By the late 60s, virtually everyone had gotten, in the words of the Buffalo Springfield, a sense of “somethin’ happening here.”
There were things afoot that promised to reshape the world in any number of positive ways, and only a dullard wouldn’t have wanted to take part in it in some manner. But how did you join?
From the beginning, choosing sides was part of the price of admission. To be part of The Movement, it was important not only to look different (via longer hair, bell-bottomed jeans, tie-dyed T shirts, and the like), but also to emphasize your distance from the mainstream in terms of your norms, values, habits, and behaviors.
For some young people, this was not a particularly difficult choice to make, because there wasn't much in the way of past connections that needed to be given up. And to be able to turn the tables and start rejecting people in the mainstream—and be applauded by your peers for doing so—could be heady stuff.
In these unprecedented circumstances, a culture of ironic humor began to develop, in which Movement people would describe ordinary Americans of the type everyone had known all their lives, doing ordinary things like going bowling or operator rider lawnmowers, in terms that made it seem as though they had witnessed the bizarre customs of some astonishing group of newly-encountered tribesmen on a remote island.
Maintaining the requisite distance from mainstream values could sometimes require deft rhetorical footwork.
A college roommate of mine was, like most students of that era, concerned with maintaining his Movement-based social acceptability, but was also a well-mannered and thoroughly likeable young man whom any middle-aged couple would have welcomed without hesitation into their home. He once gave a memorably nuanced description of a trip with his girlfriend, in which they had been unable to find a motel room sufficiently funky for Countercultural sorts like themselves, and had eventually resigned themselves to checking into something quite a bit more upscale. It was something they could afford, and was probably more typical of the places they had stayed when they traveled with their families.
My roommate told me that when he and his girlfriend walked into their room, they took a look around them and simply collapsed on the bed laughing at the absurdity of their situation—because here they were spending the night in "a big Establishment hotel,” when they were “just a couple of kids.”
In other circumstances, people's posturings could become outright ludicrous.
I encountered an interesting example of this when I worked as (of all things) a bouncer for my college's student food service. The dining area where I worked had lots of doors opening onto patios within the dorm complex, as well as long buffet tables filled with all kinds of side dishes that you could easily make a meal out of. A fair number of students who hadn’t bought meal tickets had developed a habit of coming in through the patio doors, and with no one inside ensuring that they actually belonged there, were helping themselves to the buffet tables for free.
These weren’t exactly impoverished kids. It was a prestigious and expensive university, and the students who were filching food were considerably more likely to be the sons of CEOs than to bear any resemblance to Dickensian street urchins.
They were also a good deal more likely to be the sons of CEOs than those of us who worked for the student food service. These circumstances notwithstanding, buffet table freeloaders tended to be fond of characterizing what they were doing as “liberating the people’s food” from the evil clutches of The Establishment (i.e., the workaday folks who toiled in their dining halls).