“Uncultivated lands for brave communitarians! Let those who know about unused lands tell us what they can about them: the geographic, economic and social situation of the region (agriculture, rural exodus, etc.), surface, agricultural nature, length of time abandoned, attitude of public authorities, etc. Let those who have some savings and are extremely willing to give the experience a try contact us.”
La Gueule ouverte. Le journal qui annonce la fin du monde (environmentalist and political journal, translation: Mouth wide Open. The newspaper that announces the end of the world), no. 18, April 1974.
A long line of tired cars, concerns and conversations in the village: the arrival in the early 1970s of bearded and long-haired ‘strangers’ with an appearance and garb as bizarre as their unconventional ideas, led to a disturbance in the southern Ardèche hamlet of my grandparents where I would stay every summer when I was young. Revisiting this episode and devoting a thesis1 to it over thirty years later, would allow me to understand the meaning of what I saw at the time as a dissonance in the space-time continuum (the same space bringing together people whose way of being, thinking and educating harked back to times that were poles apart) and like a mirror effect in relation to my parents’ rural exodus. In fact, at the start of the 21st century, the forced encounter between both populations, with hindsight appeared to me as a moment of historic switchover between the forces being effaced, represented by the traditional farmers and forces in the making, embodied by those branded at the time as ‘hippies’2. The latter, through their body, their appearance and their clothing, exposed the most visible signs of their questioning of the dominant political, economic and social order, through culture, in the broadest sense of the term.
Indeed, in their eyes what could be more superficial, artificial, frivolous and hypocritical than fashion, a fleeting way of feeling, thinking, living and behaving, established as a social and aesthetic norm in a given circle or society3? What stronger embodiment of corruption of mores than by decadent free-market liberalism? Therefore, what further from the aspirations and values borne by them, the actors of the ‘post-1968’ commune wave, who, in both town and country, attempted to rebuild society through a way of life that went against that of the western, dominant, industrial, capitalist and urban society?
Yet, following in the footsteps of their American then Scandinavian predecessors, the ‘communitarians’4, whose number, spread between 300 and 500 communes, peaked in France from 1971-73 at between 5,000 and 10,000 in winter and 30,000 and 50,000 in summer5, put the body and the garment, quintessential spaces where norms are imposed, at the centre of their revolution of mores. In rural areas – disqualified by productivism – in which they settled after the momentum given by the political failure of May 1968, but sometimes as early as 1967 (this is the case for example in Rochebesse in Ardèche and in Le Courtal in Ariège), they made it an ideological and political banner which they brandished against the disciples of the generation that was departing and that of the established, bourgeois and capitalist order6. As understood by The Che, with his soft beret (as opposed to the rigidity of the kepi), wild, curly locks and beard, straight out of the jungle, revolution is curved and encircling7.
The garment, the capillary and body hair attributes, the ‘ostentatiously dishevelled’ look8 stemming from coolness and relaxation of the body, the androgynous appearance and loose-fitting clothes all express contestation of social order through provocation. Although moderate, this demonstration of indiscipline aiming to differentiate oneself from the scorned bourgeois by refusing fashion and social conformism, sufficed to inconvenience police, professorial and parental authorities.
Announced by the flights of fancy – Élucubrations (1966) of the French singer Antoine singing his refusal to obey his mother’s order to go and get his hair cut, proliferation of the hair(s) became one of the emblems of disobedience and revolt9 against restoring order10, symbolised by the discipline that impeccable hairstyles impose on the mane of hair. For short hair, a perfectly straight side parting, short back and sides, cowlicks hairsprayed flat and a shaved face, easily likened to Fascist attributes and the prerogative of law enforcement agents as well as law and business students, well-combed and tie-bearing like their fathers11, whereas the ‘non-conformists’ and ‘hippies’12 contrasted with beards and long flowing tresses13. The only modifiable part of the body, apart from the nails, the hair is the utmost place for expressing personality as it opens the scope of possibilities in a closed area with parameters that are determined at birth, making it possible to make individual choices14.
The physiognomy and variable length of the hair can thus offer a complete range of positions in relation to the established order: bushy (intransigent activism), flowing down the back (environmentalist activism) or even relatively ‘tamed’ and just covering the ear (open to compromise)15. Added to this was the extensive use of henna, brought back from trips to Morocco which were not just useful for provisions of 100 % natural shampoo, and still escaping the control of multinational firms producing beauty and health products16. While modernity gives precedence to smooth bodies, the beard, which became established in continental Europe during the second half of the 19th century as a sign of virility, signified among hippies a desire to withdraw from society, just like the Christian hermits in the Roman Empire or Indian sadhus fighting against the glabrous purity of the Brahmans17.
