For the Hell of It

Nowadays when people have a grievance, they tend to file a lawsuit. So for the young it is difficult to imagine that back in the 1960’s a sense that public demonstration could correct society’s ills prompted a decade of colorful, absurd, often illegal theatrics, one of the chief choreographers of which was Abbie Hoffman. Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Worcester, Massachusetts, Abbott Hoffman was a teenage delinquent and troublemaker whose father often beat him. As a psychology major at Brandeis University, and later as a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, Hoffman became politically active and started a lifelong career of zany pranks and unbridled anarchy which fueled the social transformations of a decade. Along with Jerry Rubin he founded the Yippies, best known for disrupting the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, a saga which was vividly captured on national television, along with the subsequent chaotic Chicago Conspiracy Trial. This all delighted the politically savvy Hoffman, who felt that mass media coverage was essential for the success of the movement.

Author Jonah Raskin skillfully evokes the crazy exuberance of the time, the love-ins, be-ins, nominating a pig for president, marijuana smoke-ins at Tompkins Square Park, with court jester Abbie Hoffman at the vortex, advising youngsters to kill their parents and destroy their schools. Of course, it was never clear how serious he was at any given time, but his pronouncements certainly alienated many adults. A fascinating history of an era which seems very long ago.