U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Introduction: “Summer of Love” Roundtable

It has been fifty years since the flower children of the counterculture converged en masse in San Francisco, taking part in a longue durée happening known as the “Summer of Love.”  But what was that, exactly?  An exuberant, collective flouting of the rules of the mainstream culture that itself became rule-bound? The popular consciousness of a generation embracing a spontaneity that was artfully designed to appeal to their tastes as consumers?  An exuberant flouting of conventional sexual roles and sexual mores that served to underscore their structuring power?

Yes and no.

Less and more.

We will be examining the history and legacy of the “Summer of Love” in a roundtable at the blog this week.

In our first essay, Kevin M. Mercer will explore how the Beatniks and hippies of tried to explain to themselves and each other what it was exactly that was happening or could happen in San Francisco in 1967.  The year had started with a massive “Human Be-In,” where Timothy Leary told the assembled “tribes” to “tune in, turn on, and drop out.”  But what did that mean?  What could that mean?  In February of 1967, a core group of San Francisco countercultural luminaries, as Mercer calls them, convened a summit of sorts to answer those questions.

Next, Michael J. Kramer takes a deep dive into the music of the “Summer of Love” – or, rather, a deep dive into the music that critiqued it. Satirizing the pop-hippie sensibilities of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, released in June 1967, Frank Zappa’s We’re Only In It for the Money at the same time presented a sincere vision of what an authentic Summer of Love might yet be or achieve.

In our third essay, Lilian Calles Barger examines the place – or displacement – of the “hippie chick” in feminist history.  She argues that while emblematic figures like Joan Baez and Janis Joplin do not show up prominently in the history of modern feminism, the Summer of Love and its enduring reverberations in the lives of many women was important for the emergence of a cultural feminism that affirmed femal difference.

In our fourth essay, Chris Babits identifies an unsettling legacy of the Summer of Love.  The counterculture’s embrace of uninhibited sexual expression and erotic experimentalism informed a central therapeutic approach of the nascent “conversion therapy” movements of the early 1970s that sought to “cure” gay men of their sexuality.

Our roundtable concludes with an essay from Richard H. King.  He asks a broad question:  “What might an intellectual history of that summer and of the counter culture look like?”  And his essay provides a richly suggestive answer, identifying and surveying clashing intellectual currents running through and beneath the visible phenomena of the hippies of Haight-Ashbury and their detractors, currents that shaped the world we know today and the very ways we know it.

So tune in, turn on, and chime in or drop out.  Either way, it’ll be a trip.

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  1. This is going to be a fantastic roundtable. I’m looking forward to reading and keeping up with it.

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