The V&A's Retrospective On The Counter-Culture & What it Has to Say About Our Neo-Hippy Now
It's not exactly breaking news to say that many of us are drawing parallels between the Days of Revolution: Recent Past (i.e. the '60s/'70s) and now; everywhere you look in fashion, music and popular culture, we are going all braless and protest-y. And quite understandably; on both sides of the political spectrum in the West, there is a swell of dissatisfaction, confusion and anger at the "establishment", whatever that means to you. Wherever you look, there are references to the historic protests around the civil rights movement, equal rights movement and peace demonstrations, and the slogans of that era are being reinterpreted & repurposed to give voice to current frustrations.
Of course this was the era that also brought us that brand of Californian, holistic wellness that we are seeking to understand here at Life Butter, and so I thought it would be interesting to check out the Victoria & Albert's retrospective You Say You Want A Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 to see if it held any insights into the incredible growth of the wellness industry, currently valued at $3.72 TRILLION globally. I've also been a long-term fan of '70s style...particularly that look that involves not cutting or brushing your hair. 😜 So off I went.
The exhibition was good fun; it was well-curated & had a great variety of materials to see & hear (sponsored by Sennheiser, you walked through with headphones taking you on an audio journey of the era, and a big-screen, 28-minute musical film on Woodstock at the end looked promising, though I didn't get to stay to watch as I had a 2-year old in tow). Liberal economic politics, social change in the form of equalising rights and loosening strict moral codes, recreational drugs, The Beatles, The Stones & David Bowie (we are in London, after all), Mary Quant & Chelsea Girl style and Californian communes were all explored in vibrant relief. But more than just another baby-boomer group hug on The Glory That Be Theirs (Which Will Never Be Matched), the exhibition also sought to draw parallels between then & now, though definitely with its own angle (excellent review on the slant here).
While the exhibition didn't explicitly examine any of the tenets of wellness per se, the spirit of revolution that categorised the Counter-Culture & called the young to divorce themselves from the "establishment" (remember: don't trust anyone over 30) is the same essence that is breathing life (and megabucks) into contemporary wellness. The specifics matter less; whether your wellness jam is grass-fed beef and ghee or sprouted mushroom protein shakes and actual jam, a large part of the movement is against the "man" that is McDonalds. Industrialised food, fast food, packaged anything is out: remember, don't trust your mother's cooking (if you grew up on the S.A.D. anyway!). The young today are shockingly like The Beatles (who could be their (grand)parents), "we all want to change the world", we're just going to do it with our dollars. According to a Neilsen, 73% of millennials are prepared to pay more for products and services from companies dedicated to social and environmental change, while 80% of global customers agree that companies must play a role in addressing societal issues, according to Edelman’s 2016 Trust Barometer (source).
So...what does that have to do with exercise, meditation, health eating...crystal healing & sleep?
Well, we all know that the baby boomers and the generation that WILL NOT GO AWAY; their story & legacy, and therefore much of this exhibition, didn't seem novel...until I got to the very end.
The exhibition concluded in a way that I didn't expect - showing the links between technology as an important tool of the Counter-Culture in creating anti-establishment, independent societies (think these Californian communes) and our use of technology today. I might be alone, but I had never thought of the hoodie-wearing, Soylent drinking (someone please EXPLAIN THIS?!?!) Silicon Valley of today as a continuation of Californian hippiedom. But if technology is the agent of revolution, and the agent of community (as it is so often said to be), it is also increasingly becoming the tool of commerce, with retailers not only encouraging e-commerce (duh), but using apps to track consumer movements, tailor specific discounts and nudge shoppers towards a purchase. Here's the link to an interview Joseph Turow gave on his new book The Aisles Have Eyes; have a read or a listen if you want a forecast of all the new & sneaky ways retailers will use technology to separate you from your cash.
So what does this all have to do with wellness? It's about the MONEY behind youth & revolution. Because wellness is about revolution, right? Or is it about luxury? Because feeling good is the new looking good, and every big brand is on board.
I don't have a problem with this; more money behind holistic health, beauty & wellness (hopefully) means that it becomes easier & cheaper to make healthy choices. This too follows the trend of the 60s, when mass production decreased the price of all manner of "things", and so the generation of social change also became the generation of hedonism, consumerism and the credit card (according to a slightly pessimistic V&A).
But while I'm not completely anti-consumerism, I think it has an incredible ability to Dilute The Message (see this excellent mini-rant on this phenom in the fitness industry by ELLE UK Fitness Editor Bangs). And if, as discussed in a previous post, wellness is really about community, then I really think we need to keep the message strong these days.
There was an image in the exhibition that really struck me; it was of Jean Shrimpton walking barefoot, barelegged & seemingly carefree down a wild Kings Road; Mary Quant's archetypal Chelsea Girl. With the best will in the world towards all Chelsea Girls, that phrase connotes something a bit different today.
So I'll buy organic greens, I'll buy a gym pass...hell, I might even buy some palo santo..but I want to keep the end in mind. Why am I doing all of this? It's worth remembering.
Viva La Revolucion!