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1968 aux Etats-Unis

Thea 'tricks': forms of resistance in the 1968 United States and after

Thea 'tricks' : formes de résistance aux Etats-Unis en 1968 et au-delà
Thea 'tricks': formas de la resistencia en los estados unidos durante y despues de 1968
Thea 'tricks': formas da resistência nos estados unidos durante e após 1968
Elodie Chazalon


Il semble que l’année 1968 marque l’apogée de la contre-culture américaine, dans la mesure où elle a vu émerger diverses formes de résistance populaire et où de multiples revendications ont été formulées par divers groupes sociaux. Une telle polyphonie pourrait laisser penser que l’année 1968 n’est qu’un bric-à-brac d’éléments disparates, d’autant plus qu’elle semble être l’année des clivages et dissensions entre les movement cultures, les groupes politiques plus radicaux et les hippies à l’hédonisme apolitique. Afin de montrer que 1968 est une année déconcertante et énigmatique, qui a frayé la voie aux cultures de la protestation de la fin du 20ème siècle, notre analyse s’intéressera à la politique de l’immédiateté, définie par sa dimension interpersonnelle et expérimentale qui englobe humour et théâtralité. Nous nous focaliserons sur quelques événements majeurs qui ont marqué l’année, notamment les émeutes de la Convention Nationale Démocratique de Chicago et les protestations féministes lors du concours Miss Amérique à Atlantic City. Par ailleurs, on mettra l’accent sur les costumes et les performances scéniques de quelques « acteurs » et « actrices » de la révolution, dans le but d’illustrer la manière dont la fusion entre l’anti-formalisme vestimentaire – et son corollaire, le corps nu – et la révolte a pu influer les sous-cultures jeunes et l’industrie vestimentaire dans son ensemble et, sur le long terme, les performances, les partis pris vestimentaires et l’agressivité revendiquée de certaines cultures de résistance, en particulier les groupes et artistes féministes de la troisième « vague ».

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1The year 1968 crowns a decade often viewed as an innovative and transitional one in American history on political, social, and cultural grounds. The time period under study effectively paved the way for groundbreaking modes of resistance and for alternative modes of dress and address.

  • 1 We argue that the 1960s saw the emergence of multiple forms of resistance that constantly interplay (...)

2At the end of the 1960s, protest and resistance—two terms that encompass the statements, actions, objects, and methods used by the different actors involved—presented manifold aspects that are still difficult to delimit today. Different milieux stood out: youth subcultures, hippie communes, student activist groups, political theater, and more or less radical “movement cultures” (Black, Red and Brown powers). Multiple issues were at stake: the war in Vietnam, technocracy, consumer culture, racial, social, and gender inequalities. Several channels of revolt were used as well as a flowering of expressions to label them: (cultures of) resistance, protest, revolt, civil disobedience, rebellion, riots, strikes, demonstrations, marches, etc.1 Finally, multiple places were chosen as stages to act out resistance, like San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, New York’s East Village, the streets, government buildings, crash pads, fields and parks, the Avalon Ballroom, and the Fillmore Auditorium, etc.

3Guerrilla Theater, the Yippies and the Black Panthers, feminist activists (New York Radical Women, Westside Group of Chicago, Redstockings), the more apolitical hippies, but also outstanding feminine and masculine figures (Betty Friedan, Shulamith Firestone, Robin Morgan, Valerie Solanas, Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, to name but a few) came to mark America’s collective memory for several decades. Their modes of resistance were puzzling in so far as they were alternately visible and invisible, silent and spoken, violent and nonviolent, active and passive, dressed and undressed. Such diversity profoundly challenged mainstream perceptions and conceptualizations of what resistance could possibly have been.

4Partly influenced by the hipsters and the beat subculture with their “unprecedented convergence of black and white” (Hebdige, 47), but also, to a certain extent, looking askance at some of their stances, these individuals promoted alternative ways of fashioning the self via several visual and auditory tools, such as clothing, a specific rhetoric, and disconcerting performances. These “tactics” involve bricolage, recycling, collage-based outfits, the distribution of free clothes, the introduction of ethnic accessories and the subversion of military uniforms, judicial robes, and American flags. Moreover, the alternate use of the undressed, painted, or disguised body as a backdrop for revolution, combined with spontaneous or carefully plotted playacting and language, enable one to point out the theatrical, interpersonal, and postmodern dimension of resistance that will be encompassed in what we shall describe below as the “politics of immediacy.”

  • 2 Former Yippie Paul Krassner recounts: “On the afternoon of Dec. 31, several activist friends gather (...)
  • 3 For more background information on radical feminism in the late 1960s, see Alice Echols, Daring to (...)

5At the end of the 1960s, all of the above mentioned elements seemed to form a hodgepodge of uncoordinated items. In many respects, 1968 marked the radicalization of political action and it made the rifts between protest groups effective: “Movement cultures” had diverging goals and denounced the hippies’ relative indifference to the issue of ethnic segregation; the Yippies defined themselves as a radical branch of the hippies;2 the dissensions within the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) would give birth to the Weather Underground the following year; while the Women’s Liberation movement—and other sub-groups which laid claim to it—stood out as a radical fringe of Betty Friedan’s National Organization for Women or NOW.3 The year also marked the decline of the hippie movement through its cooptation by the media industry and by “teeny-boppers” or “plastic hippies” who “wore the paraphernalia of the outsider, but were not themselves outsiders” (Howard, 50-51) and for whom “the distinctions between dissenting activism and bohemianism [were] going progressively less clear” (Roszac, 65).

