A Mainstream Counterculture?

I read an article in the newest issue of Adbusters entitled “Hipster: the dead end of western civilization.” The article ironically used gritty hipsteresque photos of American Apparel-clad twenty-somethings as well as deft observations: “ten years ago a man wearing a plain V-neck tee and drinking a Pabst would never be accused of being a trend follower. But in 2008, such things have become shameless cliches…”

It’s an interesting and keenly observant article. However, the conclusion alluded to in the title is misguided. The writer portrays the Hipster movement as if it is the most recent heir in a rich tradition of countercultures which ends the line of succession by absorbing the mainstream, rather than rejecting it, and eventually exploding… or maybe imploding. I’m not sure. The “exploding/imploding” metaphor is mine, not his. Regardless, he says the movement ends, taking Western civilization with it.

This is where he goes wrong. Not by failing to use my metaphor or suggesting an abrupt end to Western civilization, but by suggesting that the movements of the past were right and this new one is wrong because it’s become too trendy.

In modern American history we truly have had a string of counter-cultural movements in the post-WWII era. There were the beats, the hippies, punk, hip-hop, grunge… and all of the variations and offshoots in-between. And all of them became commercialized and mainstream in some capacity. It is the end result of every compelling modern movement.

But this article forgot to mention the true countercultural movement of today. The social justice movement. It’s movement of young people all over America, and the rest of the developed world, informing themselves of the global plight of humanity.

Those of us born after 1980 are the first generation that has grown up with the internet, allowing us to not only learn about remote regions of the world, but to communicate with those regions in real-time. And then, in a matter of seconds, we can just as easily purchase a plane ticket for a visit .

The movements of the 1960s did great things, but the majority of the changes produced affected primarily Americans, rather than the rest of the world. I’m aware that Kennedy started the Peace Corps in the 1960s and that many of the revolutionary events involved the Vietnam war in some way, but there can be no comparing the global understanding of that age and ours.

Unfortunately the marketing world has become too observant to let this movement develop untainted. GAP has its Red campaign selling clothes that benefit HIV/AIDS relief in Africa. And we also have Tom’s shoes. Toms is the company that donates a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair you buy. They now sell $120 boots that look like an Ace bandage wrapped around your calf. It’s a good idea for a socially conscious company. It’s just funny to see a pair of Toms as an accessory to an outfit that includes a pair of $300 sunglasses. [full disclosure: I’m wearing Tom’s as I write this. And tight-fitting jeans. Yes, apparently I’m a hipster too, damnit.]

However, even with this mainstream aspect, the social justice movement is still counter-cultural. What’s more counter to American culture than a movement rejecting political boundaries, and striving for just treatment for everyone, regardless of which side of an arbitrary line a human was born? Obviously we can be sedated by the ads into thinking this is just a fad.

But I believe there’s too much information being communicated out there for this to be the case for everyone. And we as a generation have experienced too much of this first-hand. If I had enough fingers and toes, I could count for days the number of people I know who’ve been to or even lived in a third-world country.

This is why the isolationist approach of the past does not take hold on our generation. This is why we don’t give in to blind patriotism. This is why we don’t want to just bomb the hell out of our “enemies”. We’ve looked into their eyes, and can see from their perspective. We want reconciliation. We want to talk.

No, the aimless, self-involved hipsters are not the counterculture of our generation. It’s the global revolutionaries.

The Calico Rebellion

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “A Mainstream Counterculture?

  1. The Kagga, Esq.

    The movements of the 1960s were global, not just American. There were student rebellions all over the world, basically everywhere but here in Cambridge where “rebellion” consisted of students walking on the grass. Check out the riots in France, Germany or Mexico in 1968.

    I donno though, man. I’ve been abroad for 4 out of 5 years now and China and Russia still scare the crap out of me. I try to see their perspective, but it’s hard. Our perspective seems to be that their perspectives are controlled by a state media, which leaves us talking to the heads of state, which seem to be the problem makers to begin with. So I’m not sure yet how much the new global world in real time is going to make things easier, or just shift the terms of engagement.

    You should xanga.

  2. wes

    agree with the kagga, esq.

  3. i think the “end of western culture” thought is pretty silly, and adbusters is just mimicing fox news or cnn or whoever makes armageddon appear at each news event, in order to catch eyes.

    i take note of the backlash that Bono gets from his work in Africa “being trendy,” and think, the end of western civilization or culture happens when selfless or semiselfless acts become trendy and then are despised only in their popularity and not in the actual substance of the act. that kind of cynicism is an infinite regress into nihilism and true, well-earned despair.

    i wonder if we could simply worry less about the social status of a particular subculture (i love skate subculture still, and have been listening to very ex-trendy punk and grunge lately, and proto-emo, just because it takes me back to some nostalgic times in life and i love it and think there is beauty there), worry less about the status and just enjoy what we happen to enjoy. like ag-kids do, under the radar but definable in style and lifestyle.

    and i like that one of your tags is “Pabst”

  4. good food for thought man. the joys of globalization, right? I kinda like where dustin is coming from, though watching how things seem to play out in places like china does make it hard to trust some people fully. and I guess that’s the big risk.

    good we have nukes on standby just in case. : )

    and those toms shoes are nuts. want to know who they remind me of?

  5. calicorebellion

    Good points Kagga. Russia scares the hell out of me, especially in light of the last couple weeks.

    And the Luke Skywalker comparison is no doubt legit.

  6. dav78

    A combo response to this post and your post on depression and the artist:

    Check out Herbert Marcuse and the idea of the Great Refusal.
    The role of the artist is to question the validity of established reality (this is the part the hipsters don’t get; they’ve been sold this lifestyle, they pay the established reality to provide them with it), great art is such because it refuses to adhere to norms, refuses to accept the assumptions of the moment. It’s possible to understand the artists’ depression as the natural outgrowth of accepting the role of the outsider necessary to contribute to a Great Refusal of norms and dogma–that can be an isolating experience and isolation (whether physical, intellectual or emotional) is depression’s advance guard.

    Or not. It may also be that artists are simply the people best equipped to express the feelings of isolation, hopelessness and loss that far more people than we realize suffer from. It may be that most people are not afforded the chance to reflect on their own experience, to read the philosophy and study the ideas that would reveal the meaning of their anxiety to them; most people are never equipped with the tools that they need to recognize in order to recognize their own unhappiness, their own frustration. Instead they are taught that their feelings of longing and dissatisfaction are a signal that something is wrong with them, so they hide it from the world, afraid of being rejected based on what they believe to be a personal defect. As a result, too many people who might otherwise be coalescing around the type of refusal-to-be-ruled and demand-to-be-free (or perhaps refusal-to-be-isolated and demand-to-be-connected) that you have called the Calico Rebellion are taking drugs sanctioned by the state, and prescribed by pushers in lab coats that are designed and advertised to make potential revolutionaries, potential brothers and sisters in the fight for justice and the prioritization of humanity over material feel more like shopping and less like rebelling against the very same system that has frustrated them to the point of seeking medical help in the first place.

    Thanks for writing.

  7. calicorebellion

    Well Dav78, I’d have to differ with you on several points. I definitely do not believe the role of an artist is to merely question the status quo. I most definitely believe that can and usually should be a part of the artist’s role, but to limit it to that serves another agenda.

    An artist should be a truth seeker, whether or not that fits into established social confines. Both are necessary.

  8. Stewart

    This is good stuff. Keep it up.

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