Guest Column: 1967’s ‘Summer of Love’: Did It Earn The Title?

I’ve always chafed at the term “love child” being reserved for the product of an illicit affair, thus implying that children born into a stable, committed home are merely property or tax deductions.

Similarly, I have qualms about designating the warm months of 1967 as “THE Summer of Love.”(As Wikipedia condenses it, the Summer of Love was a social phenomenon involving as many as 100,000 people, mostly young people sporting hippie fashions and counter-culture views, converging in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.)

Was love so rare and hidden in civilization’s previous summers? Early Christians voluntarily shared all things in common. Draftees in World War II loved their country AND wrote home to promise their sweethearts a better world. Countless grandparents, aunts and uncles have gladly taken up the slack in times of parental neglect or incapacitation.

Was love really confined to San Francisco (and London and other trendy metropolises)? I’m sure many young adults were jealous of those who made the pilgrimage to San Francisco. But the millions who CHOSE not to go to anti-establishment events surely included under-30s who loved their jobs, loved their families, loved their farms, loved their communities enough to stick with the daily grind.

(Ironically, activists now look down on “privilege,” but many of the attendees at the Summer of Love could charitably be described as People With Way Too Much Time On Their Hands. I feel a Scrooge-like “Were there no summer jobs? Were there no family responsibilities?” coming on.)

I have no doubt that many of the Flower Children visiting San Francisco five decades ago were sincere about fostering peace and harmony; but just as sports statisticians place an asterisk next to the name of athletes who used steroids or played under outdated rules, you might want to temper your praise for someone who achieved mellowness only through psychedelic drugs.

Does love have to be limited to the airheaded, spacey, “anything goes” attitude that so many of the participants exhibited? Or could love also mean occasionally saying “No” or accepting unpleasant geopolitical realities?

Just as you have to keep an eye on the salesmen and repairmen who brag about how honest they are, the people who pat themselves on the back (or let the media pat them on the back) for being so gentle and open-minded and progressive bear watching.

Yes, for good or ill, the aftershocks of the Summer of Love have left an imprint on modern society. But placing this single event/era on a pedestal does a disservice to the abolitionists, the suffragists and the labor movement, to name a few.

It’s not a compliment to say that some of the self-righteous mixed motives of the Sixties activists (“Come to end a crazy Asian war - stay for the hallucinations and the orgies”) have filtered down to today’s protesters. (“I am bravely marching to protest alleged police brutality - so I’m entitled to snatch a free TV from an innocent merchant’s window.”)

Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, the rebelliousness of the Sixties managed to produce some positive societal shifts (and some great music), so I’m glad San Francisco and the media aim to spotlight the 50th anniversary. Just don’t whitewash the period.

This summer, by all means “be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.”

But also wear some common sense in your head.