The Influences of the Pop Culture in the 1960s

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The Influences Of The Pop Culture in The 1960S

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Hippie Culture
  • Popular culture through music
  • Drug Use Patterns in New Zealand
  • Conclusion


When envisioning a time in our society’s history when the world was rebellious, free spirited, and mindful – the 1960’s comes to mind. Radio, film, television, and music are media which affect and contribute to the known identity of a society at a point in time. In fact, these media establish popular culture – or “pop culture” – and each contributed to the essence of 1960’s American pop culture. This era of youth and rebellion saw substantial changes in illegal drug use internationally. Through American pop culture, many people in western countries became more aware of drugs and their curiosity was heightened, resulting in a significant rise of illegal substances entering societies, and being manufactured, around the world. With New Zealand being quite a distance away from America, it takes some time for their popular culture to emerge here. Patterns of drug use in New Zealand began to rise in the early 1970’s and continued to rise each year. Once developments in 1960’s popular culture reached New Zealand they had a significant effect on current illegal drug use patterns.

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Civil Rights Movement

The 1960’s was a time of desired freedom. In World War II, blacks and whites were divided into separated units. Racially mixed units later evolved during the Vietnam War. Marijuana, commonly known as weed or cannabis, and other higher classified drugs such as heroin were limited to blacks and Hispanics prior to the 1960’s, and it was then, during the Vietnam War, that black soldiers introduced whites to drugs for the first time. (Newbold, 2016) This saw the start of the international rise in drug culture which included an increase in drug use in New Zealand. The Civil Rights movement encompassed a number of smaller social movements with the goal to end racial segregation and discrimination against African-Americans. The movement consisted of many campaigns of civil resistance, including the successful bus boycott in Alabama. Prior to the 1960’s, America was a racially segregated society. Blacks were considered inferior in a white dominated world. During the 1960’s, blacks and whites marched together for equality and desegregation, which saw the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. (Newbold, 2016) The Civil Rights Movement holds great significance to 1960’s pop culture because it promoted a culture of peace, love, and companionship. Since drugs were limited to blacks, cannabis was used frequently during the racially mixed movements. Marijuana became an important drug at this time as it helped to evoke feelings of tranquillity and unity. (Srivastava, 2013, p 38) This era in pop culture plays a substantial role in marijuana becoming increasingly popular internationally, as the Civil Rights Movement encouraged feelings of peace – which marijuana induced when high. This resulted in increasing drug use patterns in New Zealand.

Hippie Culture

The Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War became mobilising forces for America’s hippy movement which emerged around 1967. This era had a high impact on illegal drug patterns internationally and in New Zealand. Alongside marijuana, another important drug in the 1960’s was LSD. Shortened from lysergic acid diethylamide and commonly known as acid, LSD first became popular in the 1960’s. The hippy movement was an essential part of the 1960’s American pop culture. A large quantity of American society was under 18, making it a culture of youth. (Newbold, 2016) This youth culture rebelled against their parents’ values and society’s norms as a whole, creating a culture which is known as the hippy movement. Once this subculture had emerged, there was a high consumption of drugs, and the hallucinogenic substance LSD was dominantly popular. The hippy movement involved a variety of social beliefs and concerns. Hippies promoted their attitude to life; to not have a concern for the consequences of their actions or a care for others’ opinions. They also strongly promoted the use of psychedelic drugs, such as LSD, which they believed allowed them to explore altered states of consciousness. (Cottrell, 2015) As LSD was not illegalised until 1967, free rock concerts were organised which many hippies attended. (Cottrell, 2015) These concerts promoted the use of LSD, even giving it out for free to concert-goers. The hippy subculture was a significant element in the promotion of drug abuse throughout the United States, eventually reaching New Zealand and increasing our rates of drug offences. This culture was recognised internationally through newspaper, TV, and other forms of media – most predominantly, music.

