Sunday, 11 May 2008

Free love

Today I attended a talk on Free Love, part of the May 1968 festival at Conway hall, Holborn. As most people know, 1968 was a year of revolution in many parts of the world, most famously, France, where 'Mai soixante-huit' still casts a shadow. I went to university in Paris, the Sorbonne-Pantheon, and there was almost no student life whatsoever. I noticed that the buildings had no communal hall, no cantine, no place to gather. I was told that this was a purposeful result of the May '68 revolution in which Parisian students, led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, revolted and brought down the government of DeGaulle. The authorities did not want any communal areas where the students could discuss tactics, bond, form associations or clubs. The architecture was deliberately devised to avoid this possibility from ever occurring again. (Of course it failed, my last year at the Sorbonne, there was a sit-in protest lasting months. Although street riots now seem to be the domain of the dispossessed of the banlieu).
Last year I saw the memorial in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, outside Mexico City where rioting students were felled by government forces in May '68. The Prague 'Spring' started in January 1968, an early attempt to revolt against communism. 

Memorial at La Plaza de tres culturas, Mexico City.

The free love talk was held at Housmans bookshop in Kings Cross, London and was led by Jeff Laster, 'edutainment' officer of the Synergy Project.
Jeff discussed the lead up to the explosion of sexual freedom in 1968: the abortion act in 1967, introduction of the pill in 1960, the Lady Chatterley's lover obscenity trial in 1960, even the publication of the Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller in 1938. You could argue, as is so often the case, that the technology, the science came first and art and politics followed.
He spoke of the London scene in 1968, the vanguard of the Free Love movement, people like the model Jean Shrimpton, actor Heathcote Williams, photographer/artist John 'Hoppy' Hopkins, author Barry Miles, who ran the Indica Gallery, and academic Jim Haynes. Free love sprang from a political ideal, from anarchism, but the two scenes, radical politics and the alternative scene, rarely mixed. In the 60's the music scene was more aligned with the alternative culture than the big business rock stars of today. People like Mick Jagger, the Rolling Stones, switched partners frequently (this might seem normal today but was radical at the time). From theatre and cinema, there was Terence Stamp, Julie Christie and Brando (despite being from the 50's) who were Free Love exponents. Shockingly, Jeff suggested that Julie Andrews of Sound of Music fame was a big drug and sex fiend. 
In the States Free love was perhaps darker, with examples such as Charles Manson and Allen Ginsburg. Ginsburg was into very young boys, 9 year olds and was a member of the Man/boy Love Association. The Free Love movement welcomed involvement by other liberation groups, women's lib, gay lib, civil rights movement for black people, miscegenation (possibility for people of different races to have sex or breed) but also the P.I.E., the Paedophile Information Exchange. Part of the freedom to express yourself sexually included what would now be termed paedophiles, but was regarded at the time as just another freedom movement. One of the participants talked about visiting a commune in Finsbury Park in London where young boys between 12 and 16 were openly having sexual relations with men in their 40's. He said that the boys chose to live in this commune. In Anarchy magazine there were articles by paedophiles and also by their under-age lovers, discussing their relationships. The children seemed happy. 
What is Free Love? On a hard core level it's orgies, on a milder level it is sexual permissiveness, frequent switching of partners, many partners. For some it is consecutive (which can be abusive as in the hump 'em and dump 'em model) and others it is simultaneous polyamory. In the Sixties, Free love practitioners were almost entirely middle class and white.
Jeff talked about the fact that sexual freedom only really happened outside the select few in the 1970's. Then middle class couples started to 'swing', take other lovers, and of course, divorce. Eventually this filtered down to the working classes or the underclasses, which resulted in a huge rise in single parenthood. (The recent example of Shannon Mathews' mother was cited, an 'underclass' woman who had 7 children by 5 different fathers). 
One lady talked of starting university in 1968 where most people entered as virgins. By the time she left in 1971 things had changed dramatically aided by drugs. "Everybody was smoking, and everybody was sleeping around" she said. 
In 1969 Stonewall happened, but gay men had always been sexually promiscuous. Black culture already had a big sexual component. 
The Free Love movement in 1968 was very male dominated, it was pre-feminist. Feminism really started in the 70's and we discussed whether it was a backlash against Free Love. There is the Stokely Carmichael (U. S. Black Panther) quote "The only position for women in this organisation is prone". Many women participated in Free Love because they felt that they would be considered uncool if they didn't. 
Germaine Greer was a willing and enthusiastic Free Love proponent, probably the most famous woman of that scene, although she later condemned it. Jeff related the story of how she sought out the photographer Keith Morris and asked him to photograph her vagina for the cover of Suck magazine, Europe's first sexpaper. She chose him because she thought he'd be the only photographer she could trust not to sell the photo's. He didn't sell them but he did write up an unflattering account of the photo session with Greer, complaining about having to photograph her "sweaty cunt" and anus in close-up at 9am with a hang-over.
Greer believed her picture would be used along with a group of other women but Suck published a cover with her alone (albeit the obscenity was masked by putting the offending pudenda in a strange pattern which had to be cut out and recreated in order to view it properly). Greer resigned in disgust. 
At the time it was illegal to show an erect penis in photographs.
In the 70's much of the alternative movement moved into communes in the countryside, some of which had Free love as an obligation. You were not allowed to form monogamous relationships within the commune. This was Jeff's experience at a commune, in which he was forced to have sex with many different people including men. (Findhorn was an exception, as a quasi-christian commune, it seems that they channelled all their sexual energy into growing giant marrows!)
Richard, another participant, talked of the anarchist roots of Free Love, and that the emphasis should be on love rather than sex: "nurturing non-monogamous relationships". We live longer therefore we obviously will have more relationships in our lifetime...serial monogamy.
What were the repercussions of Free Love?
Jealousy was a big problem: it's an ungovernable force, an animal instinct, so whatever your ideals might be, how do you control your jealousy?
Parenthood: clearly women are at a disadvantage in that they are so often left holding the baby. Children are instinctively conservative and would prefer to know who their parents are and have them stick around. *
Spiritual: sex is a holy thing and it has been debased, de-sacred. The rise of depression due to alienation, loneliness, lack of mutual support.
Pornography: a parallel rise starting with Hugh Hefner publishing Playboy in 1953. Suck magazine and Oz were quasi-porn. Now our entire culture is flooded with soft porn. The loss of childhood innocence: children dress like whores just like their favourite pop stars. The internet has enabled extremely hard core porn to be available to the masses. Paedophile chat-rooms. Virals on school kids phones such as "Two girls and a cup". 
Unfortunately the "women who sleep around are slags" mentality hasn't changed much...

