The Apollonian & Dionysian: Abbie Hoffman versus James Dean

The two ultimate American rebels represent the Apollonian and Dionysian. Both men were into sex, drugs, and rock and roll yet that difference is superficial. Ultimately, Abbie Hoffman advocated a life of altruism and self-denial while James Dean represented hedonistic rednecks who held no such belliefs. The ideologies to which Abbie Hoffman subscribed were those of a pious civic duty and personal sacrifice to the causes of social justice, peace, and human rights and, additionally, to live modestly and give onself to the martyrdom of being incarcerated, physically brutalized, and crucified in the press. His life, outside of the acute and short-term pleasures he frequented, was, in effect, that of a deeply religious man committed to self-denial in service of the greater good.

James Dean is the iconic rebel of Middle America. Unlike 1960s rebellion, 1950s rebellion had no pretensions of morality associated with it. It isn’t about sacrifice, living modestly, exposing oneself to harm out of compassion, or service to others. It is about hedonism and the people who do it are people from the heartland’s whose ostensible ideologies are opposed to all of that hedonism. James Dean is the fantasy of Trump supporters and drunk rednecks who officially are against sex outside of marriage, for the drug war, for family values, and more. James Dean, the man, himself, unlike Abbie Hoffman, is irrelevant, his myth and characters and position in the American pantheon are important here.

James Dean may or may not have been a hypocrite, his avatar, in being the dream of Middle America, is a hypocrite. Abbie Hoffman lived the values he preached. The drunk and promiscious playboys of the Americana landscape are unfazed by their lack of effort in living by the virtues they screamed the hippies were ruining. That is the most important element in defining Abbie’s character as an Apollonian and James’s as a Dionysian. Abbie holds his like to the expectations that they’ll live their values and when they don’t, to make up for it and make it right. James’s culture has no such standards and one may seek whatever one wishes without self-discipline. Abbie is the American Cato the Younger while James is everything Cato the Younger despised about Rome.

On the surface, a brothel and a free love commune are similiar and yet beneath the surface they are on opposite ends of the universe. In a brothel, women are objectified while in a free love commune they are not. On the whole, in a brothel, there are few, if any rules, and one is expected to indugle their worst and most base urges. While in a free love commune, there are many and high-minded ethics and everything is supposed to be done with kindness and respect. One is a noble attempt at utopia while the other is the complete abandonment at resisting the lowest realms of the human being.

Ironically, of course, Abbie Hoffman and his like are the ones who Middle America lacerated as corrupting the youth and the culture. The same people who broke into a moral panic about heavy metal in the 1980s, related to and saw nothing wrong with the Dukes of Hazard or Jimmy Buffet singing “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. At least, the left-leaning metal bands lived according to their conscience and stood against apartheid and for saving the whales. The ones morally panicking wanted a facade of morality that they would ignore. The Apollonian and Dionysian divide in American culture. Abbie Hoffman and James Dean.

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