Hippies died and Yippies take their place and head to Chicago. Lyndon quit and everybody runs for president. Hair invades Broadway. TV cancels all War Dramas, but adds Gomer Pyle . The oldest Boomers become eligible to vote…Antiheroes flood the big screen and Chicago riots and assassinations of MLK and RFK inspire ultraviolent flicks.
1968: One Life to Live and Hidden Faces (New Soaps)
Time published the official Hippie obituary in October of 1967, and on New Year’s Day of 1968 “YIPPIES!” were born. Mainstream media painted a negative reflection of counterculture teens for WASP America throughout the mid- ‘60s. Hippies were portrayed as no-good, lazy, filthy, smelly, longhaired, sex-crazed drug addicts, etc. The underground now denied the existence of any such animal. A confused press asked, “So, what the hell is a Yippie?” Abbie Hoffman, one of the inventors, explained: “A political hippie. A flower child who has been busted. A stoned-out warrior of the Aquarian Age… A Yippie is someone going to Chicago.”
The Yippies’ immediate goal focused on stopping LBJ’s war machine, and as their first project, encouraged everyone to run for President in the upcoming election. Many unusual characters accepted the challenge. Dick Nixon, loser to JFK in 1960, and antiwar candidate (most Americans still believed in dominos at the time), Senator Eugene McCarthy ran on the Underdog ticket. Two great comedians from opposite ends of the humor spectrum, Dick Gregory and George Wallace, also entered the race (Wallace had captured a governorship with his absurd, deadpan style of comedy; so effective that some of his fans actually took him seriously!) Louis Abolafia, the favorite candidate of the Yippies, ran on the Love/Peace ticket. A nude photo of Louis adorned his campaign posters with his slogan, “I’ve got nothing to hide.” Abolafia had a chance until two other political rookies horned in and split the youth vote. Alfred E. Neuman announced his candidacy on the cover of Mad Magazine, and Pat Paulsen on the Smothers’ Brothers program. Pat represented the “Straight Talking American Government” (STAG) Party, whose motto declared, “We can’t stand Pat.” All of these wonderful choices fell by the wayside, however, during the moment of truth in Chicago, as the Yippies stood united behind their last minute entry into the race: “Pigasus” (a 500 pound porker from a local farm).
Lyndon had enough problems without all this competition. His popularity hit record lows in recent polls, and well-respected citizens spoke out openly against him. Dr. Benjamin Spock, writer of the bible of how to raise a Boomer, added a new chapter on common sense care for draft-age teenage boys. The government indicted Spock and the Rev. William Sloan Coffin of Yale on January 5th for “conspiring to aid and abet draft resisters.” Eartha Kitt, at a ladies’ luncheon in the White House a couple of weeks later expressed her opinion, “Discussion of theU.S.domestic problems is pointless while the Vietnam war rages.” Hostess Lady Bird looked liked a deer caught in the headlights.
Johnson and his staff had been telling the American public for some time now that “the war is near a turning point.” Unfortunately, they were correct. The Communists launched a massive Tet offensive on January 30th, against nearly every major population center inSouth Vietnam. In laymen’s terms, we got our white butts kicked. To make matters even worse, NBC-TV and the Associated Press sent back film of South Vietnamese National Police Chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan casually blowing out the brains of a handcuffed Viet Cong suspect. That one mass-media reflection changed the hearts and minds of a lot of Americans. Even the most devout hawk had a problem justifying cold-blooded murder.
Disturbing reflections bombarded the American public from every direction. Every TV newscast and newspaper front page carried bad news about the war and opposition to it. Entertainment sources offered little escape. The Moral Majority remembered fondly the quiet days, before hippies and Yippies, when Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Doris Day dominated the pop charts. Frank’s only recent hit came when he shared the spotlight with Wild Angels’ daughter, Nancy, on Something Stupid. Jumpin’ Jack Flash (Mick Jagger) declared himself a Street Fighting Man and asked Sympathy For the Devil. Teens took over FM radio, which led to a complete surrender of AM Top 40 radio and the record industry. The top selling albums had always been Broadway musicals or blockbuster movie soundtracks (Dr. Zhivago and The Sound of Music topped the charts in 1967). But in 1968 a hostile revolution occurred in the record industry, and Disraeli Gears by Cream placed number one, followed by Are you Experienced by Jimi Hendrix. The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel occupied the next four spots. The Boomer cabal controlled the music industry.
