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Popular Culture & Counterculture

The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion

Throughout the 1960s, there often was a thin line between mainstream culture and counterculture. The younger generation increasingly expressed ambivalence toward the state and repudiated traditional social mores. Yet while contemporary representations of the 1960s (such as films like Forrest Gump) depict the era with stereotypes of the "sexual revolution" and "hippie culture," such stock images fail to capture a multivalent, complex moment in modern American history. Grassroots activism and counterculture artistic movements challenged mainstream ideas of modernity, conformity, and progress. Mainstream culture was quick to adopt the attitudes and opinions of the young. The culture industry sought to capitalize on youth culture by sanitizing hot-button topics such as racial integration and anti-war protests toward commercial ends. 


The Cold War is commonly remembered as a bilateral power competition between the USA and the former USSR, but the conflict also involved proxy states throughout Latin America. Nation states with colonial pasts were targeted as niche markets for non-profit and commercial enterprises. Accordingly, 1960s-era novels, film stills, and concept art for television series captured the symbolism of the "Space Race" as an extension of geo-political conflicts between the two super-powers. These high-tech, high-concept images of outer space exploration were matched by widespread images of explorations into the landscapes of the human mind. The counterculture was fascinated with the idea of mapping the terrain of human consciousness through the use of psychedelic drugs.