Helter Skelter or, how I came to hate the dirty hippies

This weekend I watched the 1976 TV documdrama Helter Skelter for the first time since I was a young boy. And while watching it again I came to the stunning realization that this TV movie is the reason why I’ve hated dirty hippies so viscerally for the last three decades. In fact, this TV movie could have just as well been named The Family: A Bunch of Dirty Hippies. And when I say dirty hippies, I mean DIRTY hippies. According to this TV movie, the love children that were part of Charles Manson’s family may have been the dirtiest people ever. Just take a look at the evidence presented as part of the TV movie, these shots come early on in the program when the Ranch is raided by the police.

Dirty Hippie with Gun

Dirty Hippie with gun protecting the ranch

A series of dirty hippies making ugly faces

A series of dirty hippies making ugly faces

A depth of dirty hippies

A depth of dirty hippies

There is some serious dirt going on here, and I would normally scratch this up to overenthusiasm on the part of the director if it wasn’t reinforced throughout the movie. In fact, there’s a scene between Vincent Bugliosi (the crusading hero determined to stomp out the last remnants of filth) and his wife in which he breaks the Helter Skelter conspiracy behind the murders wide open. While Bugliosi is ennumerating this vision his special lady friend delivers the final blow by tying the Family’s lack of cleanliness to their senseless preying on the lives of the showered establishment people.

I can’t tell you how much this scene made me love this movie. It reinforces everything I feel about Hippies, the 1960s, and Manson more generally, In fact, this TV movie has a few themes it is trying to push pretty relentlessly: 1) Hippies are dirty, 2) the free love movement of the 1960s would ultimately devolve into psychos like Manson taking control of their minds, 3) Manson is the devil, 3) Bugliosi is a legal genius, and 4) Mansonism is a growing epidemic consisting of burgeoning dirty hippies that murderously misinterpret Beatles’ song lyrics.

Scene from Helter Skelter wherein Manson decides to represent himself.

Scene from Helter Skelter wherein Manson decides to represent himself.

While we were talking about this movie in class last night, Seth Dorman brought up the point that this was a major network TV event. In fact, it’s the 16th highest rated movie to air on network television of all time! This was a cultural phenomenon of epic proportions, and I only half joke when I suggest this TV movie had an indelible imprint on my current view of hippies. I can remember the ranch, the filth, the descriptions of love-ins, and the resulting bloodshed. In the U.S. at least, April 1st and 2nd of 1976 were the final days of the 1960s. Helter Skelter put the final nail in the popular peace and love movement perpetuated in the mainstream by Woodstock. It made way for the 1980s, and for that I am ever grateful!

You've Got Charlie Manson Eyes

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14 Responses to Helter Skelter or, how I came to hate the dirty hippies

  1. Alan Levine says:

    Typical for Hollywood of that era all those dirty smelly unbathed hippies have pearly white teeth 😉

    Now at least we understand where the hippie hate roots from.If only you had stopped at the Woodstock film, there would be poppies in your hair (oops, you have no hair!).

    Found this piece of manson art

  2. Reverend says:

    That manson art is classic, I can see the dirty hippies excaliming “He’s a genius!” :0 More seriously, you have no idea how deep this TV movie went, I am back in therapy now because I want to love hippies again 🙂 Welcome back to the states, hippie!

  3. Pingback: Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter bogus conspiracy theory | bavatuesdays

  4. Paul says:

    The site that Lindsay found has a picture Manson drew during trial:
    It’s a little bit enigmatic.

  5. Reverend says:


    The 1997 Parole statement on that site has me really interested, particularly in light of the Capite interview with Beausoliel:

    In March 1997, the California Parole Board, for the ninth consecutive time, announced that it would deny parole to Charles Manson. The Board gave as its reason that Manson “would pose an unreasonable risk and danger tosociety and a threat to public safety if released from prison.” Manson responded briefly to the Board’s announcement:

    I accept this decision. That’s cool. What I’d like for you to do in your own minds personally, everybody that has a personal mind of their own, could possibly consider that the longer that you let this conviction stand, and this little Helter Skelter scheme of the District Attorney to give his particular reality over into the play, that’s going to be the reality that they’re perpetuating. That’s not the reality that I’m perpetuating. I’m not saying that I wasn’t involved. I’m saying that I did not break man’s law nor did I break God’s law. Consider that in the judgments that you have for yourselves. Good day. Thank you.