Yippism invaded Broadway. With controversial language, irreverence, counterculture philosophy and the famous nude scene, Hair became the hit of the season. The characters on stage debunked the previous media stereotyped hippie image, and instead introduced the audience to a bunch of sensitive, intelligent teens who willfully chose voluntary poverty and nonparticipation in the system. But our free society denies them an alternative lifestyle, as it inducts Clyde into the Army. His friend, Berger temporarily takes his Clyde’s place in Basic Training so the young draftee can have one last quick rendezvous with his girl. But Clyde’s unit suddenly ships out to Vietnam, and Berger soon becomes another unfortunate statistic of the Great Society. Clyde transforms from an All American boy into a full-blown Yippie by play’s end. Next stop, Chicago? WASP, Middle-aged, Middle-class American for the first time heard and applauded lines like, “My hair like Jesus wore it/ Hallelujah, I adore it/ Christ was loved by Mother Mary/ Why don’t my mother love me?” and “The war is White people sending Black people to kill Yellow people to defend land that they stole from the Red people” (apologies to Muhammad Ali). In this context, “Peace, love and understanding” no longer seemed like such an outrageous demand, especially in the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Five of the songs from Hair hit the charts, and kids all over the United States explained to their parents, “But you told me to listen to Broadway musical soundtracks.”
America looked to Hollywood to strike back with a patriotic blockbuster. The studio chose America’s greatest celluloid hero to lead a gallant group of fighting men in defense of Old Glory. The Duke even co-directed The Green Berets to emphasize the importance of our noble cause in Vietnam. John Wayne convinced an American journalist (David Janssen) in fantasyland on the big screen of our good intentions, but after the show, audiences returned home to watch the real war on the small screen news. They saw no heroes, only blood and violence, with no end in sight (Vietnam recently won the dubious distinction as the longest running war in American history). Hollywood had conditioned fans to expect the Duke to wipe out the Japs and Krauts in ninety minutes. Olive drab Berets became one of the biggest bombs of the decade.
Television is, was and will be forever more, be the problem when America tries to get a good war rolling. Vietnam was the first war to receive live coverage, and the images that the public saw weren’t pretty. Support during times of great conflict always depended on the glorification of heroes, the creation of legends and an optimistic appraisal of the last battle, but horrible visuals on TV killed all those romantic notions about war. Television news gave us the eyes of the child who saw through the Emperor’s new wardrobe. There are no winners or heroes in war… at best, only survivors.
With their own news programs working against them, TV networks struggled to win back the audience in primetime. The good guys always won in Adam 12, Hawaii Five-0, Mannix, The Avengers, It Takes a Thief and the Mod Squad. The last two of these tube law enforcement organizations offered amnesty to ex-outlaws. The heroes of these shows had been caught red-handed committing a crime, and in lieu of serving time, agreed to help police arrest their peers. There are names for people like that… rat, fink, stool-Pidegon or squealer. Their methods included illegal entrapment, but the end justified the means in the minds of Middle America. Thirty-something Julie, Pete and Linc, as undercover spies in high school, busted troublesome hippies every week on Mod Squad without a trace of regret. The show flopped with its intended audience, due to all the recent bad publicity about narcs, CIA and FBI agents, using dirty tricks to infiltrate student groups on campus. The dream machine (TV) refused to compromise. The Mod Squad preceded It Takes a Thief, followed by NYPD on ABC on Tuesdays. The only possible conclusion at 9:30: That’s Life.
The television networks took heed when Phil Ochs proclaimed The War Is Over in 1967 (Yes, two years before John Lennon), and they cancelled Combat, Twelve O’Clock High, F-Troop, Rat Patrol and Garrison’s Gorillas during the 1967-68 season. The fate of our nation now lay in the hands of our only new noble warrior, Gomer Pyle.
