Where’s the Counter-Culture?

In my last post, I grossly oversimplified a Marxist concept called “Alienation”. Today, I’ll be grossly oversimplifying the Marxist concept of dialectics.

Don’t give me any of that “Hegel said it first!” crap.

Boiled down to its basic components, it functions more or less as Newton’s third law of motion. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and that applies to society as well. Every spirit of the times is accompanied by a little inverted version of itself- or at least, its key values. Now according to dialectics, the conflict between these two opposites ultimately resolves in an evolved combination of the two, but in this post, we’re only addressing the first part.

Or at least, we would be if I could figure out what today’s counterculture is…

Think about it…

Look at the 1950s. For all the white-picket fences; sagely, pipe-smoking fathers; dutiful housewives/mothers, general patriotism and decency, and terror at the prospect of infiltration by degenerate Commies, there were greasers and bikers.

Despite the 1950s conjuring up images of idealized suburbia, this decade was the one that gave birth to rock and Hells Angels. Trafficking and dumping excrement and urine on their initiates doesn’t quite mesh with the general ideals of the time.

The same can be said for the sixties, which produced the hippies and the civil rights movement in the face of an otherwise conservative culture desperately trying to maintain the status quot.

Or the 70s, whose militancy and pessimism were a rejection of the peace, love, and hope values that arose during the previous decade.

Or the wildly egotistically and self-centered 80s producing (or at least, nurturing) anti-establishment and anti-corporate punks culture.

Even the 90s saw rise to goths, opposing the (comparatively) cheery and consumerist zeitgeist of the time.

So why not our era?

The Occupy Movement? I did consider them, but they don’t really fit the profile.

Despite being viciously cracked down on by the powers-that-be, the OWS protestors never really presented anything shockingly antithetical to the values we hold today. At least, not entirely.

Violence is (almost) universally decried as a means of protest and social change by all but those doing it. While America hasn’t seen much of it, continued rioting in Europe could very well mean not so much a brief outburst of rage as a entirely new perspective on what is and isn’t acceptable in society in general.

That’s one way of calling for social change…

Hipsters? I did briefly consider the whole Indy/Hipster movement as a possible subculture, and generally despised, the hordes of lost lumberjacks wandering the streets really don’t stand for anything that mainstream society is opposed to.

You are NOT a lumberjack and this is NOT Ok…

Annoying? Absolutely. Opposed to the spirit of the time? Not really. At most the hipster culture is guilty of desperately trying to cling to childhood nostalgia in the face of creative bankruptcy (see Evan’s post) and espousing thriftiness in the middle of a major economic depression (see my old post).

Bros. Everyone hates ’em, from their obnoxious machismo to their flaming skull t-shirts and spray-on tans.

Problem with this group is that it’s not a new group- just the latest reincarnation of the same kind of people. The same basic mentality can be found clear on back in Shakespeare’sRomeo and Juliet, which essentially starts with a bunch of bros crashing a party to pick up girls.

the 1890s, when “Bros” were called “Chums”…

Ok, so what if we look at what we have in society today and just invert it? What’s the major defining element of our generation? Technology. Internet and smartphones. Social media and memes. Anonymous and scams. The opposite of all this would be the primitivist subculture, right? The people who don’t wash or shave and live in compounds in the middle of nowhere.

And while it makes sense theoretically, we’re just not seeing a vibrant primitivist counterculture or even subculture. Even when you add in the survivalist subculture (in case you don’t know, those are they guys who think the gum’mint out ta git ’em), there’s still not exactly a rising trend in people learning how to skin squirrels or live in total harmony with the earth-mother.

What about these guys?

This site (which I’ll be delving more deeply into next week) really does seem to have an actually beef with contemporary culture- specifically in regards to men. Offering instructions on how to polish your shoes, store your fedora (you’re expected to have one, and if you don’t, to go out and get one), shave (or trim your beard, if that’s your thing), throw a punch, or patch a hole in your drywall (holes may be caused by punching it). In a lot of ways, the reverence this site has for the “traditional” concept of what a man ought to be like is reflective of a more general reaction against skinny jeans and YouTube comment section debates. While the site itself has a devoted cult following (and not a ton else), I have seen this general sentiment expressed, and I’m seeing it expressed more and more. Granted, I might be too close to the issue to be seeing it clearly- I myself think guys wearing skinning jeans should be put in stocks for all the village children to throw dead animals at- but perhaps you’ve run into this too. Just last night I heard a comedian complaining that the current generation were (in short) wimps. Gone, he said, were the days when you could chuck a television set out of a hotel window after some drug-fueled rock band had just given human decency the finger via a seven minute guitar solo. Another comedian remarked that “Our fathers would never take the crap we’re taking… the founders revolted because of a 3% tax increase- we won’t even riot when we’re being forced to strip down at an airport!”.

There is doubtlessly a certain mystique and appeal to the figure of powerful, well-dressed men, sitting around roaring fires, puffing on cigars and sipping aged scotch to celebrate that they were in complete control of their lives. Plenty of guys today would give their right arms to be Don Draper.

Though ideally minus the aggressive lung cancer and liver failure…

And interestingly enough, this general “Manly” reaction against emotionalism, appearance (over functionality), pacifism/nonviolence, and interdependence has elements from each of the cultures I described above. There’s the primitive concept of being free from dependence on technology that bears a similarity to the DIY slogans espoused by the “Manly”. There’s the “if you gotta punch a guy, you gotta punch a guy” mentality that seems related to the Black Bloc protest tactics. The simplicity of the Hipsters is here, and even the general “I am Man, here me roar” vibe seems to be a more sane version of Bro machismo.

But that’s all just a theory. Might be true- might be just a passing fad, though if it is just a fad, then we’re back at square one with a rather uncomfortable question.

If there is no counter-culture- what does that say about our culture today? Have we reached a point where we’re so pluralistic and tolerant and multicultural that everything’s acceptable- or is there just nothing substantial to rebel against? If there’s no antithesis, is there even a thesis?

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4 responses to “Where’s the Counter-Culture?

  1. Maybe we’re just the synthesis. =P

  2. I think it’s the first. Relativism has worked its way out in western civilization to the point where almost no one believes in anything enough to fight for it. The result is subjectivism and self-centeredness and everyone just doing his or her own thing, sitting in front of his or her own TV, looking at Facebook, watching movies. “Almost,” I say…

  3. In a thoroughly secular popular culture traditionalism is the new radicalism.

  4. It seems to me that the five decades that were mentioned, 50’s ~ 90’s, and their supposed counter cultures were essentialized in this article.
    I think that the pluralism, tolerance, and multiculturalism that you applied to “our culture today” has been present in previous decades.
    example, the “primitivist” culture that you mentioned, and momentarily nominated as today’s potential counterculture, has been around for all those decades, Thoreau, who some people the father of this movement, was a popular thinker even before the XX century.
    Yet in this post “primitivism” isn’t a candidate for the 50’s~90’s counter-cultures.

    It is true that the movements that you assigned to each decade are broadly accepted to have been the counter-culture to the culture of their times…I feel though, that this visibility is the result of many other factors, and not just their symmetrically opposing set of values regarding the mainstream-culture of their times.
    Other factors such as their post facto marketability (something we can’t afford to ignore in post-industrial America), their own (loudness and) desire for visibility, etc.

    darn it, this is gettin way too long.

    I’ll just get to the point, the reason I felt compelled to reply (which is not very often the case for me) is that even though I enjoyed the post…the ending seemed too pessimistic, and also left me with only two options, the “manly” reaction or no counter-culture (and presumably no culture,)
    which made me look back at the rest of the post again.

    I think that this idea that “today isn’t that great” or culturally exciting, or in cultural decline has been around for a while, some call it American Declinism
    http://nymag.com/news/frank-rich/declining-america-2012-7/

    I am pretty excited about our generation, simply questioning culture, which you are doing and I assume anyone reading this is…is pretty radical.
    and these popular, historically preserved, counter-cultures that we idolize today…I’m not sure that in their time they were collectively looking around saying *we are the counter culture*…it’s hard to define what will be remembered about our times today, yet it is definitely fun which why i like to read you guys, but reaction is definitely happening somehow.

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