By letting their hair grow long, by walking around with shoulder bags, by wearing the same clothes and jewellery (necklaces, multiple rings, earrings) as their partners, by sharing the ‘so-called’ maternal tasks that society reserves for women (sewing, weaving, looking after babies and children, etc.)18, men displayed the feminine side that they claimed, thus calling into question the sexualisation of social roles. Women also acted in the same way by eliminating from their clothes the elements that differentiate the sexes: flat heels replaced high heels and trousers replaced skirts19. Above all, the bra, emblematic of the staging of femininity for the benefit of male fantasies, disappeared on the altar of contestation of its practical and symbolic utility20. This vestimentary liberation was also physical insofar as clothing and cosmetics alienate the body reducing it to its seductive role21. What was sought, therefore, through the ‘oscillation of normally distinctive traits’ was less the inversion of gender than its effacement, neuter, androgyny challenging the ‘natural’ antagonism of the sexes22. The introduction of new relations between man and woman implied the abolition of inequalities between the sexes, not only from a legal viewpoint (1965 laws allowing women to work and to open a bank account without the authorisation of their husbands) but also from the viewpoint of mentalities and social relations. This happened in the eyes of the ‘communitarians’ through the disappearance of any trace of this inequality via the lack of differentiation of the garment, already underway among groups of young people wearing jeans23. The body was also the centre of urges and drives, one of which, the freedom of expression, rather than control, was asserted. Hence the pursuit of eliminating all prudishness, sexual freedom, the use of drugs, and the questioning of marriage which was dissociated from procreation. Children, who embodied the perpetuation of social reconstruction, were allowed to move in total freedom, with no constraints in terms of time or place – except in the case of danger. In the Rochebesse (Ardèche) commune, they devoted their time to the pursuit of different activities, ate and slept when they felt the need, whenever it suited them best and with complete disregard for the dominant rules of hygiene. Children held an intermediary position between animals and adults. Noel was lifted up by the neck of his jacket and put on the ground like a dog or a cat, but when he did something foolish, he was called an ‘old sod’ or you could hear one say: “Stop pissing us off”, “Fuck, what an ass that guy!”24
Contestation was also seen through the rupture with fashion as a symbol of social status through the identification of social levels which, until then, were excluded from fashion or from the market from which clothing is borrowed, in order to eliminate the discriminations that divided people, even down to their way of dressing25. As a testimony to their solidarity with the ‘damned of the earth’, these ‘anti-fashion’ communitarians26 borrowed elements from workers’, third world, folklore and ethnic wardrobes. These included moleskin workers’ pea coats, white painters’ hats, or black hats like workers from Auvergne settled in Paris, blue and white houndstooth butchers’ jackets straight out of the ‘workwear’ department of the Parisian department store La Samaritaine, one of the most appreciated by the young people fighting against the bourgeois State27. At the flea market and with the North African shopkeepers of Barbès in northern Paris, they would stock up on china blue jackets and suits (a blue that runs and dirties everything) with ball buttons worn by immigrant workers. They draped their bodies with the fringed keffiyeh, like a Palestinian fedayeen or would tie a small red necktie of the Communards around their neck, summarising the revolutionary nostalgia and the identity of the people of Paris (Titi, Poulbot, Apache and other Parisian urchins) and of the suburbs (hoodlum) later described in the songs of Renaud28.
The new uniform was made up of jeans, military jackets often purchased at the flea market or by-products of the padded jackets worn by Chinese ‘comrades’ and other clothing borrowed from third world populations29.
The body should be able to express itself without being constrained by clothing, which were therefore loose-fitting, limited or simply absent30. Stripping off ones clothing means reexamining its three basic functions: protection, prudishness and finery, thus denouncing people’s dependence on fashion31. The nudity of the body was claimed to be a desire to get closer to nature, to affirm one’s spontaneity, to free ones urges against the dominant social codes based on artificiality, dissimulation, hypocrisy, propriety and self-control.
It was first and foremost about giving free reign to the expression of desires, while ignoring social conventions and prudishness. What was natural had to be accepted as such and should not cause any shame. Henceforth, the body no longer had to meet ‘civilised’ requirements and the various body shapes were “promptly accepted as being part of nature”32. The sought-after purpose of feeling the sensations of the body and soul, going through pain (of childbirth, cold or physical fatigue) or pleasure like that of “living in the sun when it’s out”33 meant getting closer to nature by facing its elements, as witnessed by a former communitarian of the Livradois-Forez geographic area (Puy-de-Dôme):
“We were looking for an original decor, unpredictable elements and above all a vicissitude – even if it was just the weather. Where we had come from we missed the test of nature. We had to find it there”34.
The splendid sensuality of the body was also expressed through an explicit35 sexuality striving to free itself from the confinement of the family and the couple. As places of free movement of desire wishing to escape from the taboos and the norms of the dominant society as well as the traps of possessiveness36, the communes experimented with open sexuality. Often accompanied by the use of drugs such as cannabis, peyote and LSD37, this was symbolised by the multiplicity of partners and the communal bed38, which sometimes went as far as dissimulating filiations as the children were born of the group and “didn’t belong to anyone”, just like in the commune of Galona39 small village in the Cevennes. This was not however synonymous with ‘free’40 as ‘freedom’ is often that which men grant themselves, sometimes leading to rape41. In addition, there was a gap between formal intentions and the reality of interpersonal relationships due to the psychological resistance of individuals42.
“One evening,” recalls Marcel, a member of a commune in the Cevennes, “I went to chop wood for the soup. I went into the kitchen, there was nobody. I looked in the bed, Marylène was making love to Jean-René. I didn’t say anything in front of the others, because the commune had to continue living, despite the conflicts between individuals which should never have happened. […] Violence and conflicts between people. When all eight of us were together we didn’t talk about it. It happened behind closed doors. It was hushed up. It was all a façade. […] Couples were getting together and loved each other perhaps, I don’t know! And in the evening, all eight of us would play the ‘bloody nice commune’. […] With us, it was ‘one big happy family’ where ‘everything was hunky dory’. It had to be like that. It’s all false, we were bloody selfish, sexist even. We got the babes jealous of each other, and unconsciously, the babes played along with the game.”43
In reality, pain and suffering reached even the most tolerant, who then tried to deviate from their principles to justify a reaction that they disapproved in principle. The violence suppressed could thus continue to simmer quite a while before exploding. The suicides recorded here and there in the communes, like those concerning two women44 in La Blacherette in Thines, Ardèche or “several mental disasters”45 were the ultimate and dramatic consequences of this. In several communes, the couples couldn’t endure communal life, leading to departures and crises that were difficult to overcome46.