The ignorance-is-bliss philosophy spread throughout the networks’ schedule. Yippies and the counterculture didn’t exist. A pair of Jacks (Lord on Hawaii Five-0 and Webb on Dragnet) trumped any longhairs who wandered into primetime. In television land, clean-cut young people found the meaning of life, as couples revealed intimate secrets on The Dating Game, and then graduated to The Newlywed Game. Here Come the Brides joined the celebration and they brought along The Mothers In Law.
Ghetto riots? You’ve got to be kidding. African Americans were happy in primetime. Diahann Carroll became the first Black woman to star in her own series since Beulah, 16 years prior. She played a respected professional, rather than the normal domestic servant role that African American actors usually had to settle for. And if that wasn’t enough to calm racial tensions, corporateAmerica offered a special bonus: Barbie received a token Black friend (Christie) in 1968.
So what if the hippies owned the pop charts? TV offered Dean Martin Presents the Golddiggers and The Doris Day Show, and even gave Lucy a new program.
The Smothers Brothers tried to penetrate the video soma, but CBS prescreened each show with editing scissors in hand. In 1968 they cut out a skit on film censorship, an interview with Dr. Spock, a Mothers’ Day message that ended with the words, “Please talk peace” and a segment in which Harry Belafonte sang, “Lord, please stop the Carnival,” superimposed over a montage of the Democratic Convention riots. The boys did finally get to play Pete Seeger’s Waist Deep in Muddy Water, which had been cut from their premiere show in 1967. But the brothers fought a losing battle. Hidden Faces loomed as an appropriate reflection of the state of television in 1968, and was also the title of a new soap opera.
One Live to Live, another new soap, tried to cash in on the hippie attitude of “Live for Today”, but, of course, never moved past the title. Meanwhile, Teens pondered blacklight posters that read, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” while listening to the Rascals sing, It’s a Beautiful Morning and People Got to be Free. The kids lived in the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius and hoped everyone would “Open up your heart and let the sun shine in.”
1968 will always be remembered as the first national election in which Boomers were eligible to vote. First Wavers wanted to make the most of the opportunity, and a “Children’s Army” of student volunteers helped Senator Eugene McCarthy campaign in the snow in the New Hampshire Democratic Presidential Primary. On March 12th, they stunned Lyndon, the press, and Middle America as the long-shot, anti-war candidate made it a very close election. Obviously, the number of Americans opposed to the Vietnam War now extended far beyond the counterculture. Bobby Kennedy saw just how vulnerable Johnson had become, and four days after McCarthy’s great showing, announced his own candidacy. Boomers were ecstatic. The odds on Eugene still sat at a hundred to one, but Bobby was even money. RFK could unite the anti-war groups, minorities (especially African Americans), the “Let’s return to Camelot” escapists and the Barbie faction (who judges candidates strictly on looks). With McCarthy on the ticket as VP, Bobby appeared to be a lock.
That was the final straw for the old Texan. Johnson, intimidated by the Kennedy image, hadn’t selected Bobby (the obvious choice) as his running mate in 1964, and now RFK returned to haunt him. Lyndon’s Lone Star pride and his obsession with history forced him to hang on to Vietnam as if he had a tiger by the tail. He didn’t want to be remembered as the first American President to lose a war, and now, LBJ couldn’t face the probability of becoming the first incumbent President to lose in the primaries. Why was America shocked when Lyndon announced on the tube, “I will not seek and will not accept my party’s nomination for the presidency for a second full term”? Yippies loved it, but that didn’t change their plans for Chicago. The war machine rolled on with Hubert now waiting to take the helm.