6Notwithstanding these facts, 1968 seems to stand by metonymy for the whole period, as it triggered a perpetual movement, whether it was a movement towards or against, to and fro, centripetal or centrifugal. Movement is a central but slippery notion that was used to label the numerous agents of social change that had gathered around the New Left. The gerundives in Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd (1960) and in Theodor Roszak’s Making of a Counterculture (1968) present American society as a work in progress, a point that urges one to go beyond the seeming disorganization of these forms of protest and to view resistance as a way to go beyond the conventional channels of politics. Associated with resistance, the notion of movement epitomizes the epistemological crisis as well as the iconoclasm and “phenomenological indeterminacy” (Portis, 137) which are at work in these forms of resistance. Such elements possibly explain the critics’ ongoing interest in the period. Like the forms of protest and resistance that flourished at the end of the 1960s, the sources used in this article are numerous and divergent in nature. While primary sources (photographs, books, articles) range from underground papers to academic books via essays of personally and politically involved actors, the secondary sources go from political and sociological books to contemporary TV documentaries targeting a more general audience. As our objective is to give an overview of the year 1968 via two specific events, the sources will be used indiscriminately. We would like to show that primary sources influence, to some extent, more recent, Internet-based sources, and how these interactions contribute to cultivating the mythical aspect of the year under study.

7After mapping out the theoretical and political background that could account for the mixed perceptions of the end of the decade, we shall consider the “politics of immediacy” via the interpersonal and experimental aspects of two 1968 events, namely the Yippies’ use of direct action and guerrilla theater in Chicago and the radical feminists’ protest during the Miss America pageant, whose similarities are obvious on both content and form. The article will lay emphasis on the costumes of keynote countercultural figures to determine how their theatrics, that is, their subversive and playful approaches to clothing and gender, combined with specific scenery, playacting, and rhetoric, became “thea-tricks” and literally beat the pants off of right-thinking America. Lastly, we will try to illustrate how the fusing of “dressing down” and “rising up” prepared the ground for late twentieth-century cultures of protest. It influenced later youth subcultures and the fashion industry at large and, in the long run, the performances, sartorial stances, and flaunted aggressiveness of cultures of resistance, like third wave feminist groups and artists.

1968 as “strategic […] chaos”4

  • 4 We draw this expression from “strategic armed chaos” in “Everyone Talks about the Weather,” a leafl (...)
  • 5 1968 seems to stand out as the “year of protest” in French historian André Kaspi’s book, Etats-Unis (...)

8The1960s were marked by an uninterrupted alternation of days of hopes and years of rage, to use Todd Gitlin’s book title (1987). Almost each year in the decade brought its share of decisive events or outstanding thinkers and figures. The “Letter to the New Left” by C. Wright Mills, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech and the publication of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, the Civil Rights Act, the birth of the National Organization for Women, the March on the Pentagon and the first “Gathering of the Tribes,” the Woodstock festival, the Weathermen’s “Days of Rage” and the Stonewall Inn riots are but a few examples. Why, then, should 1968 be given such importance?5

9On the one hand, the events of 1968 stand in contrast to other events of the decade because of their ostensible discordance, frantic succession and radical, even eccentric turn: the birth of the Yippies on the eve of the year 1968 and their January “Statement from Yip” calling to come to Chicago for the “Festival of Youth,”6 the assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4th and the ensuing national riots, sit-ins and campus protest organizations, or Valerie Solanas’s shooting of Andy Warhol succeeded each other without any obvious link, involving indiscriminately hippies, Yippies, students, radical feminists, ethnic minorities, and anti-war protesters.

  • 7 See Michel Lancelot, Je veux regarder Dieu en face : vie, mort, et résurrection des Hippies, Paris, (...)

10Although 1968 can be considered as the year of rifts and divisions, it epitomizes, on the other hand, the “cross-pollination of life-styles” (Ware, 12) that had been taking shape throughout the decade via a myriad of protests that had set forth an interpersonal and experimental approach, especially if we consider the hippies’ happenings and be-ins.7 The term cross-pollination is a central one. It is essential to grasping the contents of 1968 protests and what lies behind the blurring of the boundaries between the personal and the political, the “professionals” like artists and politicians and the public, the legal and the legitimate, the masculine and the feminine, and other dichotomies that can be encompassed in the expression “politics of immediacy.”

11The term “politics of immediacy,” used by a curator in 1960 and applied to art and artists can be understood in different ways in the framework of this article (Mills, 307-313). On the one hand, it refers to the theatrical, artistic, and impulse-based forms of resistance that emerged in the 1960s and that are obvious in the two events under study. On the other hand, it underlines more general and underlying changes in the methods, behaviors, forms of dissemination used, and actors involved. The events of 1968 enabled less trained and visible actors, namely, the “amateurish citizen” and “non-technical man” (Roszac, 6), to take center stage. But they also put forward a postmodernist stance in the methods used by the protesters. Indeed, the changes that were made apparent in these forms of resistance can be associated with postmodernism, taken as “the force field in which very different kinds of cultural impulses […] must make their way” (Jameson, 6).

12Postmodernism may also be consistent with Carol Hanisch’s contention that “personal problems are political problems” for which “there is only collective action for collective solution” (Hanisch, 4). The interpersonal approach of the “politics of experience” (Ware, 13) which puts forward interchange, interaction, subversion, role reversal, and improvisation is at the core of a few 1968 protest actions, a point that allows us to analyze their postmodernist stance as a reaction to the technocratic state.

13Taken as unmediated, visible, and audible forms of resistance, the Chicago riots and the Miss America protest can be studied as attempts at simplifying the “intricacy of human activities” (Roszac, 6). In this perspective, one may construe direct action as a redefinition of political “maturity” that was previously “conceived in the interest of an unnecessary tight adjustment to a dubiously valuable workaday society” (Roszac, 198).

  • 8 For some critics, the diversity of the counterculture reveals some “vagueness in goals” and “inarti (...)

