Friday, April 16, 2010

Underground Newspapers on Microfilm: San Francisco Oracle

The Underground Newspaper Microfilm Collection in the San Francisco Public Library, Main Branch, comprises a twentieth century revolution in graphic arts, journalism, politics, morality and culture. The reporters, editors, idealists, students, activists, crusaders and adventurers who created the alternative print culture of the 1960s were the original dreamers; precursors to the electronic architects of counter-culture Internet media today. In a time of growing social, political, and philosophical polemics, the San Francisco Oracle was born from the need to express a more visual and transcendent cultural radicalism.

Or, as co-founder Allen Cohen once said, "The Oracle was not planned, it was discovered."

Merging the Haight-Ashbury community it served with experimental graphics and journalism in tune with an acid-tinged Orientalia redolent of pacifism and generational promise, the Oracle was a triumph of both quixotic impracticality and newly-available offset printing. With the ability to bring 'camera ready' pages (heavy on the art and graphics, lighter on the text) to an offset print shop at drastically reduced rates (far less than the old letterpress costs of operation), the monthly Oracle was an immediate creative and countercultural citywide success by late Fall of 1966. Artistically peaking with original run issues #4 through #12, the Oracle embraced the talents of Steve Levine, Travis Rivers, Gabe Katz and many others who wrote and designed the paper on site in the Haight at Jay and Rod Thelin's Psychedelic Shop. This fleeting period of seventeen months coincided with San Francisco's 'flower-power' era, and the Oracle bled with illuminated rainbows of split fountain colors and blossomed with an almost utopian insistence . . . .

It was the San Francisco Oracle that called together, on New Year's Day, 1967, the youth enmasse Golden Gate Be-in . . . "a union of love and activism...will finally occur ecstatically when Berkeley's political activists and hip community and San Francisco's spiritual generation all over California meet for a gathering of tribes . . ."

Historically tied to the first generation of underground American newspapers as much by chronology as by a hopeful and sincere spirit of community, the Oracle reflected an inexplicable vision of artful, intricate, childlike fantasy and a genuine humanist affirmation predating the psychedelics of commodity and the sort of cynical, fast food, turned-on hippie paraphernalia designed for sale to tourists. The Oracle's mission was to be "a graphic expression of man's highest ideals: music, art, ideas, prophesy, poetry and the expansion of consciousness through drugs."

To view the San Francisco Oracle (and our entire collection of Underground Newspapers) on microfilm, visit the Magazine and Newspapers Center on the fifth floor of the San Francisco Public Library, Main Branch. See also our San Francisco History Center for related items of interest.

No comments: