In the 1960s, young people around the world were getting involved in the counter-culture movement—and adults didn’t quite know what to make of these "hippies."
In 1968, conservative commentator William F. Buckley decided to get to the bottom of what it meant to be a hippie by enlisting the help of three so-called “hippie” experts: the world’s most famous Beat novelist, Jack Kerouac, sociologist Lewis Yablonski, and Ed Sanders of the rock band The Fugs.
Buckley begins the episode of Firing Line by sardonically announcing, “The topic tonight is the hippies, an understanding of whom we must, I guess, acquire or die painfully.”
From there, the episode becomes increasingly surreal. Yablonsky is a detached academic, studying the movement from afar, who at one point describes it as “an extremist effort at love.” Sanders, meanwhile, is clearly supposed to be the "hippie" representative. Buckley, in fact, introduces him by bluntly asking, "Are you a hippie, Mr. Sanders, and if not, wherein not?" Buckley also makes a point of repeatedly noting that Sanders had once published a magazine called Gutter [Expletive]. Still, Sanders is probably the most level-headed of the trio, reasoning that the hippies were disillusioned with politics and fearful of being sent to war.
Even amid Buckley's ribbing of Sanders, it's Kerouac who really steals the show. Thoroughly disdainful of his cohorts, and possibly inebriated, Kerouac repeatedly interrupts other speakers, correcting their pronunciation of words like “cadre” and “misanthropic,” mimes a “thumbs down” behind Yablonsky's back, and makes generally disgusted sounds throughout. His answers to questions are also the most unpredictable. For example, when asked whether he thinks JFK’s assassination had any impact on the hippie movement, Kerouac responds, “No. That was an accident. I refer back to Count Leo Tolstoy who wrote War and Peace.”
Today, the 1968 “hippie” episode of Firing Line is something of a time capsule, preserving a moment when the hippie movement in America was still new and shocking to people. What’s perhaps most shocking today, however, is seeing a literary great and the lead singer of a rock band appear on a conservative talk show to politely discuss “youth culture.” Check it out below: