Countering Culture

josh hadley | the shadows of pop culture | march 2017

I never wanted to join the counter culture, I just kind of did, and as things are now, the counter culture has an important role to play.

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 '80s and early '90s, 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 '80s 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 '70s, which was built upon the counter culture of the '60s, and then, in turn, on that of the '50s. 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 '60s made fun of and looked down on the beatniks of the '50s. The more "enlightened" hippies of the '70s looked down on the '60s hippies. The '80s punks looked down on the hippies all together. The "grunge" morons of the '90s looked down on the punks of the '80s 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?

Counter culture isn't as clearly visible today as in the '70s and '80s. Perhaps it is still there, but not in a way that I recognize. In a strange and painful way, I think hipsters 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 screw 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 than I like the output from Marvel or DC." The 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 enjoyed them more than the mainstream alternative. 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 so different than most of the tripe being sold.

Do you become counter culture simply by reading, watching, listening, believing what is generally thought of as 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 way as any cult, the same way as the mainstream indoctrinates the mainstream consumer.

Why do I like punk? I like the music, I like the girls, 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. I don't read out of a sense of obligation to read that magazine as some do. 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. I am a true independent. I hate Republicans and I hate Democrats equally. Most people don't live life, they live a lifestyle. A lifestyle is not a life. Once you choose a lifestyle (or worse yet, have a lifestyle chosen for 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. Here the great quote from “Videodrome" applies: "Videodrome is dangerous. It has a philosophy. And that is what makes it dangerous."

You become part of your cultural niche despite your best efforts.

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 and I started to look elsewhere. I found what stimulated my mind, 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 ... and that it did not need a defining characteristic. It just was what it was and if you used those ideals, fine, if you didn't, fine. But today, it's almost like a cult with a manifesto and its 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. Party unity is more important than bettering society. They join the club, join the mainstream or join counter culture; they join up and they stop being individuals and instead become a cog that runs their particular machine. You become so indoctrinated into what you think you should believe that you stop actually thinking. All the attempts to change society only resulted in changing what society was defined as, not society itself. When you stop being counter to the culture, you become the culture. We lost this war the moment that we became the mainstream.


A fiercely confrontational and arrogant critic whose stubborn nature makes him immanently readable and equally angering, Josh Hadley is a writer for magazines such as Hustler, Fangoria, Paracinema, Shadowland, Grindhouse Purgatory and Cashers du Cinemart, as well as a radio host on Jackalope Radio. Find more from him at 1201beyond.com, a website that only the most anti-social personalities would engage.

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