Nudity also expressed the stripping of possessive individualism, a form of detachment in relation to material goods. Using for their own purposes the alarm call of the scientists of the Club of Rome in 1972, in their report entitled The Limits to Growth, the communitarians shunned modern artifacts. Their nostalgia for a pre-industrial golden age in a ‘retro’ vestimentary imagination – most often before the 1960s and the ‘plastic’ years – which selected certain details from among the wardrobes of the past and amplified them, deformed them and gave them power: ‘dagger’ collars on slim-fitted shirts and tight jackets, round necks on multi-coloured tank tops, thriving lapels on patch-pocket, half-length jackets, with narrow, straight shoulders, bi-coloured shoes, caps screwed on to long-haired heads and huge bow ties flowering under beards and moustaches47. Lastly, in the context of opposition to the Vietnam War, to militarism and the nuclear threat, nudity translated the attitude of the unarmed pacifist48 and non-violence was also expressed through a nonchalant and seemingly lifeless body attitude. Sport, considered as fascist, was forbidden.
This was linked to seeking frugality and non-consumption49, encouraged by the appearance of numerous works, including Savoir revivre (1973)50, the Manuel de la vie du pauvre (1974)51, the Catalogue des ressources (1975)52, and Revivre à la campagne (1978)53 expounding 10 basic pieces of advice to reduce consumption54. The body became a subject in itself given that it ‘spoke’. Naked, it was a metaphor of the benevolence of the commune: the goodness of this lifestyle, mutual exchange and proximity to the earth55.
Proximity to nature was also through contact with natural materials via the practise of craftsmanship. Clothes were thus made for personal use or for the group, or were sometimes sold as a main or secondary income. With a salvaged or hand-made and inexpensive loom, the ‘noble’ materials were worked on (linen, wool, cotton, etc.), shunning the use of any synthetic fibres. The need to live on this single activity encouraged the more serious to fill gaps left by industry: large-width linen curtains, mohair and the production of certain very haute couture fabrics. The raw material was often bought at wholesale prices with rag-and-bone men, second-hand goods dealers or in the old village haberdashery. Sometimes it was even recovered in the city dumps and was traded with the artisans of the region or as part of associative projects via a boutique. Due to their ecological convictions, others were concerned about buying their wool from shepherds and treating it locally. Sometimes, they would set about reestablishing the entire wool industry, just like the Ardelaine collective in Saint-Pierreville, in Ardèche. Major importance was given to relations with the neighbours, whose advice was very much requested – and for which small services were rendered – to bring back lost traditions and know-how. Handicrafting should procure the delight of touching noble materials, of innovating by doing experiments for example on natural dyes, of harmonising one’s creations with the characteristics of the ‘land’ and of creating dialogue with suppliers and buyers56.
At the heart of the ‘utopian years’57, clothes were the major choice of hippies as they illustrated avoidance behaviours and expressed the aspiration for spirituality of an entire generation fascinated by oriental mysticism (Sufism, Buddhism or Hinduism), coupled with a revolt against the materialism and individualism of the western world58. This subversion to western norms was reflected in two ways, which were sometimes combined. First of all, by a creativity that clearly transgressed the limits of the conventional: brocade trousers, tapestry coats, long, white night shirts, bare feet...
Children of Marx and of Coca-Cola, the baby-boomers, actors of the ‘return to the land’59 also invented an ideological and cultural syncretism where winds from the West and winds from the East met through the exoticism and eclecticism of outfits and appearances, a motley blend of pieces from faraway horizons connected to the ‘first’ peoples or to very ancient civilisations. Even though the earth has for a long time been “rinsed of its exoticism” as Henri Michaux put it60 and that there are hardly any more unexplored lands, the desire for elsewhere once again crystallised through ‘hippy fashion’, indicative of an era characterised by its post-materialist aspiration61. Its “global knick-knack aesthetics”62, a blend of dissimilar pieces, was marked by a form of orientalism63 inextricably mixing objects from the Far West, from Mexico and from Asia. It indiscreetly borrowed significantly from the local costumes of Morocco (caftans, djellabas), of Sub-Saharan Africa (boubous), of India (Indian dresses, Hindu tunics), of Afghanistan (Afghan trousers and coats) or from the Native American Indians (bells, headbands, moccasins and necklaces). Destroyed nevertheless by some absurd details such as necklaces or chokers in multicoloued gauze…64, these evoked travel in lands that were above all imaginary.
