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