  6. That’s Mr. Steve Railsback on a glorious tear as Manson.

  7. Hélio Pinheiro de Oliveira says:

    The Sharon Tate’s murder in the 1960s is a tragedy for me… Forgive-me , but the man d0 not lives without crimes. I loved her , it’s a strange story. Helinho.

  8. Politically, this is still our debate, just as 1945-67 was defined by Hitler/Stalin. The falling apart of 60s idealism (usually under the influence of drugs or violence) ends up being at the root of most of our fantastically bizarre public policy debates. Not even 9/11 could shake it out of us.

    The story (which you know) goes that at bunch of idealists decided that life could be easier, and we could spread out our plenty among the many, relax social norms, build projects for the poor, etc. etc. And this grand experiment was tried, and within a few years you had Manson, Hell’s Angel’s stabbings, urban crime spiking, race riots, Patty Hearst, the Weathermen bombings, etc. Mostly because we we let people grow their hair out and smoke pot.

    OK, oversimplification. The idea that there is a rule of law that gets reinforced by daily measures like bathing, etc. has some merit. It’s not complete bull. This theory gets it’s sociological blessing in the 1990s with studies of New York’s “Broken Windows” policy. And it is embedded in politics today in various ways which vary from questionable to absurd: “No Excuses” schools, drug laws, welfare cuts, gay marriage fears. The reason we don’t have a fiscal stimulus right now (which would help everyone) is that supposedly paying people unemployment leads inexorably to this sort of dystopia. And I’ve heard pipe dream/hippie terminology around the Affordable Care Act — a policy so bureaucratic, data-driven, and business-friendly that such language seems bizarre.

    Anyway, it strikes me that the past few years have been rapidly dislodging this mythology. Meaning, 2008 was very much a battle over the 1969 dystopia. But in 2012 its losing its grip as a story. The Tea Party is held together by the dirty hippie myth, and they are increasingly becoming less grokable to the public.

    The biggest thing brewing, in my opinion, is this environmental lead theory. I know it sounds like conspiracy stuff, but the generation coming of age in the mid-60s and 1970s was exposed to a historically unprecedented amount of lead from the use of leaded gasoline, and we know that lead can affect the executive control functions of people exposed to it as children, as well as drop their general IQ. The lead theory is still considered fringe at this point, but if it was shown to be even partially true, you have to rewrite vast swaths of history. The very real spike in violence of the late 60s, 70s and early 80s would turn out to not be the result of lack of bathing or flaunting of the rule of law, but due instead to brain damage brought about by what had been a largely unregulated neurotoxin.

    At least partially. I know it sounds bizarre, but I can’t for the life of me find a flaw in the statistical presentations on the lead theory I’ve seen to date. It is a far stronger hypothesis than “Broken Windows”, but very little uptake; I think because we are still clinging to the last vestiges of the dirty hippie myth, a myth which is fundamentally opposed to the mass poisoning of youth narrative. Check out Kevin Drum on the lead story (http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasoline), and think about Manson as a witch story that actually explains an invisible pathology the nation is in the grip of. Like going after the occult in a time of plague. Fascinating if true, right?

  9. Reverend says:

    That comment is so awesome, and it will be the follow-up topic for class tonight, I will actually integrate it into a post I am writing now about Ted Bundy because I think it can actually fly pretty brilliantly with the whole vision of Mansonism versus Bundyism (we are now reading Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me which is all about your new hood!) in the 1970s—holding up party lines in fascinating ways. I will be pursuing the lead gasoline theory rabbit hole this afternoon in preparation for class tonight. Have I told you you were brilliant today? Thanks, and stay tuned!

  10. Pingback: From Mansonism to Bundyism | bavatuesdays

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