Baby Huey was a popular comic book among Boomers children in the ‘50s. Bullies outwitted and threatened the naïve youngster, Huey and his friends, but the vast size and raw power of the duckling always saved the day. Huey was a freak… much too large for his age. His incredible strength surprised himself and his buddies on a daily basis. Baby Boomers, as a group, seemed just like Huey in 1968, a young, naïve, clumsy giant freak with a good heart. They took great pride in their part in the downfall of LBJ. They thought that maybe they really could change the world. And why not? Boomers controlled the music industry, and after Green Berets tanked, Hollywood had no choice but to bend their way.
The films offered at neighborhood theaters shocked the Moral Majority. The success of The Wild Angels in 1966 spawned a host of Boomer biker operas in 1967: Rebel Rousers, Hell’s Angels on Wheels, Wild Rebels, Devil’s Angels and Born Losers (the first Billy Jack flick). Hollywood made big bucks off these low-budget quickies, and pressure from parents in 1968 merely caused a slight change in titles: Glory Stompers and The Savage Seven.
The recreational activities of the Angels in these movies began another new genre of chemical celluloid: The Trip in 1967, and in 1968, Psych-Out (Producer, Dick Clark’s one attempt to get hip) and Yellow Submarine. The last film looked like the Beatles on an acid trip to Pepperland, where they defeated the Blue Meanies with Rock & Roll (All’s You Need is Love). At the same time in the real world, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band attempted to create an artistic utopia of their own: Apple Corp.
The big screen also offered Boomers Monterey Pop, Cream’s Farewell Concert (at concert prices) and One Plus One (Sympathy for the Devil). The Monkees renounced pre-puberty Pop, and made a desperate attempt to join the counterculture with Head (co-scripted by Trippy Jack Nicholson and co-starring Frank Zappa and Annette Funicello!). This defiant act caused Don Kirshner to dump his prefab group.
The strangest reflection of the growing strength of the counterculture and the darkest fears of Middle Americaappeared on the screen in Wild in the Streets. Society lowered the voting age to fourteen in this little gem, and Rock singer, Max Frost (Christopher Jones) became the first Yippie president. The new Commander and Chief then moved to eliminate the generation gap by herding all adults over the age of 35 into concentration camps, and then forced them to ingest LSD. Planet of the Apes showed another version of what the world might be like if the Moral Majority lost control to scruffy barbarians. Rebellious Boomers have been called worse.
The most popular Boomer flick in 1968 was 2001: A Space Odyssey. Many of the older crowd walked out at a New York premiere, and most of the critics hated the film. Their opinions didn’t matter. Teens dug it and made the flick a hit. The director invited the audience to participate in the experience: “You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film.” The loose structure of the film confused old time film buffs and critics, but the kids loved filling in the spaces. To First Wave Boomers, the black Monolith symbolized LSD and HAL (the letters immediately preceding IBM in the alphabet) was Big Brother. Adults didn’t understand the famous psychedelic “trip sequence” at all, but teens agreed that the colorful light show topped anything offered at the Fillmores (East and West) or Avalon. The expression, “You’ve got to see it stoned,” for the first time in film history became a natural addition to a counterculture, word-of-mouth movie critique. Boomers had searched for a sign… an omen, and now the rebirth of Bowman as the Starchild, just after the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius showed us the way.
However, before there can be rebirth, there must be death. None of us realized how painful that might be. Martin Luther King became the first victim in Memphis on April 4th. On the eve of his death, King told a crowd of his admirers, “I have been up to the mountain top. I’ve looked over and I have seen the Promised Land. I may not be there with you, but we, as a people will get to the Promised Land.” Martin recently, against the advice of his associates, spoke out against our involvement in Vietnam, pointing out that the number of young African American men fighting on the front lines (and the number being killed) far exceeded the percentage of Blacks in our country. Within hours of the assassination riots broke out in 120 American cities, leaving 46 people dead, 2,600 injured and 21,000 arrested. Mayor Daley in Chicago instructed police to “shoot to kill arsonists and shoot to cripple or maim looters.”
Bobby Kennedy won the California Primary on June 5th and immediately received a bullet for his effort.America cried, “No, not again!” Had this been Pepperland, Eugene would have conceded on this day, and then join the movement as Bobby’s Veep candidate. This dynamic duo would then unite with Martin to form a powerful trio to dismantle the grim war machine. That dream team would certainly drive away all the Blue Meanies. But we lived in a violent America in 1968, and now Chicago seemed more important than ever.