Positives:
Less 1950's guilt about sex. 
People better informed about sex.
Better sex?
From an astrological point of view, many of the children born at this time had revolutionary attitudes towards sex...some of which were not too healthy (Pluto conjunct Uranus in Virgo) in terms of power play....Pluto(sex and power) Uranus(gay sex, extreme freedom, impersonality, group sex) Virgo (woman). That generation were born with these attitudes, did not just adopt them for a period of time, and have continued to promulgate them throughout society.

(*Children are, in my opinion, the casualties of the Free Love movement, we now have generations of parentless children, whose fathers and the rare mother, unrestricted by church, state or family, have wandered off. I also feel for ageing childless women who have missed out on fulfilling their biological destiny as a result of uncommitted men, spoilt for choice in a landscape where females compete against each other.)

2 comments:

  1. Sometimes I think I was born 20 years to late! In a way we've gone back in time a bit to the prudish era of the 19th Century. Today sex has once again become an exclusive activity, but not like in Victorian times when exclusive within mariage and otherwise undiscussed. Today it's in your face, for everyone to see, but actually doing it has become exclusive within the Conformist ideals: IE: it's something done purely between the CMI's (Conformist Male Ideals)of the soap operas, with lots of money and who treat women like dirt; and tall, model-skinny women with suits and lots of make-up.

    I know lots of blokes who are trying to become CMI's even though it's against their true nature. It's the only way you can be "in the game".

    ReplyDelete
  2. http://www.joelkramer-dianaalstad.com/The_Guru_Papers.html
    control is established through depersonalization and so on

    ReplyDelete

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