14It is necessary, therefore, to discriminate between the politics of immediacy and naivety. If, as we shall see further, the Democratic National Convention riots and the Miss America protest partly marked a return to political “infancy” with a strong emphasis on spontaneity, subversion, and playacting—despite a certain amount of planning—one might also say that they expressed a new zeitgeist and political sensitivity that have received uneven treatment.8 Theodor Roszac, writing in 1969, was among the first to reassess the discontinuity of the period, stressing that the counterculture was impervious to reason because the emotional intelligence that was inherent in the “Movement” simply went beyond politics:

The result may then be a more flexible, more experimental, though perhaps also a more seemingly bizarre approach to our situation. Ironically, it is the American young, with their underdeveloped radical background, who seem to have grasped most clearly the fact that, while such immediate emergencies as the Vietnam war, racial injustice, and hard-core poverty demand a deal of old-style politicking, the paramount struggle of our day is against a far more formidable, because far less obvious, opponent, to which I will give the name of ‘technocracy’—a social form more highly developed in America than in any other society (Roszac, 4).

  • 9 See Frederick S. Perls, Ralph Hefferline, and Paul Goodman, Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth (...)

15The more experimental approach underlined by Roszac is less the sign of political innocence than that of a fruitful blending of several theoretical, political, and philosophical principles, all of which point to the foundations of participatory democracy: on the one hand, Gestalt therapy9; on the other hand, the idea that the truth the free thinking envisions lies “only in action and can be experienced only through action” (Marcuse, 264).

16Several types of cross-pollination illustrate this argument. For instance, the merging of the San Francisco Mime Troupe and guerrilla theater of Peter Berg and Peter Cohon, with its mixture of New Left politics, avant-garde, radical activism, and individual self-expression was not inconsistent with the setting up of a “guerrilla cadre,” as Michael William Doyle notices in “Staging the Revolution: Guerrilla Theater as Countercultural Practice: 1965-1968” (Doyle).

  • 10 Speaking about the feminist protest during the Miss America Pageant, former Yippie Robin Morgan not (...)

17The Yippies and the Women’s Liberation movement seem to have inherited from this interpersonal and interactional approach if, following Celestine Ware, we understand that the Yippies “appear to be direct descendants of the Berg-Cohon synthesis” and that “this fusion was an important base for the new feminism” (Ware, 12-13). The interplay between the Yippies and the Women’s Liberation movement marked a turning point in the history of feminism, as it gave more visibility to radical feminists’ protests in the media.10 What is at work in 1968, nevertheless, is probably not so much the question of gender roles—or that of the existence of effective contacts between these groups—as the extent to which these groups’ mutual borrowings helped to rethink the notions of individual and collective resistance and identity.

18With this background information in mind, we contend that 1968 is not so much a hodgepodge as strategic chaos. By the same token, the politics of immediacy is twofold: it stands both as a response to the large-scale “pathological passivity” of American society (Roszac, 23) and as hocuspocus, in other words, as a sleight of hand aimed at disrupting the status quo of cultural hegemony. Such designs were partly achieved by drawing the media and the American people’s attention away from major political events, and most notably by focusing on the body as an agency of revolution.

EmBODYing Change: The Politics of Immediacy

  • 11 The use of capital letters for group names and curse words on signs and posters was common practice

19The rhetoric of immediacy of guerrilla theater is present in the works, mottos, and group names of the period under study: NOW, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), Jerry Rubin’s admonition to “do it” written in capital letters in the eponymous book (DO IT! Scenarios of the Revolution, 1970) as well as the acronym “Yippies,” a homophone of the exclamation “yippee”—itself mimetic of the search for unmediated happiness—are but a few examples.11

20The politics of immediacy may well have originated from the collective and political will that had formerly denounced and stood up against cultural hegemony (Gramsci, 248). As “America lost its balls in the frontier” (Hoffman, 85), one may argue that the Yippies and the radical feminists’ politics of immediacy, based on the interaction between motion and emotion, was aimed at blurring physical, moral, social, ethnic and gender boundaries, and at revaluating the body and other visual items (clothes, skin, body language) that could be conceived as means to flesh out resistance.

21A first obvious feature of the politics of immediacy can be found in the rhetoric of the period, which was laden with visual elements and references to the organic body, as shown in Paul Krassner’s recent description of the former Yippies as “an organic coalition of psychedelic hippies and political activists,” (Krassner 2007) or in Jerry Rubin’s promotion of “the Filthy Speech” (Rubin, 110).

22The blurring of the boundaries between motion (as action) and emotion can be analyzed as what scholars have called the “rhetoric of confrontation” (Scott and Smith, 5), which “dissolves the line between marches, sit-ins, demonstrations, acts of physical violence, and aggressive discourse” and “informs us of the essential nature of discourse itself as human action” (Scott and Smith, 7).

23The rhetoric of confrontation permeates the banners and other props used by the Yippies and women liberationists. It takes its full meaning in the signs and billboards carried by the New York Radical Women in Atlantic City during the Miss America Pageant on September 7, 1968. Two black and white photographs posted on the Veteran Feminists of America website, show young women holding posters on which texts and images interplay.12 One of them features the slogan “Welcome to the Miss America Cattle Auction,” painted in bold capital letters; on the other one is a woman, stock-naked except for a Stetson hat, with her body branded as if she were livestock. The picture includes the sentence “Break the dull steak habit,” now a catch phrase for feminists worldwide.13 The Stetson hat, which seems to be a debunking of the myth of the American West and of the patriarchal values inherent in it, and the imperative mode “break” are a foil to the rhetoric of confrontation: they make visible, so to speak, the treatment of women in beauty pageants which are explicitly equated with country fairs and with the prostitution of women. These images, as well as the rising fist, have become feminist symbols worldwide.