Why not go after Nixon in Miami? Boomers at the time considered him a loser, without a chance of beating Humphrey. Dickie also promised a secret plan to “de-Americanize” the war in Vietnam, and that seemed better than nothing (Hubert)… if Nixon spoke the truth.
Nixon or Humphrey looked like a no-win situation to most African Americans. A riot broke out in Miami’s ghetto on the third day of the Republican Convention, leaving more than 300 dead. Young Blacks grooved with the hippies on a Stoned Soul Picnic earlier in the year, but after King’s assassination, they switched to Otis Redding’s final hit: “Looks like nothing’s going to change/ Things ‘round here just remain the same/ So, I’m Sitting on the Dock of the Bay, wasting time.” The song revealed a growing sense of frustration, and James Brown’s tribute to King, Goodbye, My Love revealed a great sense of loss. Brown’s Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud scored the biggest hit among African Americans in 1968. WASP America watched in horror on October 18th, as the Olympic Committee suspended US track stars, Lonnie Smith and John Carlos, at the XIX Olympiad in Mexico City because they gave the Black Power salute during our National Anthem.
The Moral Majority watched the hippies arriving in Chicago in August. Mayor Daley prepared for the invasion with more than 12,000 police and National Guardsmen. His office ordered landlords to deny longhairs housing and for restaurants to refuse them meals. The city turned down requests for permits to sleep inLincoln Park. The Yippies, in response, turned the city into a circus. Allen Ginsberg carried a briefcase labeled “Secret Plans” and 20,000 teens wore buttons that read “Yippie Leader.” Rumors circulated that the Yippies threatened to drop LSD into the public water system, and Daley dispatched thousands of troops to defend the reservoirs. McCarthy had no chance, and the Yippies nominated a new candidate: Pigasus (a pleasant-looking boar from a local farm). Daley failed to see the humor. Police took the real pig candidate and his common-law wife, Piggy Wiggy, into custody, before the porker had officially entered the race. The Yippies rallied around the animal shelter, chanting, “Free the Pigs.” Meanwhile, the police set up a command center in the Lincoln Park Zoo.
The inevitable confrontation began. The Yippies organized a Rock concert in the park on Sunday… the eve of the Convention. Most of the major bands promised to be there, but when the shit hit the fan, only the MC-5 and the Fugs had the courage to show up. The heat, in full riot gear, moved in on the crowd at exactly 11 PM (Daley’s curfew). Police clubbed and tear-gassed Teens for the next three days, as photographers and TV news cameramen recorded the scene. The action spilled out onto the streets, where surprised residents, just out for an evening stroll, were beaten and arrested (even Hugh Heffner got clubbed). Police and National Guardsmen beat up and/or arrested several newsmen (including Dan Rather in the hall) during live TV coverage. Walter Cronkite made his outrage public, calling Daley’s gang “nothing more than a bunch of thugs.” Senator Ribicoff declared from the podium “Gestapo-like tactics are being used in Chicago.” Daley, just a couple of rows away, stood up and yelled obscenities. A shocked Middle America read Daley’s lips: “You mother-fucker Jew bastard. Get your ass out of Chicago.”
ROCK & ROLL
Tension ruled the day. Even on AM in Middle America teens heard, “You ask who killed the Kennedy’s? After all, don’t you know that it was you and me (Satan)?” from the Stones and a new Boomer anthem, “They’ve got the guns but we’ve got the numbers” from the Doors.
The turmoil caused heartburn in the heartland. Devout red-white-and-blue necks heard a strange song on the Country/ Western AM stations. In Harper Valley PTA, the parent group accuses a single-parent mother of being “loose.” She proves that her peers are all hypocrites, and forces the Moral Majority to reexamine their own moral values. When did a message like that become legal on a Country Western station? Rednecks began questioning values and authority, and songs with a rebellious outlaw image rode the C&W, as well as the R&R chart.
