The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test – Essay Example

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test The post-cold war era had many repercussions that reverberated through society, not the least of which was the transformation of the American middle class youth. Tom Wolfe was already a successful journalist when he plunged into the 1960s culture with his book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a classic work that defined much of the vocabulary and philosophy of the 1960s (“Tom Wolfe Bio”). In the book, the protagonist Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters travel the country in a painted bus, exploring both their personal and collective selves using LSD and other psychedelic drugs. The “bad trips” experienced by the Merry Pranksters are reminiscent of the larger underlying cold war paranoia, as evidenced by the nomadic nature of the psychedelic movement, the natural converging of the lost young middle class to the charismatic leadership Ken Kesey, and the rebellion against federal authority.
In one scene, Kensey compares himself to St. Paul and the early Christians stating, “if they shit on you in one city, move on to another city, and if they shit on you in that city, move on to another city” (Wolfe 29). This statement of the nomadic nature of the movement mirrors the lack of connection with the preceding generation experienced by the young middle class, while further emphasizing the cold war’s effect of creating a class of citizen with little feeling of control over their community structure. The movement is due in part to the empowerment of the indicidual accomplished nto through LSD, but in through the powerful leadership of the character Kensey, as evidenced by the passage “Kensey [was] the leader or teacher of the whole group, he becomes the chief” (Wolfe 18). In another passage, Wolfe describes federal agents as impending “FBI bodysnatchers”, likening federal authority to the alien villains of the popular 1956 film set to steal the individuality of the citizens (Wolfe 328). This further supports the concept that the post-cold war era resulted in a generation disconnected from authority, with very little sense of control or membership in their society.
The paranoia felt by Sandy is evidenced when Wolfe compares Sandy to a popular comic character, The Incredible Hulk, suggesting that underneath the surface lies a dangerous and unstable individual. As Sandy desperately seeks the approval of Kesey, a parallel is drawn to the state of society, in which the post cold-war youth desperately engages in a myriad of activities to demonstrate their disapproval of the former generations society (Wolfe 93). The character’s paranoia suggests that despite the giddy surface of psychedelic colors and emotion, a more sinister undertone exists, mirroring the political climate of the late 1960s. Sandy exhibit paranoia again stating “what do they really think of him? What are they planning?” which is followed by Kesey’s establishment of the “Power” game, clearly mirroring the balance of political power of the era (Wolfe 116). The “Power” game exhibits the level of disempowerment felt by the youth of the American middle class, leading to suspicion of authority figures.
Works Cited
Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. New York: Bantam Books, 1999. Print.
****You can access this edition online at
Tom Wolfe Bio. Tom Wolfe Homepage. 20 September 2010. ‹›.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Internet Film Database. 20 September 2010. ‹