24The same rhetoric is at stake in contemporary Internet-based sources, which shows that the myth surrounding the 1960s protests has survived technological changes. The first documentary film in the series “Makers: Women Who Make America” (Part 1: Awakening), first aired in 2013 on PBS, features original photographs and video excerpts taken during the 1960s across the United States.14 The video delves into the spontaneity and outburst of consciousness-raising groups that had aggregated to form the Women’s Lib. It also enhances the new language of the feminists as “bloody dynamite,” to quote Robin Morgan’s words. More specifically, the voice over of actress Meryl Streep depicts how the Miss America Pageant was used by feminists as a means to make themselves known to the American public via a protest against one of America’s “most cherished institutions.” After displaying images of the hundred of anti-war protesters and feminists in miniskirts, colorful fashions, wearing bras around their necks and picketing on the boardwalk outside of the Convention Center, some singing, others dancing and agitating posters bearing catch phrases (“Power, not pedestal,” “Beauty sells, Suckers buy,” “Girls crowned, Boys killed”) the PBS video features an interview of Robin Morgan, one of the anti-war and feminist activists who had organized the event. Her words, like the posters of protest examined previously, aptly convey the politics of immediacy: “We did have a sense of humor, and we had a certain panache of outrageousness.” In the same manner, writer Alix Kates Shulman, who joined in, uses a polysyndeton doubled with an accumulation to characterize the impetus and iconoclastic turn of the performance: “We had a freedom trashcan in which we threw what we called objects of women’s oppression like dustpans and curlers, high-heels shoes and bras and girdles, all those girdles.” Morgan and Shulman also narrate how protesters crowned a sheep Miss America and how a small group of feminists ventured inside the Convention Center, unfurling their “huge” banner “Women’s Liberation” while the camera panned across.

25The PBS video is compelling on both content and form. At first sight, it can be considered as both a scholarly document and a popularizing work, if we agree with producer Dyllan McGee that “the goal of Makers is to be the largest collection of women’s stories ever assembled.”15 As a matter of fact, this first episode in the series enables contemporary viewers to get acquainted with primary sources, popular feminist figures of the second wave of feminism, and with their tactics (e.g. drawing the media and people’s attention with a skit). But if we take the word “stories” literally—as a narrative/plot or storyline designed to entertain—this video can also be seen as a way of perpetuating the myth surrounding the 1960s and the birth of protest movements. Polyphony, the choice of a renowned actress as voice over, and video editing, with the interplay between events, feminist groups, and geographical areas support this argument.

26At the end of the 1960s, the Miss American pageant protest triggered diverging responses among feminists who denounced the lack of an appropriate, coherent method. As reported on her official website, Carol Hanish held that despite bringing the media’s attention to the feminist movement, the Miss America protest also harmed the cause of women because of its “lack of clarity”:

One of the reasons we came off anti-woman, besides the posters, was our lack of clarity. We didn’t say clearly enough that we women are forced to play the Miss America role—not by beautiful women, but by men; we have to act that way for and by a system that has so well institutionalized male supremacy for its own ends. This was not too clear in our guerilla theater either. (…). The leaflet that was distributed as a press release and as a flyer at the action was too long, too wordy, too complex, too hippy-yippee-campy.16

27We argue instead that the “lack of clarity” was a first tentative step towards experimenting and experiencing politics for some women who had been considered as second-class political actors in male-dominated groups before and during the 1960s. In the framework of the counterculture therefore, the radical feminists’ guerrilla theater can be analyzed as a training ground for the second-wave feminists, and as an incentive for the third-wave feminists to “do” feminism, as we shall see further on.

  • 17 See Susan Braun Levine, “The Truth was Burned,” Media Studies Journal 12 (1998), 110-111. See also (...)

28Consequently, even if the actual burning of bras is still being discussed,17 symbolic acts like the crowning of the sheep, the feminists’ chaining themselves to an American doll, and the frank representation—both in sound and visual elements—of the reified woman’s body are consistent with the idea that that “[one is] the revolution” (Hoffman, 10). In this perspective, however unclear and iconoclastic the Women’s Lib’s put on may have been, it can be considered as one of the events that raised resistance to the status of myth, leaving enduring marks in American popular culture and collective mind. The impact of the Miss America protest on the image of the Miss America Pageant is but one example:

Although the prediction that feminists would shut down the pageant has not been realized, it is easy to link feminist pressure—and the general influence of feminism on American culture—with changes in the Miss America pageant since 1968. Despite media dismissal of the political significance of feminists’ critique of beauty politics, the Miss America organization clearly felt pressure to update its image (Dow, 135).

29Besides, the Miss America protest stands as a powerful reminder of the Yippies’ capacity to shift the ground of the debate and draw public attention away from the conventional channels of power thanks to their “brilliant sense of theatrical irony” (Resnik, 34). Indeed, Yippies urged the individual to “practise,” as they argued that “rehearsals [came] after the act” (Hoffman, 11). When remembering the scheme he devised with the Yippies in the early months of 1968, Jerry Rubin notes: “Yippies would use the Democratic Party and the Chicago theater to build our stage and make the myth; we’d steal the media away from the Democrats and create the specter of Yippies overthrowing America” (Rubin, 83).

  • 18 See the wearing of Indian costumes at the Boston Tea Party: “Because the Indian outfit was so eye-c (...)
  • 19 On dressing and undressing within the hippie counterculture, see Elodie Chazalon, « San Francisco e (...)
  • 20 The assumed name Emmett was a reference to a nineteenth-century Irish revolutionary. About the Digg (...)