This nomadism was experienced as an additional defiance of the established order embodied by sedentariness, as explained by Jean-Pierre Bouyxou and Pierre Delannoy:
“Throughout the seventies, with the irrecoverable dereliction of our hopes, the Road, like an insidious and irresistible shiver, became obvious for all the rebels of a generation as the only means to break once and for all with the system, to really discover oneself and to finally live.”65
This anti-voyage, which was first of all an inner route, as one would renounce the marked itineraries and follow contact with the smells, fragrances and populations of the world66, would manifest itself back in France in their ‘Saddhuised’ and ‘Sannyasinised’ appearance, their outfits (hemp dhotis, rings, necklaces…) and their gait. The contrast was therefore violent; when, overwhelmed, emaciated and as handsome as poor Indians, they had to put away their pyjamas, light shirts, long Indian rose skirts in order to get back to the old habits67 in the depopulated areas of France where they had chosen to settle.
Voyage also serves a quest for spirituality among people perceived as being at one with nature, like bearers of ancient wisdom and teachings granting access to happiness. From Mexico, the hippies brought back hallucinogenic drugs (mescaline, psilocybin, peyote, cannabis), the main vectors of trance. Cuzco (Peru), built on the ruins of the former Inca capital, was the Kathmandu of the Andes where over 6,000 hippies lived, while Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas, embodied the great dream due to the magical nature of the place. In the East, they discovered harmony and the feeling of peace pervading daily life (embodied by the ritual of the tea), the sacred (Kanchipuram beside Madras, Boudhanath near Kathmandu, Kataragama Temple in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka)68, the mystical temptation and the sectarian drift with Auroville the ‘City of Dawn’ founded in 1968 according to the principles of the Hindu wise man and philosopher Sri Aurobindo69. They brought back from these places a religious feeling, embodied in Buddha, Gandhi and Lao-Tzu, who were as admired as they were unknown; as well as a recreational form of paganism, where the cosmos was enshrined by the openness of the psychedelic conscience70, initiation to vegetarianism based on readings as varied as the book Zen Macrobiotics by Dr Ohsawa71 and the Yi King (Chinese book of divination) as well as readings from The Tibetan Book of the Dead72 giving the sense of having reached the top of the world and the origins of History. Gurus were called upon after George Harrison launched the fashion in 1967, by bringing the Beatles to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (alias J.N. Srvastava). In India, where few hippies managed to reach, the myth mattered more than its reality73, just like in Kathmandu after the arrival of the first hippy in 1964 in the eponymous valley sparked off a great rush two years later with the arrival of 2,000 ‘flower children’ in the Nepalese valleys74. Monasteries and ashrams thus flourished in France:
“In the Drôme department, Daevid Allen and his pop group Gong lived in a sheepfold. In summer, the beatniks in transit would sleep out in the open, in the park. Some serious meditation occurred, and macrobiotic plants were eaten, such as soy beans and bamboo sprouts. Some faraway religious disciplines sprang up here and there in the Midi.”75
Attention to the body and mind touched on philosophy, or even metaphysics and was fuelled by sources as diverse as Chinese medicine, Sufi mysticism, Hindu visions or even Christian symbolism. The neo-rural movement in terms of religion was therefore the precursor of this trend, of the “explosion of beliefs” analysed by Danièle Léger and at work in society: individuals recomposed their practices according to their intimate convictions and their personal experienc-es, without waiting to be guided by the religious institutions76.
This fascination for cultures considered as being more authentic is however ambivalent as it is essentialist. American Indians and Blacks, for example, were idealised, the first for their spirituality, their relationship with nature, their tribal organisation and the length of their hair, the second for their untameable independence and their triumphant masculinity…
The great voyage acts like a veil of illusions, in terms of asceticism and of communication with other worlds, which, in reality, simply aspire to consume77. In fact, as the hallmarks of anti-fashion invented by the hippies against western civilisation were those of poverty, transplanted into third-world countries facing real poverty, they ceased being reactive symbols participating in a game to become a disguise, a form of cultural narcissism. The economic context then reversed the meaning of their contestation, thus marking the stalemate of a criticism of culture cut from its political argument78. The great voyage was reduced to extended stays in the East, in Africa or in the Andes, intended to stock up on exotic supplies which were then sold in the West where they were in fashion and where one would visit friends living in communes before leaving again79.
The external attributes of the body, outfits and appearances all expressed contestation, individuality and creativity, just as much as belonging to a group, a set of signs of recognition between each other and in relation to the outside80. In the major places of gathering such as festivals, demonstrations and concerts, in the hitchhiking areas outside towns or on the rural markets of Les Vans in Ardèche, of Die in Drôme, of Forcalquier in Alpes-de Haute-Provence, of Foix or Saint-Girons in Ariège, a wild and hairy uniformity was displayed, the opposite image of that of the dominant society81.
Long hair, thinning beard based on the model of Clint Eastwood in the Spaghetti Westerns, long and flowing cotton kurta with bright colours that faded after one wash, with no neck or cuffs (by analogy with torques and cuffs perceived as signs of servitude, of submission to authority), loose-fitting canvas trousers, leather sandals or handmade clogs and sometimes Pataugas shoes (canvas ankle boots that identify walkers, i.e. pessimists according to Jean Rouaud, in contrast with those practicing hitchhiking) and a sand-coloured, scout-style bag, bumpy in the back, inversely proportional to the distance covered, and recalling the imagery of the road, the ‘hobos’ of London and the gear of Jack Kerouac82.
