • Elemenope||

    My moronic point had nothing to do with disparate groups, it was merely a lament that the loudest rabble-rousers are always holding some repulsive views.

    Ahem:

    I swear, 99% of these people take radical positions...

    Hmm. Doesn't seem like you're talking about just "the loudest rabble-rousers". Forgive my confusion when you say "99%"; you clearly meant a much smaller percentage...?

  • ||

    Elemenope,

    It's Giant Puppet Head Syndrome. It doesn't matter what the protest or demonstration is for, even if it's something that you 100% agree with and support: once the giant puppet heads come out, the credibility of everyone drops by 50%.

    Political syncretism will always be defined downward toward the most base element.

  • ||

    'the 60's lefites had few principals'

    Sounds like neither the Nixson-righties or the 60's lefties had any principals. Both seemed to believe in doing anything: lying, cheating, stealing, and engaging in violent behavior for their causes. That core view, that the ends justify the means, seems at the heart of that eras dysfunction and the dysfunctional politics we have inherited from these people.

  • Travis||

    I wonder if Pigasus's descendents have any political aspirations. With a choice between McCain & Obama a Pigasus adminstration sounds pretty good.

  • jtuf||

    I have mixed feelings about the 1968 convention protests. I've read accounts that portray the protestors as people who chose to stand up for minorities instead of sitting back and doing nothing. This dicatomy is artificial. The protestors could have formed a new party just and Libertarians did. Of course, if the 1968 protestors left the Democratic party, they would lose access to all the office space, phone lists, general funds, ect. that the party had at the time. So, it is equally valid to say that 1968 protestors chose disrupt the city of Chicago so they could get said cash and valuables.

  • ||

    Ele,

    these people refers to people who were doing political theater not the total body of protesters. So it's "I swear, 99% of [political theater protesters] take radical positions..."

    (This, in no way, should be construed as suggesting Epi is not a moron.]

  • Elemenope||

    RCN --

    "People who were doing political theater" is a pretty large and diverse group, which Epi's subsequent back-pedaling comment suggests.

    Thanks, though. And people say Nazis can only be evil...

  • ||

    Fix your email, moron NutraSweet.

    And LMNOP, what he said. I was referring to the vast majority radical political theater types.

    As for being a moron, my problem is that I went Full Retard. You never go Full Retard.

  • ||

    Firefox seems to be imploding. It wipes my "remember me" data every time I refresh. Stupid new version.

  • Redneck Adorno||

    When they transmuted into yuppies...

    Hippies are only understandable as always-yuppie, a vanguardist reactionary severance of the academic institutional Left from the working class. There weren't no transmutatin'.

  • Elemenope||

    As for being a moron, my problem is that I went Full Retard. You never go Full Retard.

    Fucking LOL. And I never called you a moron. But it's good advice all the same.

  • D.A. Ridgely||

    Excellent work, Mr. Walker. (My far more modest commemoration of the 1968 Democratic Convention, which I sadly admit to remembering, is here.)

    Succeeding generations do not typically realize how non-monolithic the various movements of the 60s, counter-cultural and otherwise, really were. The Civil Rights movement, for example, had absolutely nothing in common with young, white middle class kids (like me) who were, with varying degrees of sincerity, even temporarily turning our backs on middle class culture.

    So, too, as Mr. Walker notes, the Yippies, far more a "conceptual" group than a real organization like, say, the Black Panthers, had no more to do with your average hippie than the Young Republican or Young Democrat on campus has with the average politically indifferent student.

    Strange days, indeed.

  • ||

    1968: The year the socialists took over the Democratic Party.

  • ||

    1968: The year the socialists took over the Democratic Party.

    [cough] 1933 [cough]

  • ed||

    Why couldn't there be people who were doing political theater for like, liberty and stuff?

    People like that are busy, like, working and stuff.

  • dhex||

    a great piece, mr. walker. you always seem to put out the choicest historical overviews.

    that said, i agree wholeheartedly with mr. wilson and mr. shea's character of simon moon in illuminatus! - nominating pigasus was indeed the most "transcendentally lucid" political act of the decade.

  • ||

    [cough] 1933 [cough]



    No, that was when the Fascists took over.

  • Elemenope||

    The way Brandybuck speaks of the Democratic party, one might come to expect hordes of people in Black shirts painting everything in sight Red.

    It's weird how that isn't the way it is.

  • Jesse Walker||

    1968: The year the socialists took over the Democratic Party.

    By nominating a New Deal Democrat and beating up socialist protesters outside the convention hall?

    nominating pigasus was indeed the most "transcendentally lucid" political act of the decade.

    He was running against Nixon, Humphrey, and Wallace. I have to admit I would have voted for the pig.

  • Paul||

    FIGHT! I'm jumping in:

    I swear, 99% of these people take radical positions...

    Hmm. Doesn't seem like you're talking about just "the loudest rabble-rousers". Forgive my confusion when you say "99%"; you clearly meant a much smaller percentage...?


    Actually, if you read it carefully, Epi said 99% of people who take radical positions. A.K.A. "the loudest rabble-rousers". He did not say, as you suggest, 99% of the population at large.

  • Paul||

    Firefox seems to be imploding. It wipes my "remember me" data every time I refresh. Stupid new version.

    It's Reason's site. IE is doing the same thing.

  • ||

    Anyone else catch the bit on Fox News this morning (heavily edited one presumes) where a reporter asked Denver protesters to identify photos of Pelosi, Reid and Cheyney? And their clueless votes cancel out ours.

