Even when I was a teenager, my feeling about the entire “counterculture” thing was that it was all rather juvenile, like a kiddie playing with the contents of his diaper, or a teenager “bravely” telling his father all he – the kid – knows about economics. In other words, it struck me as a pose, empty of content.
I was right and wrong.
Every culture has some sort of counterculture within it, the opposition to what most people see/believe/like. How strong that counterculture is and how opposed to the actual culture depends not so much on how functional the culture is, as on how many different voices can be heard. Paradoxically, the more uniform the culture, the more conformity is enforced, the stronger and more serious the counterculture will be, although it often doesn’t diverge that much from the main culture.
I suspect that when Western culture enforced conformity more strongly, and there were greater penalties for sticking out, the “counterculture” was both more vibrant and less divergent.
I know in Portugal, at 14, I could be totally counterculture by merely wearing jeans in many circles. And under 10 in the village, I was a counterculture of one by wearing pants (my mother was convinced any cold breeze would make me sick) in winter, which just wasn’t done for girls.
The reason the self-proclaimed counterculture I saw (screaming for attention) all around in the seventies was a pose devoid of content is that there was no opposition to it. In fact – particularly in Europe – designers and respectable artists were starting to take cues from it, and at least dress the party if not go all out.
In fact the college newspapers, the free magazines, and the “hip” people had to keep staking out an ever-more extreme pose, in order to attempt to shock people, and concentrated on potty-subjects and not particularly controversial pot shots at what they imagined was the establishment (it wasn’t, not by then) because they wanted to feel daring and shocking. They were neither.
Mind you, my view of the seventies is colored by my having been delivered, as a teenager, to a land of elephant bells, middle-aged men with unbuttoned shirts exposing a landscape of overgrown hair, clunky, tasteless jewelry, and the bizarre idea that if you weren’t sleeping with everyone who asked you were “repressed.” (Even the “what’s your sign” pickup line was preferable to the “you are repressed” line.)
From my perspective, everyone was trying to get into everyone’s pants 24/7, or at least pretending like they were getting into everyone’s pants 24/7. Any attempt at restraint in anything, really, got the “repression” line. There really were no barriers to knock down and the only thing the counterculture could have really done was become aesthetic or ascetic, either of which would have shocked the living daylights of most of the purveyors of mainstream “culture” in the seventies… or today.
Since then the pose of the “counterculture” has only hardened, now into a bizarre “chic Marxism.” The left’s catechism requires that they think of themselves as the underdog, even though they took over most of the institutions sometime in the sixties, and screamed loud enough that the institutions they don’t control are zombies doing their will anyway.
Remember that commercial some years ago where an executive tells one of his employees that he’s doing something or other to “stick it to the man”? The employee answers, “But, sir, you are the man.”
It is more or less exactly like that. For the last fifty years or so, the left has run our cultural institutions (and largely our politics) while striking a pose as the brave hero, taking down the evil oppressors.
In science fiction publishing, this has required a remarkably short-term memory, as each generation of editors wants to publish “the marginalized” who are marginalized only in the publishers’ (and the compliant authors’) imaginations. They do insane things like announce that they now will hire by demographic numbers. They inform everyone of how important it is to buy the correct authors, who are some form of minority/downtrodden, never caring what the actual book is or if anyone wants to read it. Apparently, now literary agents (I stopped using the critters years ago) put on their websites they don’t want European Fantasy, because apparently selling books that the majority of people want to read is a bad thing. I swear if they could find a one-legged, lesbian, transgender Pacific Islander, all the publishing houses would send reps to buy her book, even if she were illiterate and couldn’t string two words together. If she hated science fiction, that might be a plus in their minds.
And my poor field is not the only one thus affected. I hear reports from everywhere in the culture front, and even some STEM fields, and while they’re more discreet the rot is everywhere.
It seems to have persuaded most cultural “tastemakers” to pursue a taste that no one has succeeded in making.
At least, thank heavens, the left’s sudden turn into Puritanism has saved us from badly scrawled comics about potty jokes. On the other hand, their girrrrl power obsession means that we have to endure people who paint with vaginal secretions [they mean vulva, really. They’re kind of stupid], knit wool kept in their vaginas and in fact do everything with their vagina, except the intended [and interesting] use.
In fact, part of the reason the left is insane – only part, Trump’s election is the other part – is because they’ve staked out their entire identity on being “shocking” and what we used to call “pour epater les bourgeois” — which translates roughly as “to shock the middle class.”
But they’ve been at it too long. And their schtick is now performed in the best venues. The middle class has gone so far past shocked that most of us are asleep.
Naked theater? Theater with live sex? Art featuring any or all of the above: sexual organs, defecation, garbage?
No, none of that will shock us. It’s been done to death. Now, I won’t say it won’t disgust us, but if you think disgust is shock, you might have other problems.
Then there are the written arts… It would be daring and groundbreaking to have a transgendered lesbian as a superhero if anyone was explicitly against this. But no one is. You just need to give us more than the “transgressive” qualities of the character to interest us. Largely they don’t, so we yawn some more.
But you know what shocks the middle classes in many places? Particularly those “well to do” places fairly well in the grip of the current Marxist establishment? A belief in the free market, individual rights, those liberties guaranteed in the Constitution. I have a gay friend in NYC who can render people speechless by displaying his voter registration. Yes, he’s a registered Republican. It is so shocking he doesn’t normally do it because some people become hysterical. I’ve managed to make most of my field try to — for real — marginalize me by coming out as a small-l libertarian (or a Constitutionalist, if you prefer).
We are the counterculture. What we create is vibrant and interesting because we are breaking the taboos of the oppressive over culture.
Those sad people writing about ever smaller and more oppressed minorities? Boring. The pathetic artists sculpting penises and smearing strange substances on themselves? They are the equivalent of the academic style in art, in its dying days. They have nothing new to say or to show.
But we? We can still blow all the taboos and barriers without even trying.
Write interesting fiction, about people who aren’t uniformly scum and who have actual values? Ooooh, daring. Paint interesting pictures that adhere to rigorous laws of craft? Wow, mind-blowing. Have a happy marriage and raise non-crazy children? The left hasn’t heard of that in years.
Sure, the left will howl at you and call you names. The dominant culture always does. That’s how you know you’re expanding people’s horizons.
And, boy, do we.
We are the counterculture. We are the very much needed ferment in the stale culture of the west.
Arise and create! Live lives that amaze and scare the left! You can do it by adhering to your principles and being a decent human being.
Our very existence threatens everything they are and believe in.
In the end, we win they lose. Until then, let’s rock their worlds and blow their minds.