Bob Dylan finally returned to the music scene after a long layoff following his near fatal motorcycle accident in 1966, and released his new, country-flavored, John Wesley Harding album. The title cut fit in nicely with the emerging country outlaw image, but the songs sounded tame to Boomers… expect for one cut, All Along the Watchtower, in which Bob sang, “There must be some kind of way out of here/ Said the joker to the thief/ There’s too much confusion, and I can’t get no relief…There are many here among us who think that life is but a joke/ But you and I, we’ve been through that and this is not our fate/ So let us stop talking falsely now, the hour’s getting late.” The last line, “And the wind began to howl,” left us with a feeling of impending doom. Hendrix released a cover of the song a few months later, in which the howling wind became an angry hurricane. The violent nightmares of two assassinations and riots in Chicago occurred between the two versions of Watchtower. Jimi’s Electric Ladyland contained other reflections of the dramatic increase in violence in songs such as House Burning Down.
In some extreme cases, shelled-shocked Americans went into full catatonic withdrawal, causing a brief resurgence of total escapist, pre-puberty Pop. Glucose classics like Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, Chewy, Chewy and Simon Says played AM, and Don Kirshner traded in his rebellious Monkees for a Saturday morning cartoon band, the Archies. LBJ, and later, Nixon wished that they could eliminate their problems so efficiently… by simply exiling protesters into the second dimension.
The violence of 1968 reflected off the silver screen. George Romero began the ultra-violence-as-high-camp school of horror with his first film, Night of the Living Dead. Boomers took this as a literal reflection of the Establishment: expressionless zombies, whose only purpose was to eat their victims alive, and in doing so, make everyone just like them. Only one character (the Black guy for once!) survives to the last scene, at which time the “rescue party” rashly identifies him as a zombie and shoots him through the head (friendly fire). The last sane man in an emotionless, dead society had to be eliminated.
Peter Bogdanovich made his directorial debut in 1968 with another low-budget horror film. Targets lacked the graphic blood and gore found in Romero’s quickie, and yet managed to hit a raw nerve in modern urban terror. The film contained an old theme that had been passed down from William Blake to Huxley to Jim Morrison and finally to Bogdanovich: “The Doors of Perception”: “On one side lies reality, on the other side, fantasy, yet when one stands in the doorway, he finds impossible to tell which is which.” Peter’s film updates the concept to 1968, as the era demands that reality becomes violence and fantasy turns into nightmare. A sleepy little drive-in movie theater provided the setting. An aging B-movie star (Boris Karloff) made a public appearance to plug his new cheapie horror film. As the audience watched the movie in their cars, a sniper climbed up behind the screen and began to pick them off one at a time. The targets in each car were completely unaware of the horrible bloodshed happening in the vehicle next to them, as the sniper invaded their individual worlds. The horror of the film-within-a-film failed to match the real parking lot massacre. The terror continued until the sniper became trapped in the doorway of perception between a thirty-foot close-up of Karloff on the screen, and the real flesh-and-blood man now in pursuit. The dazed killer paused for a reality check, which led to an easy capture. Watching Targets made the viewer nervous. “Could it be that I am in the sights of some copycat nut at that very moment?” The public had just witnessed the assassinations of two of the most powerful men in America, race riots in every major city and cops clubbing innocent citizens and newsmen in Chicago. With the escalation of the war in Vietnam, every Boomer boy feared that his body might soon be scattered in a distant rice paddy. Recently, there was talk of drafting women. Everyone seemed a target in 1968.
The Beatles’ White Album hit the stores late in the year with, “When I hold you in my arms/ And I squeeze your trigger, oh so tight/ I know that nobody can do me any harm/ Happiness Is a Warm Gun” and “Hey, Bungalo Bill, what did you kill?”
In 1968, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking (1952), rethought his position and remarked, “This is an awful world, just frightening, and we’re stuck with it.”US troop strength peaked at 550,000. 14,500 Boomers died in combat in 1968…
“They’ve got the guns, but we’ve got the numbers.”