As an important moment of sociability, the weekly market in the nearest village represented an encounter with the population but also a sort of recognition ceremonial, a form of self-segregation. For this, the neo-rurals displayed signs creating a reassuring and distinctive feeling of unity in relation to the local population: firstly through their apparel, a motley mix of Indian, Nepalese, Afghan, Arab, American or Mexican clothing and accessories, but also their thick lumberjack shirts, padded jackets, Canadian jackets, sheepskin coats, beaver lamb coats, so-called Afghan fur coats, oily to the touch, in sheepskin or rabbit skin, big, ‘local’ woolly jumpers, rubber wellington boots and clodhoppers83. Secondly, through their laid-back attitude and with grime in view. Lastly by their gestures and their simple and gregarious language, with magical powers, reduced to expressing basic emotions, just like the ‘How’ of the Indians: “cool, hyper, wild about, freak out, it sucks, it’s far out man, have a wild time, you know...”84 All this contrasted with a world which was generally quite dull, as Jean-Pierre Martin remembers. He lived in a commune in Livradois-Forez in Maziaux (Puy-de-Dôme), on the borders of Loire and Haute-Loire, in the 1970s: “Everything indicated that we came from another world: our vehicle registration plate, the beat-up van where we all piled in, the eternal snow stuck to its bonnet, our long hair flowing in the wind, our garb which was both Tibetan and unbuttoned, our red and yellow pants, our romantically scarlet cheeks, our cloudy-sky complexion, our sleepy eyelids, our stone-grey skin, our footwear, our combat boots, our fireman's boots bought at the US warehouse shop, our Indian-pink skirts, our little waistcoats, our trapper shirts, our Hendrix-style embroidered tunics, our shawls, our Afghan sheepskin coats, our white lace, our earrings, our Indian pouches, our Nepalese rings, our Arab necklaces, our Mexican bracelets, our kohl, our strange appearance of motley barbarians […], a curious mix of bumbling crooks, of cowboys, of squaws and of sadhus.85 […] Our appearance reconnected with the imagery of bygone eras: at that time we had faces, a strange look, an air of freedom and detachment that were quite rare in the history of humanity. Young men with our head of Jesus Christ, the disciples, Judas or Saint Sebastian, we looked like we had just stepped out of a painting from the Middle Ages or the Renaissance. The faces of the young girls evoked paintings by pre-Raphaelites. Our bodies were more desirable than most others. A certain beauty exuded from the entirety, a collective, spiritual beauty, that was evident in our celebrations, like mystical communions. The show we put on was both naive and well thought out, despite ourselves.”86
In the arrondissement of Largentière (Ardèche), the Wednesday market in Joyeuse87 or the Saturday market in Les Vans, this “micro-capital of the return to the land”88, would see some 150 ‘non-conformists’, ‘hippies’ or neo-rurals trying to sell their products (vegetables, cheeses, small fruits, honey…), the basis of their economy. “The main square cafés were the inevitable passageway for any backpacker who had come to seek asylum […]. We would bum around, smoke, drink pastis, swap addresses. In this region of microscopic villages, Les Vans was town.”89 Café de la Bourse was the only café to accept the hippies who would squeeze in, three rows deep, to drink beer. The owners, who demanded to be paid in cash and on the spot, also served as a point of contact for parents who wanted to find out discreetly the fate of their children who had come to experience the ‘return to the land’90.
At the gathering on the Larzac plateau against the plan to extend the military camp, the old garb was multicoloured and flowing; the boys’ hair was not so long, except among the supporters of the return to nature or the fans of the rock group Jethro Tull. As for the girls, their hair was loose, often wavy, and they wore cotton skirts, loose-fitting off-the-shoulder tops baring one shoulder. Bras and make-up were forbidden (except for kohl on the eyelids) and the fragrances were exclusively made from amber and patchouli91.
The systematised refusal of fashion nevertheless was quickly seen as characteristic of a ‘hippy style’ by the rest of the population who was shocked by it, but also by the interested parties themselves who made and sold the constituent parts, which were quickly harnessed by fashion designers. With the ‘original’ population, the cultural differences concerning lifestyle, mores and education helped to create substantial barriers.
Their long hair and their beards92, their slovenliness, their lack of body hygiene and their unusual remarks earned them the pejorative nickname of ‘surly’, referring back to their lack of civility and to a ‘wild’ dimension. They also caused negative reactions from a local population that was used to being among themselves93 and considering people in relation to their status and the dignity that stemmed from it, dignity that was expressed by the clothing, a sign of respect that all people must pay themselves and others. By going against this rule, the neo-rurals were excluded by the village community who felt this as a mark of contempt or at the very least indifference to them. The lack of hygiene further crystallised this culture shock, as café and hotel owners would open the windows after their passing or would ask some to have their drinks on the terrace because of the smell of goat from their clothes and the grime94. According to Jean-Marie Roux, former MP and Mayor of Les Vans, “the hippies were ‘filthy’, had long hair, weren’t shaved and wore clothing that was not very attractive”95. For the local inhabitants, the neo-rurals, with their hair and their clothes, were like Africans, casteless, untouchables, neo-Roma, immigrants with no origin who they called ‘hippies’ or ‘zippies’, because they were so foreign to them96. Certain inhabitants would have preferred to abandon the country to buzzards, crows and Douglas firs rather than welcome them, as Jean-Pierre Martin reported for Livradois-Forez97.
Furthermore, the feminisation of men went against representations of masculinity in the rural world. The psycho-sociologist, Michèle Salmona, thus reports that the farmers, adopting what the occupational sociologist Christophe Dejours calls the ‘virile position”, said of the hippies that they ‘knitted’ meaning that they were not one of them98.
