I am imagining the dilemma in which these screenwriters must have found themselves when given the assignments… “But I don’t know anything about counterculture!! How am I going to write an entire episode about it?”… And then the response from the producer with dollar signs for eyes… “And neither does your audience, you see?… In fact, they hate counterculture specifically because they don’t know anything about it and that’s the beauty of it… give them what they want to hear”.
Television shows aimed at older audiences have a love affair with caricaturing youth culture and the avant garde. The simple fact is that the majority of television audiences enjoy having their suspicions and fears confirmed on cultures they know little about even when the story they are told is almost completely fictional. These caricatures can be entirely frustrating for those of us within the movements at the time… but give it ten or so years and look who has the last laugh… Let the mainstream fashion of the day, the bad acting and the outdated technology fade a bit like bad wallpaper and they become hilarious cult classics. Here are a few of my favorites:
Years before my time, but still one of my favorites is the “Blue Boy” episode of Dragnet about the psychedelic hippie culture in the late sixties.
And then there is the bizarre pilot episode of Ironsides featuring Tiny Tim, which completely misconstrues the avant garde and beatnik culture of the sixties.
Fast forward a decade and you get the punk rock movement, which was perfect fodder for scaring the daylights out of people who knew nothing about it. The Quincy punk episode is great.
But even better is the punk episode of CHiPS. Here are two clips from that one… I will spare you the finale of the show, which involves a craptastic disco performance by a sequin encrusted Erik Estrada singing “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang.