Reports on Life in the Commune
Of course, firsthand accounts were not the only relevant and influential pieces of literature to be found during the era of the counterculture. Often, reports in sources such as Time Magazine and national newspapers were much more influential on the national perception of hippies and their communal lifestyle. A few stories came from a slightly academic standpoint, doing their research and trying to give clear reasons for the development of the hippie. "The Flowering of the Hippie" is one such article. However, trying to use this method while still immersed in the time of the hippie obviously has its challenges. Other stories were more experiential, sending a reporter to a commune to tell the outside world about what was happening, and perhaps provide insight into the level of threat that communes posed. "The Commune Comes to America" represents this style. Some attempted to be unbiased, others confidently stated their claims -- whichever approach was taken, however, these reports (note the difference between a report and a highly personalized account) guide academic researchers and the common public alike into a deeper understanding of the counterculture, communes themselves, and the ever multifaceted experience of hippies and communards in the 1960s and 70s.
"The Flowering of the Hippies" was an extensive article in The Atlantic, which explicated many aspects of the counterculture and discussed the impetus for dropping out of mainstream culture and value systems. The Atlantic, a hugely popular commentary magazine, followed the cultural developments of the 1960s with a close eye -- this included the growth of the counterculture and the ever-crystallizing definition of this new social figure, the hippie. In September of 1967, writer Mark Harris taught the average American about the "psychedelic script" of hippie beliefs and behaviors, and their cultural markers: long hair, drugs, music and free love. He outlined their lifestyle, their city and their pursuit of the Summer of Love. Despite all of their eccentricities, Harris pointed out how the hippies represented the passions and moral purpose of the early liberals. After some rather revolutionary statements, however, Harris reverts to equating the hippie movement with the use of LSD and, ultimately, social failure. They had "theories" for everything, but results and "reliability" for nothing.
This magazine article from a 1969 issue of Life Magazine details the journey of many American hippie youths away from typical society towards a new life of living off the land and love. These "youthful pioneers" sought a return to the earth to find "mutual love and spiritual rebirth." Accompanied by an array of photographs in the magazine, the story details how individuals in the commune live day to day. In the wilderness the men and women of the community build their tepees, plant their seeds and love their brothers and sisters. Despite the supposed simplicity, the people featured find that many hardships accompany their new lifestyle, just as they plagued the world they left behind. The acknowledgement of this tension was a pivotal move for the understanding of communal life in the 1960s.
One report on life in a commune that has gained more notoriety than most is the documentary American Commune. This is a unique report in the face of more typical articles like the two listed above. It bridges the space between a firsthand account and a third party report. The film was made by two sisters who lived on The Farm, a large commune in Tennessee, as children. They moved away while still young and proceeded to hide their past for many years. Although they have personal ties to the commune, they were too young to document truly developed firsthand accounts. Thus, the documentary shows their return to the commune in its current form along with footage from its heyday in order to try to comprehensively explain the path of the commune through the decades. "Finally ready to face the past after years of hiding their upbringing, they chart the rise and fall of America’s largest utopian socialist experiment and their own family tree." Their momentous return is both enlightening and emotional. The documentation of both their past and current travels speaks to life on a commune, the reporting of such affairs, and to how the existence of these communities continues to affect life today.
Trailer for American Commune (2013)