Living as a group, as part of the communes, as well as the mores, the libertarian lifestyle and the sexual freedom pertaining to this, all constituted a major cause of rejection as they radically opposed the family model, even extended, that predominated in these villages99. The baker’s statement “there’s free love up there, that’s for sure”100, when talking about the commune of Rochebesse in Chanéac, Ardèche, clearly reflected the cultural distance separating the hippies from the local population. The latter, highly immersed in the Christian values of shame and sin101 and not counting any unmarried couples amongst its members102, saw it in fact as an affront to the sacred institution of marriage and a return to ‘primitive’ instincts. Having children outside of marriage, and even having different fathers, was the last straw, when at that time a divorced woman was considered as a woman of disrepute. There was an underlying accusation of prostitution, like in Rochebesse where the comings and goings of women even led some to suspect a form of ‘white slavery’ as one hotel owner of a neighbouring village said103. This sparked off various reactions on the part of the farmers, from defamation, like that of an old lady, as reported by Marie-Noëlle Bat, the midwife of Privas (Ardèche), specialised in the home births of ‘hippy’ women: “Don’t talk to me about that race! They’re going around stark naked! I see them stark naked, do you realise? They let me see everything!”104, to voyeurism and exhibitionism:
“Our commune life,” recalls Jean-Pierre Martin, “intrigued the locals, as did the strange comings and goings stemming from this. The female presence of the baba cool chick105, in particular, a presence that was suddenly multiplied, all this in a land of men, awoke voyeurism and exhibitionism that was only waiting to be expressed.”106
On a more positive note, relations between the youth of both populations concerning intimate subjects, helped to reduce this prejudice, as the communitarians of Rochebesse noted107:
“They are a little afraid of how we live. But they are also enticed, because we have girls. Some have even come to talk about their sexual problems because we have the reputation of fucking a lot, which, incidentally, is true.”108
Freedom of the body was not just due to the the hippies’. The local population was also offended by the growing number of tourists, particularly from northern Europe, who willingly practised nudism, mostly in the gorges of Ardèche, and often outside the perimeter allocated to this practice109. The absence of any imposed constraints, in particular to the children, was also a source of incomprehension as when a couple of hippies took offense at reproaches coming from the owners of the Café de la Bourse, in Les Vans, Ardèche, after their half-naked child urinated on the table: “What?! You mustn’t have had any kids if you’re scolding like that, just because a kid pees on the table!”110 The use and the trafficking of drugs, either real or supposed (mainly cannabis, grown for personal consumption), topped off the opposition of representations in terms of mores111 and in the case of confrontation, like in Rochebesse, justified the non-acceptance of the new arrivals112. This was particularly the case from 1973-75, when sons of bourgeois entered the group and cases of intellectual and physical poverty or depravation appeared, as well as deaths caused by overdose113.
While, unlike simple tourists, the hippies shared the harsh experience of winter with the locals, their wayfaring habits, which were often linked to amorous adventures114 but also to exotic voyages, gave them a doubt as to their long-term presence in a land that was slow to accept them115. in the Cévennes mountains of Ardèche, Pierre Bouvarel (Dompnac) would each year carry out an identical trip to as that of the Ardèche Cévennes mountains and Tom, before joining a village of tepees created in the neighbourhood of La-Croix-de-Comte in Malarce-sur-la-Thines in the Cévennes in 1975, went to India in 1973 for one year to take part in the Auroville utopia116.
Nonetheless, the geographic and generational proximity resulted in a certain acculturation amongst the local youth, in addition to some marriages, which was nostalgically evoked: “We discovered what it was to smoke a joint”117. The farmers also discovered the hippy world and its fashion through trade. In the sense of the neo-rurals, the sale of handcrafted objects and clothing had to transfer an entire vision of the world and the illusion of a return to the roots of rural traditions to the buyer, stuck in the monotony of industrial products. In fact, purchasing a shawl woven from Causse lambswool meant appropriating the chestnuts cooked in the hearth, the lauze (schist) slab roofs and the short grass of the pastures, but also reinforcing their vision of what was ‘natural’ and ‘authentic’ – and for the tourists, without having to change one’s lifestyle118. In this way, as noted by Jean-Claude Guillebau, the myth of a hairy anti-hero, of the “academic specialist in something who went off to breed sheep on a plateau in Ardèche”, played a consoling role in an ‘opium of the people’ manner […]. We could better accept the present if were certain that another life was possible. From this point of view, Ardèche would help people accept the working-class Parisian suburbs of Champigny or Billancourt and there would be no need even to go any further”119.
He also noted that it would often happen that in some corner of Ardèche, an old-style farmer, whose way of living and working had not changed in 10 or 15 generations, seated at a table with a former computer engineer, would talk about things of the earth. And yet, such an encounter is extraordinary in a century where there are numerous obstacles between old and new farmers “who would often just pass each other like two trains going in two opposite directions”120. In fact, the neo-rurals of the first hippy wave, non-conformist and communitarian, introduced a considerable demographic, social, psychological and cultural heterogeneity into the areas they settled in. Young adults (20-30 years old), mainly single (even though there were some married couples), rarely with life experience, about 40 % of them belonging to the higher socio-professional categories, a certain number of whom, from an artistic and student background, were extremely politicised121, and came mostly from large urban areas, even though many of them still had close family ties with the rural world.