  • ||

    It's Reason's site. IE is doing the same thing.

    Let me take this opportunity to point out that the two blogs thing is stupid and unwieldy. And stop making me type my handle over and over again.

  • Elemenope||

    It's Reason's site. IE is doing the same thing.

    They are being punished by the server squirrels for covering the convention.

  • Paul||

    1968: The year the socialists took over the Democratic Party.

    By nominating a New Deal Democrat and beating up socialist protesters outside the convention hall?


    By nominating a quasi-socialist, and beating up the real socialists outside the convention hall?

  • ||

    And I've always defended the squirrels. Those ungrateful bastards. In the great squirrels vs. birds debate I always opined "When was the last time a squirrel shit on your car?"

    [grumble]

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Yeah, that was my point.

    I know that Silly Goose. I was agreeing with you and furnishing additional information. :-)

  • ||

    They are being punished by the server squirrels for covering the convention.

    I'd like to punish them with a taser for doing the split blog format. I dare the webmaster to come on here and defend this setup.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Paul, if Humphrey was a quasi-socialist, then so were the previous five Democrats to win the party's presidential nomination. So it would make even less sense to call 1968 "The year the socialists took over the Democratic Party."

  • ||

    LMNOP, Jesse,

    Distinguishing between quasi-fascists and quasi-socialists is difficult for me, so perhaps I have erred in my characterization. But the late 60's does seem to be the time when the Democrat Party shifted its focus away from centralized planning of the national industry and towards income leveling and redistribution.

    p.s. Of course, this is Reason, where no one is allowed to criticize the Democrats because it might offend the libertarians.

  • ||

    By the way, how is NoStar?

    Thanks for asking. I have and will continue to add comments to the dead thread where Nick posted the awful news. You can also click over to TWC and there are a couple of updates there which I summarize below.

    As of this morning NoStar is out of ICU but he is in a lot of pain. The internal bleeding (brain and liver) has stopped. His face is a mess and the hospital won't let him look in the mirror. He and Jessie's mom cried together yesterday and are making funeral arrangements today.

    A friend is looking into a memorial library fund in Jessie's name. His church is in the process of setting up a memorial fund as well.

    For now cards or flowers may be sent to Bill Kalles:

    C/O Harborview Medical Center

    325 9th Avenue, Seattle, WA, 98104

    (206) 731-3000

  • ||

    But the late 60's does seem to be the time when the Democrat Party shifted its focus away from centralized planning of the national industry.

    Well, except for health care. And energy.

  • ||

    And lending.

  • ||

    Regarding healthcare, the Democrats are in the midst of a debate whether to implement a fascist solution or a socialist solution. So far fascist hillarycare seems the winner, but wait for obamacare to get rolled out. Either way the Democrats are solidly united behind a bigger government program.

    Energy does seem solidly fascist however. I wonder if the Great Libertarian Hope Obama has plans to correct that when he takes over?

  • ||

    But the late 60's does seem to be the time when the Democrat Party shifted its focus away from centralized planning of the national industry.

    Which means, then, away from socialism.

    I think the conflation of socialism with the modern Western welfare state is one of the biggest slanders in modern political discourse (the others: "Democrats don't care about the security of the American people" and "libertarians only care about getting rich"). Many on the left are indeed clueless about economics and would be dangerous if they ever came to power. Fortunately, this is balanced out by the majority of Democratic politicians, who, either because they're not entirely stupid, or because they're paid well by their corporate contributors, tend to be far more market-friendly in practice. It's also pretty well established by now that socialism simply can't provide both a uniformly high standard of living and the tax revenues needed for a massive system of social insurance and public works. Anyone who claims that it can is delusional or lying.

    I'm not saying that the Democrats are doing this out of any particular principle - but they don't have an ideological commitment to nationalizing all industry and never came anywhere near to implementing this type of policy, especially in comparison to the UK before Thatcher. Remember, the New Deal was instituted partly to protect the country against socialism, based on the belief that the Depression would spawn a left-wing overreaction. The Democrats have also definitely drifted rightward in the last few decades, which is how Bill Clinton ended up signing welfare reform, shrinking the federal government slightly, and pushing free trade. Clinton wasn't very libertarian, but he wasn't even remotely socialist.

    And that's basically where I stand too, for both ideological and practical reasons. I'd like a fairly limited, libertarian government with as little social engineering or economic interference is possible. And I'm totally in favor of guns, dope, low taxes, local self-government, and a tiny military. But I'm happy to pay taxes for what I consider basic social services like unemployment insurance and education, because I view these as necessary to sustain a healthy free-market economy with minimal meddling from the government. This might make me a shitty libertarian too, but it doesn't make me a socialist either, unless Bush is also a socialist.

    Brandybuck, after your 6:18 comment I now have no clue what you mean by "socialist" and "fascist". Please don't tell me you've been reading Jonah's book.

  • Y.||

    "I'm not saying that the Democrats are doing this out of any particular principle - but they don't have an ideological commitment to nationalizing all industry... the New Deal was instituted partly to protect the country against socialism..."
    A good example of "not socialism" is the National Recovery Act (fortunately undone by SCOTUS).

    "Bill Clinton ended up signing welfare reform"
    Except that he vetoed it twice, only allowing it through because his adviseres told him he might lose the 96' elections otherwise.

    "shrinking the federal government slightly"
    Actually, this is only because of dubious cutbacks to the military (In fairness, every other President would have done the same). Otherwise, the fed gov. grew.

    "and pushing free trade."
    Something which the Dems have turned their backs on completely (e.g. CAFTA).

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