What Marijuana, "The Lord of the Rings", and Jazz Music Have in Common

A Look at the American Pop Culture and Counterculture of the 1960's

Essay, 2018

10 Pages, Grade: 1.6



Three main themes recur throughout this text, saturating nearly every point of our discussion: news, society, and (obviously enough) culture. News affects society, thereby affecting culture which in turn affects the news, the society, and the culture itself. This is a relevant fact present throughout the whole history of the United States. Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) was an influential piece of anti-slavery pop culture, and the tragic tale it told changed the hearts and minds of many American whites in regards to their views on slavery.

Another prime example of how what makes the headlines also forms our pop culture can be found in the creation of the film monster Godzilla. In World War II, the U.S. released two atomic bombs on Japan, killing millions of innocent people. Naturally, Japan viewed atomic tests in a very negative light for years to follow. The 1954 Japanese sci-fi film Godzilla dramatically depicts the horrors that result from radioactive testing. These are just a few instances which show what an impact man's actions can have on society and culture and vice versa.

As anyone can attest to, Charles Darwin's book On the Origin of Species (1859) and his theory of evolution without the assistance of a Supreme Intellect have changed the scientific way in which we think about animals and about ourselves. Whether this was a change for the better (as many believe in regards to the fields of science) or for worse, a dramatic change it truly was. And not too many years after it seemed to have shed light in the society of science, Darwinism was applied to economic practices in late 19th century America.

Now known as "social Darwinism," this was a practice of employing Darwinian terminology and concepts in the realms of society, politics, and most importantly the economy. Among the businessmen and academics of the day, there were numbers of which fully accepted and promoted the usage of such ideologies in society. Capitalism and racism were often adopted by quite a few of the Social Darwinists. American Social Darwinists, such as William Graham Sumner, stated they believed that a nation's existence relied on unchecked economic competition.

They wanted no government interference. Only the strong would survive; that was the summary of their designs. They did not believe in charity or assisting the monetarily poor. However, some did consider particular races superior to others. (Adolf Hitler would develop similar beliefs just a few decades later.) Many political theorists of the time, using the Darwinian theory to aid in their own theorizing, attempted to make the point that poverty was, in fact, the product of natural inferiority. This train of thought inspired eugenics which continued into the 1970's.

Thus, we can say that Darwinism has affected society and culture and therefore the news. And most importantly it has become part of history. Countless more exemplars appear throughout the timelines of the world. But perhaps more so than in any other era in modern history, the 1960's was a rather turbulent decade full of drastic alterations in culture as well as society, particularly in America.

An Overview of the 1960's

The sixties, like any decade in modern history, was undergoing changes in nearly every aspect of life and thought. It was a brand new and revolutionary age in the development of film, music, and literature, and every form of entertainment. The United States in the 1960's introduced new cultural and scientific concepts to the general public.

In 1961, the famed Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to travel into outer space, only to meet with a violent accident seven years later when he and a flight instructor were killed in a jet fighter crash. In 1969, near the close of this boiling and brimming decade, the American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin made history when they became the first Earthlings to touch down and walk on the surface of another celestial body, our Moon.

In spite of humanity's magnificent ingenuity and daring during that period, the sixties was also a time filled with turmoil, uprising, disagreement, and breakouts of violence. This was especially prevalent in regards to racial and sexual equality and liberty. On February 1, 1960, four black college students sat at a counter (designated strictly for white customers) in a store in Greensboro, North Carolina, refusing to budge. The "sit-in" strategy they displayed inspired many other such incidents throughout the Southern states.

In 1961, "freedom rides," were coordinated and carried out on buses going from the District of Columbia to New Orleans. As noted in Mary Jane Capozzoli Ingui's American History, 1877 to the Present, "Blacks and whites challenged the segregation of buses, rest rooms, and restaurants, and violence often erupted" (Ingui 168). The "freedom summer" of 1964 was another large movement with bearing to racial differences; it was a huge voter registration promotion in the South. Three of the movement's volunteers disappeared from Philadelphia, Mississippi in June. Later it was learned that they had been murdered by Ku Klux Klan members.

Riots exploded in approximately 75 cities in the U.S. between 1967 and 1968. These are said to be the reaction provoked by white control over business and property, unemployment, poverty, and police brutality. (In the sixties the fuzz, the heat, the man, and other terms became common synonyms for policemen or the police force.) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968 fueled rioting in over three dozen cities alone.

This was not the only devastating assassination in America which was hosted in the 1960's. Unfortunately, there were a number of others which require mentioning. John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president of the United States (and a proponent of the space race), was fatally shot in Dallas, Texas in 1963. JFK was the fourth president to have been assassinated. His alleged killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was also shot at a later time. His brother, Robert F. Kennedy, was also shot and killed in 1968, the same year that Martin Luther King was assassinated.

In the midst of this, one of the most memorable movements of history sprouted and flowered: the counterculture, otherwise known as the Hippie Movement. Making a big scene out of things, hippies emerged in the early 1960's and associated themselves with drug use, long hair, and permissive sexuality. Marijuana, as will be discussed in a bit more detail, was not the only drug used by the counterculture. The other big one that we know about is LSD.

