I never wanted to join the counter culture, I just kind of did.
I recently read a well written article about how Punk (as a lifestyle) was meaningless. While I agreed with the writer in most aspects, he was either taking it way to seriously or not seriously enough it was kind of unclear but anyway… I think he was just as wrong as he was right which got me to thinking, when did the counter culture cease to be important and become either a joke or simply pointless? What happened to counter culture? At what point did counter culture become the culture itself and is that a good thing or a bad thing?
I have always allied myself more with the anti-authority/anti-corporate/anti-mainstream side of anything and I was very much part of the counter culture of the 80’s and early 90’s, a counter culture that now seems to be a joke amongst today’s culture (something I will never understand). How is it that all the stuff we did in the 80’s to “shock and awe” the cultural mainstream is nothing more than a meme or a punchline? Sure, we built our counter culture movement on what was done in the 70’s which itself built upon the counter culture of the 60’s and they in turn on that of the 50’s but what I am asking is, how does each one get swallowed so thoroughly by the next one that the original gets lost in the static? I mean, the hippies of the 60’s made fun of and looked down on the beatniks of the 50’s. The more “enlightened” hippies of the 70’s looked down on the 60’s hippies. The 80’s punks looked down on the hippies all together. The “grunge” morons* of the 90’s looked down on the punks of the 80’s and everyone today looks down on the “grunge” morons. Each movement absorbed, reconstituted and then spat back the previous counter culture movements. What in general happened to the counter culture? I don’t see the counter culture today as easily as I did in the 70’s and 80’s. Perhaps it is still there and it just not as visible but somehow I don’t think I missed it so much as it is just not there anymore, at least not there in a way that I recognize. In a strange and painful way, I think hipsters (those douchenozzles that are only happy being so far out of the mainstream that they fail to see just how mainstream they truly are… all ironically by the way) are the new counter culture; at least they want to be even if they do not succeed at it.
The counter culture I grew up with was less of a “I want to fuck the system and I don’t ever want to be seen as part of that system” and more “I just happen to really like these black and white comics from this small publisher far better then I like the output from Marvel or DC” (same principle applies to the music I listen to, the books I read, the movies I enjoy and so on, I didn’t chose them to be contrary, I chose them because I legitimately enjoyed them more than the mainstream material). I didn’t blast The Dead Kennedys from my car driving to school because I wanted to “shock” my neighbors, I did it because I love the music. I read Hunter S. Thompson not because he was “cool”, I read Thompson because he was a great writer and something that was indeed so different than most of the tripe being sold to you. Do you become “counter culture” simply by reading/watching/listening/BELIEVING what is generally thought of counter culture ideals or does it take a conscious effort to be part of this nondescript group of idealists? If you see the cracks in society and feel as if you are no longer part of the mainstream society does that baptize you into the counter culture? Is there a specific point, on a recognizable level, where you make that shift or is it so organic that you just evolve into it?
Punk Rock and the Punk movement, as an example, sold out the moment that it became a real movement. Punk no longer was a way of thinking and acting, now it was a way for an army to act. You had the uniform, the soundtrack, the thoughts… you were indoctrinated the same as any cult, the same as the mainstream did to, well, the mainstream. Why do *I* like Punk? I like the music, I like the girls (a punk rock girl is hot as hell to me), I like the clothes, I like the ideals of Punk as it formed and before it became nothing more than fashion. I like it for what I see the original un-doctored form as opposed to what it became. I don’t consider myself a punk as a way to define or confine myself into group, I do so because I feel that is what I am, nothing more, nothing less. I read Adbusters because I like the articles therein and I like their anti-corporate stance as it falls in line with my own, but not out of obligation to read that magazine as some people I know. I very much view myself as a true individual, I do fall into certain groups but those groups are not of my choosing, they simply have similar ideals to that which I hold, nothing more. Most people don’t live life, they live a lifeSTYLE. A LIFESTYLE, not a life. Once you choose a lifestyle (or worse yet, have a lifestyle choose you) then there is no more you, there is only the lifestyle and the dictates of that lifestyle. You cease being a person and you commence being a consumer, not of product although that does come with the chosen lifestyle, but a consumer of the ideal that your lifestyle mandates.
I never made a decision (at least consciously) that I wanted to “become part of the counter culture”, I simply started to get sick of what I was seeing in the mainstream and I started to look elsewhere, I found what stimulated my mind and ideals so I guess I just kind of stumbled into it really. I know others that sought it out but I was never wanting to look at the abstract idea of counter culture as something you could join like a club, I always wanted to believe that counter culture simply was… just was and that it did not need a defining characteristic. It just was what it was and if you used those ideals therein, fine, if you didn’t… fine… but today it’s almost like a cult with a manifesto and it’s own rules. The divide in America has grown so wide that the culture and counter culture have both become thugs taking shots at one another without really knowing WHY they are doing so. Most people in America (on both “sides”) follow the path that they do, not out of some deep seated ideal or abstract belief, but out of a need to fit into the whole of society. They align themselves as a Republican or a Democrat because they feel that is how they SHOULD think and not because of what they actually think. They join the club be part of the mainstream or as part of the counter culture; they join up and they stop being individuals and they begin to become nothing more than a cog that runs their particular machine. You become so indoctrinated into what you THINK you should believe that stop actually thinking and simply start believing, which is the path to being co-opted by something you started out with as being fodder for change. All of your attempts to change society only resulted in changing not society, but what society was defined as. You got absorbed into the mainstream, yes, the counter culture has become mainstream and yet the mainstream did not become counter culture in response… hmmmm…. When you stop being counter to the culture, then you become the culture. We lost this war the moment that we became the mainstream.
*See, I just did it myself, I can’t stand that “grunge” bullshit and I took at shot at them, so I am just as guilty.