Radical, unique, offensive, personalized journalism has exploded with the Internet. As movements go, the godfather of Internet journalism was the underground press movement of the 1960s and one of its best examples was The East Village Other or EVO as it was commonly known. This article will outline the movement that was the underground press and The East Village Other's role in that movement. As you will see, The East Village Other was one of the most influential newspapers of its generation.
The underground press in the 1960s was a movement of alternatives; one in which the people involved opposed establishment values in the name of love and morality in the hope of changing society for the better.
If you were in the underground press movement, the above certainly sounded nice. It was their own definition, after all. The establishment certainly didn't see it that way. The establishment - much of the news media, local, state, and federal authorities, along with most culturally conservative, traditional people, saw the underground press, at its best, as immoral and obscene, and at its worst, as Marxists bent on destroying the fabric of the United States and overthrowing its government.
Located in the East Village, Lower East Side, Manhattan, in New York City, The East Village Other or EVO (its popular acronym) was the second underground newspaper to come out in the United States in the 1960s after the Los Angeles Free Press. However, EVO was perhaps the most influential. It pioneered the use of several visual techniques, including collages and underground comix. It founded the Underground Press Syndicate, an organization that create a voice for, named, and gave legitimacy to, the "underground" press. EVO was against the draft, the war in Vietnam, censorship, hated President Lyndon Johnson, supported free love, and encouraged the use of marijuana and LSD.
Although EVO's creation itself was a spontaneous event, the underground press developed from forces acting within the counterculture after the death of President Kennedy: "the Gotterdammerung of the beat generation of the 1950s;" increased openness of sexual attitudes, and more sexual freedom, particularly because of the birth control pill; the development of a new consciousness through the folk and folk-rock music experience, along with the new sound of rock music, "psychedelic and more directly responsive to its audience than the music of the 1950s;" the increased use of drugs like marijuana and LSD to experience new levels of consciousness; "the uprising at Berkeley which proved the manipulative muscle power of organized demonstrations;" and the activities of groups such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), CORE, and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), in their attempt to awaken Americans to the political and social injustices occurring in the United States.1 As these different ideas and movements began to coalesce, they would need a representative voice in the press. "Given the new youth, a new bohemia, a new iconoclastic humor, a new sexuality, a new sound, a new turn-on, a new abolitionism, a new left, a new hope, and a new cynicism, a new press was inevitable."2
EVO, a newspaper started by five people in October 1965 who knew little, if nothing, about running a newspaper, become one of the most popular underground newspapers in the United States, reaching a peak circulation of 65,000 in 1969. It became popular because it was a true alternative to the establishment Village Voice, Herald Tribune, and New York Times. It was an alternative because it was the only paper to present the concerns of the East Village community in their own words, from their point of view. EVO was weird and way out; it printed strange, swirling graphics, huge, complicated collages, and writing that was often both poetic and informative. Sometimes EVO was "obscene", using the f-word like any other adjective or printing "rude", "disgusting" sexual advertisements. But it was only "obscene" to those who accepted certain social restrictions. For EVO, and its East Village citizenry, what was "obscene" and "disgusting" to the establishment, was "open", "free" and "beautiful" to them.
EVO, like the limited development of many underground movements, would begin to decline only two years following its inception, after the Peace March on Washington in October 1967. Although changing circumstances among its staff added to EVO's trouble, the newspaper's decline was not natural. Documents reveal that EVO received extensive harassment from hate groups, local police, and state officials. Sources suggest that the CIA may have conducted illegal surveillance activity by investigating EVO3. And documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that the Federal Bureau of Investigation directly interfered with the activities of EVO.
EVO was an important voice in the 1960s. "Eventually EVO was able to set forth a full vision of what would become the counterculture."4 On its way up, EVO was instrumental in establishing the important issues of the counterculture, giving national recognition to the movement of the underground press. But once this national recognition was achieved, the alternatives of EVO began to be seen as threats by local, state, and federal agencies, and they retaliated through harassment tactics. Although EVO's "underground" status limited its lifespan, many of its opinions, especially those on the Vietnam War, proved insightful. The East Village Other was one of the most successful and important papers of its generation and a harbinger of alternative journalism for the future.
1 Michael L. Johnson, The New Journalism. (Lawrence: The University Press of Kansas, 1971), p. 12.
2 Jacob Brackman, "The Underground Press," Playboy, August 1967, p. 151.
3 An FOIA search with the CIA has failed to turn up any documents though there is circumstantial evidence to support this statement.
The East Village Other at NYU
- THE EAST VILLAGE OTHER - The Local East Village Blog - NYTimes.com
A fabulous and growing collection of essays by former participants in EVO and those around the East Village in the 1960s.
- How the U.S. Government Harassed the East Village Other in the 1960s: An Introduction
An introduction to how the U.S. government harassed the East Village Other, an underground newspaper, during the 1960s.
- The 'Sixties Book: The Life and Death of the "East Village Other" by Alex Gross - -