Psychology professor Timothy Leary was a strong promoter of the use of psychedelic drugs in the sixties. He experimented with psilocybin, a compound found in certain varieties of fungi, in relation to its effects on human behavior. Leary went so far as to test this drug on inmates and seminary students! Then he started to use LSD in the early 1960's, believing that LSD was the supreme answer to decrease or eliminate psychic pain. Among the common possible effects caused by LSD are hallucinations, distorted sense of time, and impulsive behavior.

The Pot Culture

Marijuana (otherwise known as black gunion, African black, giggle weed, reefer, grass, yellow submarine, Mary Jane, pot, etc., etc.) has obviously had a great influence on human behavior and human actions due to its use down through the centuries. It made a big impact on popular culture and the general public's consideration when the movie Reefer Madness came out in 1936. It inaccurately depicts college students becoming prone to murder and suicide after smoking or consuming marijuana.

Reefer Madness is still shown on college campuses and theaters which specialize in art films. However, the old movie relies on a fantastical falsehood. In reality, pot does not turn people into crazed animals intent on violently killing people. In fact, it does quite the opposite for most who ingest it. Noticeable effects include red eyes, dry mouth, dizziness, increased hunger, and especially slow reaction time (meaning individuals doped up on marijuana tend to be nonviolent and dazed.)

Marijuana had its first influence on the counterculture which would thrive in the 1960's in the previous decade. During the 1950's, what is known as the Beat Movement (also referred to as the Beat Generation) was begun. The "Beats" wrote poetry and smoked pot; it's as simple as that. And many struggled to become published writers. When the counterculture of the sixties came about, the hippies were inspired by the Beat poets, their works, and even their lifestyle. Thus, marijuana was "at the center of the counterculture movement" (Collins 22).

College campuses have long hosted the saplings of change. There are countless groups, movements, and strikes which have begun at colleges and have spread across the continent and across the globe. The youth going through higher education are the minds that shape the future. So it is today; so it was also in the sixties. It was in that psychedelic decade that college students rebelled and transformed into hippies.

The Beat, the Jazz, and the Blues

What we know today as the beat music genre has little or nothing to do with the Beat Generation of the fifties and early sixties. To stay on topic, I will be primarily discussing the movement and not the music. The Beats (or Beatniks) consisted of American writers and other various artists who did drugs, listened to jazz music, and tended to reject materialism. (These creatives claimed their use of drugs was to see what artistic styles they could generate while they were high.)

Among the most well known of the Beats are Jack and Joan Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Neal and Carolyn Cassady. These and others of the Beat Generation heavily influenced the Hippie Movement of the sixties and seventies. Believe it or not, much of the terminology which surfaced in the 1960's had its roots in popular music from the past.

For example, the slang word "truckin'" came to us out of old American blues, particularly Blind Boy Fuller's 1930's song "Truckin' My Blues Away." Truckin' was used a lot in the sixties and seventies under the definition of "strutting with a specific goal in mind." Cat, as in "a cool dude," originated from jazz lingo. "Cat" was a term often applied to a jazz musician, and in the 1960's it was brought to new life as it became a familiar expression used by the everyday youth, including hippies.

Many other phrases employed fluently throughout the sixties such as "square," "threads," "far out," "it's a gas," and "hip" had their beginnings in jazz lingo. Hip was a term that even found its way into the book On the Road (1957) by Jack Kerouac of the Beat Generation. This book became a hot piece of pop culture for an entire generation of Americans in the sixties.

Bogart, after the Hollywood actor Humphrey Bogart, was transformed into a unique term. Humphrey Bogart was constantly seen smoking on the big screen. Thus, it is not too surprising that, in 1968, the song "Don’t Bogart Me" was released. The newly coined term "bogarting" meant "keeping to oneself." The revolutionary song gained more fame with its use in the counterculture film of the following year, Easy Rider, directed by Dennis Hopper.

Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien was the genius behind the creation of the novel The Hobbit and the fantasy trilogy The Lord of the Rings which was first published in the 1950's in the United Kingdom. Tolkien was a man of passions and talents as well as one who often enjoyed a pint at a pub and a puff from his pipe. A very learned individual, the Oxford professor was dedicated to his work which involved perhaps his fondest love: literature. He was an avid reader and, of course, a splendid writer. He simply loved writing; he did not care whether it was ever published or not.

A poet, critic, translator, editor, teacher, and author, Tolkien was among the sagest literary giants of his day, and he is still considered in high esteem in present times. He corresponded with friends through his letters; he wrote stories to entertain his children; he spent hours making maps, illustrations, and alphabets associated with his chief work which was the tales of Middle-earth.

Many of Tolkien's characters are fond of some of the same favorite pastimes such as writing, smoking, and drinking. Everybody in Middle-earth smokes and drinks, but many of the hobbits are the ones who are shown to be extremely literate. If you know the classic tale, you are aware that several of the main hobbits such as Bilbo and Frodo are writers. And, as accurately depicted in the films, hobbits like smoking their "pipeweed."


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What Marijuana, "The Lord of the Rings", and Jazz Music Have in Common
A Look at the American Pop Culture and Counterculture of the 1960's
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ku klux klan, tolkien, hobbit, lord of the rings, counterculture, marijuana, pot, jazz, leonard nimoy, fanzine, star trek, lost in space
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John Tuttle (Author), 2018, What Marijuana, "The Lord of the Rings", and Jazz Music Have in Common, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/413987


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