Here’s a creepy story for Halloween. And it’s all true.
Half a century ago — on the first of March 1965, to be exact — there emerged from the midst of the increasingly excited and politicized student body at the University of California at Berkeley a new twice-a-month publication with the ominous title Spider. It reported and commented on the turmoil among student activists, including the affray nicknamed the “filthy speech movement” in parody of the earnest Free Speech Movement of the previous fall. But everyone was in a good mood, because the FSM had been a great success, achieved entirely by nonviolent means, so students could feel virtuous as well as successful.
Spider was intended not only to arouse the student masses but to épater les bourgeois, that is, shock their parents and the public, by focusing on six worry-inducing topics. And what were they? That’s where the publication got its name. Spider is an acronym (or initialism). Each letter of Spider is the first letter of one of the six topics.
Now these were not the “seven words you can never say on television” made famous by George Carlin in 1972. (Those are also words you shouldn’t put in a family-friendly publication like The Chronicle, so I won’t repeat them here. You can look them up.)
No, these topics consist of words acceptable to all audiences. But put them together, and it was Spider’s aim to suggest a web of subversive conspiracy, scaring the citizenry and at the same time satirizing their fears.
What do you think those topics were? I’ll tell in a minute, but see if you can guess. As a hint, here are titles of six Spider articles that exemplify those topics:
“Saturday Night at the Nudies.” (March 1, review of movies.)
“The Perverted Politics of Pluralism.” (March 1.)
Dialogue that begins “Bourgeois idealist party pooper!” (March 1.)
“Morning Glory Report.” (Remember? “You can get high on morning glory seeds.”) (March 15.)
“Burn, Baby, Burn! Spider interviews four witnesses to the Watts uprising.” (October 13.)
“Down and Out Poverty-Stricken Lovesick Plagiarism Blues.” (October 13.)
There were many other features too, including poetry like Hunter S. Thompson’s “Collect Telegram From a Mad Dog,” crossword puzzles, a lengthy parody of Paradise Lost, and interviews with the likes of Kenneth Anger and Paul Krassner. And a spider in pen and ink on every cover.
You can sample the contents of Issue 5 (May 24) here.
Ready now? Here’s what Spider stood for:
Rock ‘n’ roll
Would uppity students (if there are any nowadays) and upright citizens be concerned about the same topics today? Well, sex will be with us as long as we have a human race, and politics and drugs continue unabated. International Communism, however, is vanished, and rock ‘n’ roll seems harmless now, no matter how shocking its practitioners try to be. And extremism? If anyone’s extreme, it tends to be the right-wing pro-gunners and anti-taxers.
Those six concerns have gone their separate ways since 1965. But Spider reminds us that there was indeed a time when they all seemed to go together, to the thrill of the young baby boomers (many a.k.a. hippies) and the horror of everyone else. Happy Halloween!