30Theatrics as thea-tricks is also recognizable in the use of the clothed or naked body as a backdrop for revolution and as a tool for deception. There is no doubt that the Yippies’ sartorial pranks were inherited from ancient and more recent modes of dress.18 For instance, they largely drew their sartorial stances from the hippies’ paraphernalia: long hair and beards, simple, loose, comfortable and colorful dress, but also nakedness, body paint, as well as the mixing of ethnic accessories and items of clothing from Mexican, Indian cultures, and of contradictory symbols of oppression and freedom.19 They were also inspired by Emmett Grogan and the Diggers’ principle of free clothes.20 Nevertheless, the Yippies also seem to have brought fresh ideas via “clever gamesmanship,” if we contend that the very name Yippie was a mixture of “the ‘I protest’ of the New Left with the ‘I am’ of the counterculture” (Lee and Schlain, 203-206).

31The Democratic National Convention riots or “Festival of Life” were described in “The Yippies are coming to Chicago” published in Paul Krassner’s Realist in September 1968 (Krassner 1968). The siege of Chicago took place at the end of August 1968 and lasted between four and five days. It was marked by a succession of shows and happenings, alternately violent and non-violent, such as the election of Pigasus the pig as President and the clashes with the police.21

32On the heels of the Festival of Life, the events that took place before the House of Un-American Activities (HUAC) in Washington the following October also marked the prominence of two of its leaders, Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, whose costumes disconcerted the police and the audience. In Do It!, Jerry Rubin proudly described all the items that composed his outfit: a black beret as an allusion to the Black Panthers, Yippie and Black Panthers badges, Egyptian ear-rings, a cartridge belt with real bullets, black silk Viet Cong trousers, an Indian headband, cowbells around the ankles and wrists, and a toy M-16 gun. His partly naked body fascinated the audience.22

33The same type of outlandish outfit was described in “Yippie wearing flag as shirt,” a column published in a daily underground paper The Bryan Times on October 4, 1968 and which insists on the playful as well as deceptive function of the Yippie garment, with its iconoclast mixture of props (M-16 toy rifle), body paint, and symbols.23

34To some extent, the Yippies’ theatrics and eccentric costumes revealed “the movement’s vulnerability to the celebrity syndrome” (Gitlin 2003, 156). They may explain why underground papers such as the ones mentioned above, “growing wild with revolutionism, joined the media in amplifying [the] mishmash” (Gitlin 2003, 174) and prevented the American New Left from creating sustainable forms of resistance. Some contradictions could also be pointed out among women liberationists, whose rhetoric may be perceived as “psychologically confining, adapted as it [was] from black, New Left, and hippie argot” and whose patterns were “so set that only stereotyped feelings [were] discussed” (Ware, 140). However discordant and contradictory the politics of immediacy may have appeared, it stands as the direct manifestation of the deeper cultural changes that started to affect some 1968 forms of resistance and that would influence the modes of dress and of address of subsequent protest groups. We contend that the 1968 protests as well as the cultural products and practices to which they gave birth (posters, billboards, iconoclasm, gender blending, recycling and bricolage, etc.) anticipated what Michel de Certeau would term, almost two decades later, the “tactics” of the subordinate and their “art of making do” with what is available (De Certeau, 25-37).

The Legacy of 1968: Political Dress vs. the Body Politic

35The politics of immediacy can be tackled as an unmediated attempt to disclose the invisible framework of the technocracy by proposing ever-changing theatrics. Among the Yippies and radical feminists, the use of the rhetoric of confrontation and crude presentation of the human/organic body may possibly have aimed at highlighting the contradictions of the body politic and its slippery language.

  • 24 See Steve Fraser, “Wall Street Protests: A Long American Tradition,” The Los Angeles Times (October (...)

36If the criticism of the hippie culture as a “contradiction without hope of synthesis” (Shorris, 112) could be applied to the Yippies and feminists’ pranks, it is also possible to reconsider this argument and allege that “to criticize the experiments is legitimate and necessary; to despair of what are no more than beginnings is surely premature” (Roszac, 66). The United States has an ongoing history of resistance, as is the case, for example, with the 2011 Wall Street protests.24 But the cultural legacy of 1968 resistance is outstanding in its postmodern bias which, as we indicate below, had an impact on mainstream fashion and on the cultures of resistance and protest groups that followed the “Movement.”

37Similar short-term and long-term changes are to be noticed regarding cultures of protest. As presented on “Found San Francisco,” a website dedicated to San Francisco digital archives, the occupation of Alcatraz that took place from 1969 to 1971 drew from the forms of protests of the late 1960s: the prison turned into a symbolic Indian reserve, the Indian teepees, graffiti on the walls, the wearing of American traditional costumes as well as the use of a wide range of media channels like the radio, underground papers and leaflets are reminiscent of the Yippies and liberationists’ multisided resistance.25

  • 26 See Anonymous, “Male or Female, Everybody Will Dress Alike,” Life (January 9, 1970), 115-118.

38Taken as deliberate attempts to “dissent, protest, ridicule, and outrage” (Davis, 162) and as a “challenge to hegemony” (Hebdige, 17), the subcultural styles that developed from the end of the 1960s and well into the 1980s can be considered as the sartorial counterpart of the politics of immediacy. Moreover, the reduction of sexual dimorphism on the heels of the hippie movement became more blatant, and women borrowed from the masculine wardrobe elements such as pants, shirts, ties, and trousers, items which became symbols of a newly gained freedom.26

39The same sartorial statements are at stake at the group level. In the 1980s, third-wave feminists groups started to debunk gender stereotypes either by stripping or by showing off in outrageous, “aggressive” garments. The Bikini Kill, a punk-rock feminist band that is part of the Riot Grrrls, is an example of the subversive use of language, of street styles, and of the body as a backdrop for resistance as they alternate the use of the unveiled body and “aggressive” punk outfits during their performances.

  • 27 Our translation of Yonnet’s French text.

40Another legacy of the oppositional dress of the year 1968—and more generally of the 1960s—lies in the structural changes that the fashion industry underwent. Not only was there an explosion of (street) styles, which gave the individual–either man or woman—the possibility to choose among a wide range of clothes; but the decisional power in terms of fashion, no longer restricted to an elite of couturiers, designers, and well-off customers also shifted hands: the 1960s confirmed the democratization of fashion, the “triumph of new decision-makers,” and the emergence of “a completely overturned production of market-goods” (Yonnet, 353).27

  • 28 The official website of the Guerrilla Girls contains all the productions of the group as well as th (...)
  • 29 One of the early members of the group misspelled the word “guerrilla,” as explained in the video “G (...)
  • 30 One just needs to have a look at the cover picture of the Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the (...)

41The Guerrilla Girls’ aggressive pranks, eloquent visuals and high-pitched rhetoric may appear as the most obvious contemporary example of guerrilla theater legacy. Formed in 1985, the anonymous group primarily defined itself as a band of art activists whose aim was to play down the masculine domination in arts. In order to debunk male supremacy in museums and art reviews, they became involved on television or on the Internet and they produced art, leaflets, posters, books, and visual performances.28 One of their distinctive features is excessive heterodoxy, as shown in their subversive use of feminine stereotypes and objects of feminine oppression, a point that enables one to place them in the third wave of feminism. The gorilla mask worn by the Guerrilla Girls came about by accident and became one of the most powerful banners of the group.29 It appears to be a token of Yippies and second-wave feminists’ use of animal symbols. It is polysemic: it directly refers to guerrilla theater, but it also stands as a symbol of the flaunted aggressiveness, though metaphorical, of the third-wave feminists. Like the 1968 events we previously examined, the Guerrilla Girls’ productions are figuratively violent in visuals and language. The gaudy colors and alliteration in “b” in their book Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers (2003) are a reminder of the disruptive rhetoric of 1968. By the same token, the grotesque juxtaposition of the gorilla’s head and of the woman’s dressed or naked body, which can be viewed on their posters and book covers, can be construed as a subversion of female-monster figures and stereotypes that permeate popular culture: the monster is turned into a way of demonstrating.30

42The Guerrilla Girls’ emphasis on the image of the strong and dangerous woman is to be found in the content and form of their work that are resolutely postmodern, in line with Jameson’s definition quoted previously. On their official website and productions, rude language alternates with elaborate political thinking; in their books, conceived like underground papers or leaflets, clashing feminine stereotypes like the flapper, the cocksucker, the virgin, Mother Teresa, the femme fatale, the spinster, follow each other in non-chronological order so as to denounce the pressure exerted by female stereotypes on women since time memorial. Like the Yippies, the Guerrilla Girls recycle old stereotypes and turn them into new modes of expression. The commentaries on the back cover of Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers are quite telling of their postmodern stance: “Quippy and lippy,” the work of the Guerrilla Girls “elevates cage-bar rattling to a fine art.” Other “blurbs” posted on their official website unfold the extended metaphor of guerrilla theater and trickery, and insist that the group’s “weapons of terror…are irony and wit rather than rubber bullet and gelignite.”31 All these practices are a reminder of Michel De Certeau’s analysis of the tactics of the subordinate as “poaching” and “guileful ruse” (De Certeau, 37).

43Lastly, the heritage of 1968 is also apparent in the Guerrilla Girls’ efforts to break down social, gender, ethnic, temporal, and spatial boundaries. Their work operates a fusion between the personal and the political, between male and female, and between high and low art. Like the Yippies and second-wave feminists, they also go beyond their original cause, fighting against all forms of discrimination, supporting causes like marriage equality and planning brass-knuckle projects in the United States and abroad. On February 14, 2013, they held a Flash Mob against violence and rape with college students. The event had been announced as such: “Join us! We are rising…to dance with Confucius, Napoleon, and Rush Limbaugh (…). Let’s make it absurd and impossible to ever again say things like this about women.”32

44The attempts made by the third-wave feminists groups mentioned above may have limited geographic and social impacts and may not entail massive upheavals. Nevertheless, given that the dominant powers (namely the media and the producers of wealth) permeate all the strata of society, especially through the extensive use of new technologies, we consider that structural changes “occur only after the system has been eroded and weakened by the tactics of everyday life” (Fiske, 20).


45It is hard to state positively that the year 1968 is a crucial one in US history. It is no easy task to determine the place it holds in the collective mind. Nevertheless, 1968 obviously marked the blooming of forms of resistance and ways of doing politics. Such a “cross-pollination” and blurring of the boundaries make it difficult to measure the short-term impacts of these forms or resistance and to discriminate between terms such as “revolt,” “rebellion,” “resistance” and “protest,” as these notions cover different meanings according to the geographic area, time period, methods used, and actors involved. Our aim is not to solve this terminological dispute but to show that 1968 stands, if not as the most innovative year in terms of social progress, as a training ground for several minority and subordinate groups to experiment new ways of doing politics.

46In the same manner, we have attempted to underline how 1968 started to pave the way for the “tactics” of the subordinate, emphasizing poaching and trickery as core elements in a postmodernist approach. Such openness and frame of mind is perceptible in contemporary forms of resistance but also in the evolution of our scholarly practices, which have gradually given space and credit to popular culture, cultural practices, and to the decompartmentalization of subject areas.

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Books and articles

ANONYME. “Everyone Talks about the Weather.” In Michel ORIANO (ed.). Protest USA. Paris: Masson, 1972.

ANONYME. “Male or Female, Everybody Will Dress Alike.” Life (January 9, 1970): 115-118.

BLOOM, Alexander and Wini BREINES. “Takin’ It to the Streets”: A Sixties Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

CHAZALON, Elodie. “San Francisco et le vêtement hippie: théâtres de la contre-culture? ” In Frédéric ROBERT (éd.). Révoltes et utopies : La contre-culture américaine des années 60. Paris : Ellipses, 221-234.

