Thirty or 40 years ago, it was popular to divide the entire American population into two distinct and hostile camps: the hip and the square. Magazine and newspaper columnists offered lengthy reports on both, but the Hip personality was probably more extensively covered. The confrontation of the two lifestyles was explored in movies like “The Wild One” and “Easy Rider.” Authors of the day like Norman Mailer and Hunter Thompson analyzed and contrasted the two in great detail. In particular, Mailer listed more than 50 words and phrases to illustrate their incompatibility: the Hip is a rebel, while the Square is a regulator; the Hip is promiscuous, but the Square is monogamous; the Hip has a question, while the Square has an answer, etc. It’s probably not necessary to point out that any bigoted or racist attributes are characteristics of the Square rather than the Hip. During the late 1960s, the friction between the two often erupted in open warfare.
Mailer suggested the difference between them was becoming ever more apparent to each succeeding generation and youth tended to swing toward the Hip perspective. Consequently, poet Allen Ginsberg predicted America would become increasingly Hip. Apparently, this has happened.
Today, our society has become so tolerant and pluralistic, the idea of Hip and Square has more or less been shot to hell – or, more accurately, the gap between Hip and Square has narrowed considerably. For example, the Square has adopted a freer sexual code and smokes an occasional joint, both of which were previously the exclusive domain of the Hip. On the other hand, the Hip has settled into the routine 9-to-5 work schedule that was formerly a tenet of the Square. In the last 40 years, the Square has become more Hip, while the Hip has become a bit more Square. To be sure, some differences still remain – perhaps more quantitative rather than qualitative – but these differences are not as substantial as they once were and, consequently, the two extremes aren’t nearly as antagonistic towards one another. Today, there’s a general acceptance and recognition that, to use the old hippie adage, “everyone has their own thing.”
Our society, in general, has become much more Hip. Various groups and affiliations more easily condone one another. In 1987, only 48 percent of Americans thought it was for whites and blacks to date each other. (A very Hip idea, of course.) Today, 83 percent think it’s OK. According to Pew Research Center, in 1961 “less than one in 1,000 marriages joined a black and a white.” Today, that number has risen to 1 in 60. Gallup Polls indicate that, in 1977, only 43 percent thought gay or lesbian relationships should be legal. Today, 60 percent do. Of course, there’ll always be those who refuse to change their bigoted or violent ways but, thankfully, they seem to be fewer and fewer in number, though they make a lot of noise and capture headlines.
Apparently, “Happy Days” has succumbed to “Modern Family.” Teetotalers are shooting pool with junkies. Unless you’re a flat-out bigot, it no longer matters if you wear a white collar, blue collar or a T-shirt. We’re living in an era of blurred gender and races, where morality is determined not by scriptures or the mass media, but by whether or not anyone is seriously injured, physically or mentally. We’re increasingly OK with people who look and sound and think contrary to ourselves, be they Hip or Square.
There used to be a very strange fellow who occasionally appeared in local taverns. (He has moved to Tacoma.) He had a strange kind of humor, may have been gay and he drank too much. One evening I asked the bartender what she thought of him. She shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly. “He’s OK,” she said. “He’s just a little different.”
Indeed, aren’t we all?