Although contact was initially rare and limited, due to the surprise, wariness and indifference of the local population but also due to the choices made by the hippies of a certain isolation122 and a different farming specialisation (sheep and goat breeding, fruits, market gardening) to that of the local farmers, this contact responded above all to daily needs and was ever-changing, variable and ambivalent. In fact, as the local population had a negative image of itself, it found it very difficult to understand what attracted the neo-rurals to the farming profession and country life for a certain number of aspects.
However, mistrust of these ‘strangers’ among people who nevertheless deplored increased desertification, became indifference or even esteem if they did not do any harm or run up debts123. Sometimes relations even became cordial, with the new arrivals breathing new life into places that had been deserted for a long time124. Be that as it may, both authorities and inhabitants wondered about their means of existence, knowing that they would find it difficult to subsist, even frugally, on just the income from their property, as was their intention125.
These good neighbourly relations, which were more or less forced, coexisted alongside clashes and conflicts based on recurring topics such as property, work and the practice of the farming profession, mores and local political power. These were visible locally to varying extents, in relation to clearly identifiable factors such as the proportion of natives and among those, young people, the attitude regarding work and the population, or the duration of their stay, but also through the individual personalities of all concerned. As a consequence, any attempt to systematise should be tempered, for, as the journalist André Griffon noted in relation to the Cévennes, “each neo-rural is one of a kind. Each farmer from the Cévennes is a real character. The truth in that valley over there is not necessarily that of this valley here. And there are lots of valleys in a closed world. The story of the generation of 1968 and the rural inhabitants who welcomed them, then endured them, should not be written in great lines but in small strokes, very carefully, through unique destinies.”126 Some documents help us to comprehend these frictions. In 1977, the sixty or so hippies from Malarce-sur-la-Thines living in the commune of La Blacherette in Ardèche sent a letter to each inhabitant, in response to what the mayor’s wife had said in an article in the Dauphiné libéré entitled ‘Le hippy roi’ (‘Hippy King’):
“We really didn’t like the article in the Dauphiné speaking about our village, Malarce-sur-la-Thines. Do you know racism? Well, it’s a story about racism here. Read the article again, it talks about ‘hippies’: … ‘it’ renovates old farms, ‘it’ lives on just a few goats and money sent by the family, ‘it’ does odd jobs, ‘it’ picks chestnuts at 5 francs per kilo (5 francs, I wouldn’t mind that, what about you?). The hippies ‘have young ones’ so ‘it’ causes problems.
‘it’? What’s it? Men or animals??
We are people who have chosen to live a little differently from everyone else. And we believe it’s our right. And we don’t accept being insulted for it. Having said that, there are differences between us; there are differences with you, but we have the same difficulties in living here as you have. And the same pleasure, we hope. We don’t cause you any harm, in general we are younger than you and you’ve said it often enough that your land is dying! Would you prefer dead houses surrounded by brambles or chimneys smoking and lands cultivated???
The young ones we have, they are called children. These children are a problem for you. Problems are normal for a village that wants to exist. But it would be better to talk about it with us than with journalists. This interests us, would you believe?! We regret that the Mayor has such little knowledge of 20% of the population of Malarce, and of local reality, unless it was the journalist?…
The fact remains that we consider Mr. Thomas responsible for this article, as long as he does not deny it.
Some of your neighbours.”127
However, numerous relationships were established and osmosis took place in good times and in bad, despite the cultural and generational gap between the natives and these new populations broken away from their original class (bourgeoisie and lower bourgeoisie). Forms of solidarity appeared, favoured by the constraints of isolation. For example when the breakdown of a pump threatened to ruin the bean crop, the villagers, wary until then, would go and ask the hippy commune for help. Having succeeded in getting the pump to start again, everyone would celebrate the event, without exception128. Festive moments were also shared with the local population around music, in the small village of Le Gua in Beaumont, in the Ardèche Cévennes mountains where everyone would meet at the Léon’s bistrot. Léon would sell his wine (which was plonk), there were all-night parties: all the neo-rurals were musicians to some extent and would bring a little magic. They all had several strings to their bow, and were artists to some extent (sculptures, pottery, painting).”129
Relations between the two populations were complex and variable because they involved contradictory representations of themselves and the others, serving as a basis for a series of conflicts mainly concerning land and the use of space, which were linked to a certain number of founding concepts such as property, work and the idea of the farming profession, sources of income, connections to time and space, lifestyle and mores, as well as the methods and purpose of education. These conflicts of representation were expressed with all the more vehemence as the cultural gap between new and old farmers was added to the generation gap due to the departure of the farmers’ children in a rural environment that was economically, psychologically and demographically depressed.
The issue being representation as much as the control of local power, these relations reached a paroxysm between 1976 and 1983, when the declared will of the ‘surly’ or ‘zippies’ to stay for good raised major concerns among the natives who feared being dispossessed of their local power. Despite their sometimes sharp nature, these conflicts did not call into question the presence of a hard core of neo-rurals. After coming up against several difficulties (related to land, banks, status, access to information and training), their integration was boosted by the arrival of the second neo-rural wave (1975-85) and by the “displacement of the utopia”130 of some of the first wave towards the motivations of the second. Made up of thirty-somethings with a rather high level of education (engineers, teachers, technicians, architects, etc…), seeking a life in contact with nature and in a preserved environment, and despite their criticism of the system, they wanted to integrate the local economy and society131. But integration was above all boosted by the new context of economic crisis that from 1975 onwards encouraged national and local actors of rural and urban development to motivate young farmers and entrepreneurs to settle in rural areas, whether or not they were from a farming or rural background, in order to keep jobs and halt rural desertification.