Popular culture through music

A great portion of counter culture in the 1960’s was initiated through music. Rock n Roll had an immense contribution in influencing New Zealand drug culture as they were looked up to by younger generations, who imitated their styles. (Newbold, 2004, p 8-9) Great artists such as ‘The Beatles’ became world renowned, advertising their “alternative lifestyles” of rebellion involving drugs and sex. (Cottrell, 2015) The rebellion seen through their song lyrics spread internationally, creating an increased demand for illegal drugs as. ‘The Beatles’ developed their albums throughout the 1960’s. Evolving from their earlier, innocent lyrics, they began to manifest clear references to drugs; specifically marijuana and LSD. Their 1965 album named “Help”, moved their image from innocence, to what John Lennon openly referred to as the “pot album”. (Cottrell, 2015) In June 1966 their new album, “Yesterday and Today” was released. Relating to society’s counter culture, this album contained many drug related songs, such as “Day Tripper”, which Lennon later confirmed was about a LSD high. (Cottrell, 2015) The song “Doctor Robert”, about a “psychedelic medicine man” proved to be very controversial. Lyrics to this included “if you’re down he’ll pick you up” – again, visibly talking about a drug trip on LSD. These lyrics advertised the use of illegal substances, which encouraged an increase in drug abuse in New Zealand. The Beatles had adopted the newly named American ‘acid rock’ genre, as many of their songs were LSD inspired. (Cottrell, 2015) Following in their footsteps, acid rock band Jefferson Airplane released a hit song about an LSD trip in 1967 which was named “White Rabbit”. The White Rabbit himself being Augustus Owsley Stanley, California’s main LSD manufacturer of the time. (Cottrell, 2015) The development of music and lyrics increased demand for LSD and marijuana in the 1960’s as musicians encouraged these drugs and publicly sharing their experiences through their music. Curiosity was raised internationally as a result of international popular culture, which saw New Zealand’s illegal drug use patterns begin to rise for the first time.

Drug Use Patterns in New Zealand

As a result of American pop culture in the 1960’s, New Zealand saw substantial growth in drug patterns throughout the 1970’s. Gang culture was introduced to New Zealand around the time of the Civil Rights Movement. It was a culture which began a significant rise of New Zealand drug patterns. (Newbold, 2000) Black Power is a prominent gang in New Zealand which began around 1970 – when American pop culture began influencing New Zealand – predominantly for Maori and Polynesian peoples. Although crime was low before the 1980’s, this gang is now heavily involved in crime, specifically drug dealing and manufacturing. In the 1970’s, Black Power was initially involved in the distribution of LSD and marijuana – which were two dominate drugs introduced to New Zealand due to American popular culture. (Cottrell, 2015) This caused a significant rise in drug offences. Official statistics from the Ministry of Justice show that drug offence rates in New Zealand have continued to rise since the 1970’s, especially offences involving marijuana cultivation and supply, and also possession. Serious drug offences have remained fairly steady, increasing or declining only slightly each year. ( These statistics are determined from police offences only, excluding the percentage of drug users who have not been caught. Statistics from Auckland University’s Alcohol and Public Health Research Unit show that near half of New Zealanders aged 15-65 have tried marijuana at least once, and at least one in six would categorize themselves as regular users. ( These patterns of illegal drug use were established due to international 1960’s popular culture, and look likely to continue to remain steady in the future.


Developments in international 1960’s pop culture affected illegal drug use patterns in New Zealand to a significant extent. International popular culture in the 1960’s was about counteracting the norms of society. Whether that be through supporting desegregation, freedom and equality, or rebelling against society and engaging in a counter culture filled with illegal drug abuse and sex, this well-known pop culture established the identity of the 1960’s society. Within half a decade this culture spread to New Zealand through the media, especially through renowned musicians whose work formed the newly developed acid rock genre. Because of American pop culture, drugs became increasingly popular around New Zealand in the early 1970’s, specifically LSD and Marijuana – the drugs of this time, which began to shape New Zealand’s current drug culture. In conclusion, it is clear that 1960’s international pop culture has had a significant effect on New Zealand’s drug culture.

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