DAVIS, Fred. Fashion, Culture, and Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

De CERTEAU, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

DIGGINS, John, P. “Civil Disobedience in American Political Thought”. In Luther L. LUEDTKE (ed.). Making America: The Society and Culture of the United States. Washington: USIA, 1987, 453-464.

ECHOLS, Alice. Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America (1967-1975). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.

EPSTEIN, Barbara. Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970 and 1980s. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

FISKE, John. Understanding Popular Culture. London: Routledge, 1998.

FRIEDAN, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: Dell Books, 1964.

GITLIN, Todd. The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. New York: Bantam books, 1987.

______________ . The Whole World is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980, 2003.

GRAMSCI, Antonio. Prison Notebook. Volume III. Trans. Joseph A. Buttigieg. New York: Columbia University Press, 1975, 2007.

GUERRILLA GIRLS [The]. Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers: The Guerrilla Girls’ Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes. London: Penguin, 2003.

HEBDIGE, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. New York: Methuen, 1979, 1988.

HINCKLE, Warren. “The Social History of the Hippies.” Ramparts Magazine (March 1967): 5-24.

HOWARD, John R. “The Flowering of the Hippie Movement.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (March 1969): 43-55.

JAMESON, Fredric. Postmodernism or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991.

KASPI, André. Etats-Unis 68 : l’année des contestations. Bruxelles : Editions Complexe, 1988.

LANCELOT, Michel. Je veux regarder Dieu en face : vie, mort, et résurrection des Hippies. Paris : Albin Michel, 1971.

LEE, Martin A. and Bruce SCHLAIN. Acid Dreams: The CIA, LSD, and the Sixties Rebellion. New York: Grove Press, 1985.

LEVINE, Susan B. “The Truth was Burned.” Media Studies Journal 12 (1998): 110-111.

LOMBARD, Anne. Le mouvement hippie aux Etats-Unis : une double aliénation, entre le rêve et la réalité, le salut et la perte. Tournai : Casterman, 1972.

MARCUSE, Herbert. Reason and Revolution. London: Routledge, 1941, 1969.

MILLS, Georges. “Art, Artists and Museums: An Essay on the Politics of Immediacy”. College Art Journal 19 (summer 1960): 307-313.

PERLS, Frederick S., Ralph HEFFERLINE and Paul GOODMAN. Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality. Gouldsboro: The Gestalt Journal Press, 1951, 1994.

PORTIS, Larry. « Autour de la théorie sociale ‘postmoderniste’ : Clivage des générations, rupture épistémologique et crise historique ». Trans. Mydia Passevant. L’Homme et la Société 111-112 (1994) : 137-154.

RESNIK, Henry S. “The Groovy Revolution.” Saturday Review (December 13, 1969): 34-42.

ROSZAC, Theodor. The Making of a Counterculture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and its Youthful Opposition. New York: Anchor Books, 1969.

RUBIN, Jerry. DO IT! Scenarios of the Revolution. New York: Ballantine Books, 1970.

SHORRIS, Earl. “Love is Dead.” The New York Times Magazine (October 29, 1967): 26-27 sq.

SWICK-PERRY, Helen. The Human Be-In. New York: Basic Books, 1970.

WARE, Cellestine. Woman Power: The Movement for Women’s Liberation. New York: Tower Publications, 1970.

YONNET, Paul. Jeux, modes et masses: 1945-1985. Paris : Gallimard, 1985.

Online sources

ANONYME. “Statement From Yip.” Available online at: <>.

ANONYME. “Yippie wearing flag as shirt.” The Bryan Times. 4 octobre 1968. Available online at: <,232095>.

BOSTON TEA PARTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY. “Was There a True Indian Disguise? ” Available online at: <>.

CNN. “Brief History of Chicago’s 1968 Democratic Convention.” Available online at:<>.

CWLU Herstory Website. “Voice of the Women’s Liberation Movement.” October 1968. Available online at: <>.

DOW, Bonnie J. “Feminism, Miss America, and Media Mythology.” Rhetoric and Public Affairs vol. 6: 1 (2003): 127-160. Available online at: <>.

DOYLE, Michael William. “Staging the Revolution: Guerrilla Theater as Countercultural Practice: 1965-1968.” In Peter BRAUNSTEIN and Michael W. DOYLE (eds.). Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960’s and 70’s. New York: Routledge, 2002. Available online at: <>.

FOUND SF. “The Indian Occupation of Alcatraz.” Available online at: <>.

FRASER, Steve. “Wall Street Protests: A Long American Tradition”. The Los Angeles Times. 13 October 2011. Available online at: <>.

GUERRILLA GIRLS [The]. A Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art. Available online at: <>.

GUERILLA GIRLS [The]. “Guerilla Girls and Hunter College Students Flash Mob.” Available online at: <>.

GUERILLA GIRLS [The]. “Guerrilla Girls’ retrospective in Bilbao.” Available online at : <>.

GUERILLA GIRLS [The]. The Official Website of the Guerrilla Girls. <>.

GUERILLA GIRLS [The]. “What Some People Have Said About the Guerilla Girls.” Available online at: <>.

HANISCH, Carol. “What Can Be Learned: A Critique of The Miss America Protest.” 1968. Available online at: <>.

______________ . “The Personal is Political.” In Shulamith FIRESTONE and Anne KOEDT (ed.). Notes from the Second Year: Women’s Liberation in 1970. Available online at: <>.

HOFFMAN, Abbie. Revolution for the Hell of It. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1968, 2005. Available online at: <>.

KRASSNER, Paul. “The Yippies are Going to Chicago.” The Realist. September 1968. Available online at: <>.