Different influences led to the integration of the neo-rurals, such as trade unions, associations, pre-decentralisation experiments (planning contracts, 1975), the ambivalent relationship with the public authorities, elections and events around the school and against major projects threatening the environment and local economic independence and which were based on the claim “Volem viure al païs” (Occitan catchphrase meaning “we want to live in the ‘land’”).
The interest of the hippies and city-dwellers’ passion for handcrafts led to private attempts, sometimes supported by the public authorities, to recreate the union that once existed with agriculture where activities that transformed raw materials from exploitation, such as wood, wool and hemp were practiced in winter, the ‘off’ period, with the sale of objects thus made completing their income. Such was the goal of the Lozère artisans’ and farmers’ cooperative, created in 1975 which promoted handcrafts through the associations Lou Grel and Les Compagnons du Gerboul132 created in Thines, Ardèche, as early as the late 1950s by a Parisian woman before spreading to the rest of the department133.
Associations multiplied as in southern Ardèche, in Largentière-Joyeuse-Valgorge, in the wake of the eponymous planning contract (1976-84) whose committee was steered by and significantly involved neo-rurals. They sometimes spearheaded a strategy to take over the town hall, like the GAIL (local information and events group)134 in Lablachère (1983 elections) or as a counter-power against the public authorities (CAPAC – permanent committee for concerted action in Ardèche135). The areas concerned were music (choral societies, music schools, concerts), theatre, cinema, literature, and audiovisual media (libraries and multimedia libraries).
The resulting revitalisation was multidimensional, whether it concerned totally new farming systems that included the transformation and commercialisation of the products or reception; experimentation of multi-functionality ensuring the legacy and environmental needs of the mainstream in relation to agriculture; alternative enterprises based on local development like Ardelaine whose activity encompassed the entire sector, from shearing to the production of woollen articles, created in 1982 after the purchase and renovation of a spinning industry in ruin, in Saint-Pierreville, Ardèche. It was also emblematic through the creation of the mentoring network REPAS (network of exchanges and alternative and solidarity-based practices) in 1997. Often, these achievements were the result of cooperation between the local population and the neo-rurals, helping to enhance their complementarities – knowledge of the environment and techniques for the natives, knowledge of management, law and administrative circuits for the neo-rurals.
Dividing lines remained and continued to separate both populations, even after the involvement of the neo-rurals in municipal life and despite the services they provided which were recognised by all, such as crèches, child care centres, libraries, etc. These concerned the cultural field for which certain expenditure was contested while celebrations and leisure remained quite separate: the natives rarely frequented the cultural celebrations of the neo-rurals which were intermingled with political and anti-globalisation events, preferring instead to go to patron saint festivals, football matches, bowls tournaments, with the greatest divide being that of the issue of hunting136.
While the neo-rural communitarians continued to exist in other forms before being dismissed as old-fashioned under the term of ‘baba’, the gestural forms of the protestation seduced well beyond the dissenting youth which was just a small part of them. Their anti-fashion approach brought together young people from all social and cultural backgrounds before being adopted by the adults it was supposed to oppose. This is because it shattered the models of fashion that were still shared in the 1960s between rural tradition and the very strict fashion trends in towns and cities. It thus opened up a period, that of the 1970s-80s, where all expressions were allowed and where everyone could (should?) write their own fashion, a real expression of oneself and a means of starting dialogue with others, changes no longer being imposed from the outside by only conditional upon those of one’s own psyche.
Their artisanal utopias inspired numerous borrowings from folklore: muzhik boots, Moroccan djellabas, Peruvian ponchos and huge, belted, Mexican woollen cardigans with shawl collars. They also found popular relays in the environmentalist movement of going back to nature and to the land that decked out high school pupils and students in towns and cities with wooden and leather clogs, old Sunday suits, braces and downy ‘grandfather’ shirts made from flannel that you put on over your head, with or without a collar, with long, u-shaped sections, a model that was in Maison Charvet from 1976137. Their freedom of expression demystified the lengths (from mini to maxi), desacralised fur (dyed green by Yves Saint-Laurent in 1971 or replaced by fake fur which became a real material with Agnès B.), generalised unisex fashion (jacket and masculine-feminine suit by Yves Saint-Laurent and an increase by 3 million in sales of trousers for young people in 1971), universalised jeans, which were available in all styles (embroidered, illustrated, classic, casual, coordinated, romantic and even formalised by Hermès), transformed the tee-shirt into a means of communication on which people could express their fantasies with quotes or slogans allowing to display their ecological lifestyle. Didn’t the French worker who was made redundant by Fruit of the Loom-Intertex, sell millions of articles in this way? Small items and accessories became wardrobe basics, both on an economic level and on a personal level138. The will to express one’s personal dimension through real seduction was reflected in the ‘second skin’ fashion (tight-fitting jeans, jerseys, knitwear, transparent garments)139 and the discontinuation of the garment in terms of protection-prudishness-social finery in favour of comfortable, seductive, multi-purpose clothing worn from morning to night as long as it was worn with different accessories140.
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