______________ . “’60s Live Again, Minus the LSD.” Los Angeles Times. January 28, 2007. Available online at: <>.

NPR (National Public Radio). “Echoes of 1968.” Available online at: <>.

PBS. Makers, The Women who Made America, Part 1: Awakening. PBS, February 2013. Available online at: <>.

PBS. “Press release: Makers, Women Who Make America.” Available online at: <>.

SCOTT, Robert L. and Donald K. SMITH, Donald. “The Rhetoric of Confrontation.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 1 (1969). Available online at: <>.

Iconographic sources


PROTEST AT 1968 MISS AMERICAN PAGEANT. Available online at: <>.

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1 We argue that the 1960s saw the emergence of multiple forms of resistance that constantly interplayed. If the objective of this article is not to solve terminological issues, it is interesting to notice that the multiplicity of terms to label the cultures of resistance that emerged at that time may reflect the epistemological crisis and reworking at stake. Therefore we will use the more comprehensive terms ‘resistance’ and ‘protest’ indiscriminately, and we will consider that they encompass other forms of protest and resistance (riots, strikes, demonstrations, marches, etc.).

2 Former Yippie Paul Krassner recounts: “On the afternoon of Dec. 31, several activist friends gathered at the Hoffmans’ Lower East Side apartment, smoking Colombian marijuana and planning for Chicago. Our fantasy was to counter the convention of death with a festival of life. We needed a name to signify the radicalization of hippies, and I came up with Yippie.” (Krassner).

3 For more background information on radical feminism in the late 1960s, see Alice Echols, Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America (1967-1975), Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1989.

4 We draw this expression from “strategic armed chaos” in “Everyone Talks about the Weather,” a leaflet given out at the Weathermen National Council in December 1969. In: Michel Oriano (ed.), Protest USA, Paris, Masson, 1972, n. p.

5 1968 seems to stand out as the “year of protest” in French historian André Kaspi’s book, Etats-Unis 68 : l’année des contestations, Bruxelles, Editions Complexe, 1988.

6 The “Statement From Yip.” is available online at: <>.

7 See Michel Lancelot, Je veux regarder Dieu en face : vie, mort, et résurrection des Hippies, Paris, Albin Michel, 1971 ; Helen Swick-Perry, The Human Be-In, New York, Basic Books, 1970 ; Anne Lombard, Le mouvement hippie aux Etats-Unis : une double aliénation, entre le rêve et la réalité, le salut et la perte, Tournai, Casterman, 1972.

8 For some critics, the diversity of the counterculture reveals some “vagueness in goals” and “inarticulate revolutionary impulses.” As Barbara Epstein notes, “what precisely this cultural revolution was about, few were able to say. The activists of the sixties were better at articulating what they were against…than that what they were for.” (Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970 and 1980s, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1991, 38-39).

9 See Frederick S. Perls, Ralph Hefferline, and Paul Goodman, Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality, 1951, Gouldsboro, The Gestalt Journal Press, 1994.

10 Speaking about the feminist protest during the Miss America Pageant, former Yippie Robin Morgan noted: “And so we say goodbye to the male-dominated peace movement. Women will no longer serve as their second-class comrades. No more working hard behind the scenes while the male superstars do all the grandstanding and get all the credit and achieve all the notoriety.” (quoted in Krassner 2007).

11 The use of capital letters for group names and curse words on signs and posters was common practice.

12 Feminist pamphlets, photographs and papers in relation to the event such as Voice of the Women’s Liberation Movement are also available on the CWLU (Chicago Women’s Liberation Union) Herstory website archives at <>.

13 This picture can be seen at <>.

14 This documentary is available online at <>.

15 See <>.

16 Carol Hanisch’s website can be found at: <>.

17 See Susan Braun Levine, “The Truth was Burned,” Media Studies Journal 12 (1998), 110-111. See also the National Public Radio series “Echoes of 1968,” available online at : <>.

18 See the wearing of Indian costumes at the Boston Tea Party: “Because the Indian outfit was so eye-catching, it is not hard to find numerous descriptions in whiteness recollections of the event.” Available online at : <>.

19 On dressing and undressing within the hippie counterculture, see Elodie Chazalon, « San Francisco et le vêtement hippie : théâtres de la contre-culture ? » In : Frédéric Robert (ed.), Révoltes et utopies : La contre-culture américaine des années 60, Paris, Ellipses, 221-234.

20 The assumed name Emmett was a reference to a nineteenth-century Irish revolutionary. About the Diggers and free clothes, see Warren Hinckle, “The Social History of the Hippies,” Ramparts Magazine (March 1967), 5-24.

21 For a summary of Chicago’s National Convention events, see: <>.

22 A black and white picture of the paraphernalia can be viewed on <>.

23 The text can be found online at: <,232095>.

24 See Steve Fraser, “Wall Street Protests: A Long American Tradition,” The Los Angeles Times (October 13, 2011). Available online at : <> (last viewed May 3, 2013).

25 For more on the occupation of Alcatraz, see: <>.

26 See Anonymous, “Male or Female, Everybody Will Dress Alike,” Life (January 9, 1970), 115-118.

27 Our translation of Yonnet’s French text.

28 The official website of the Guerrilla Girls contains all the productions of the group as well as the events previously organized or in the making. See : <>.

29 One of the early members of the group misspelled the word “guerrilla,” as explained in the video “Guerrilla Girls’ retrospective in Bilbao.” Available online at : <>.

30 One just needs to have a look at the cover picture of the Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art, which features a parody of the Great Odalisque (1814) by Ingres. Available online at : <>.

31 See <>.

32 See <>.

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Elodie Chazalon, « Thea 'tricks': forms of resistance in the 1968 United States and after », L'Ordinaire des Amériques [En ligne], 217 | 2014, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2014, consulté le 13 juillet 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Elodie Chazalon

IUT de La Rochelle

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