For nearly half of a century, fragments of our society have continually made outward attempts to create and popularize movements that try to ‘go against’, ‘take over’ or ‘change’ popular culture; in even more far-fetched examples, ‘change’ society as a whole. This idea, as referred to by Roszak in the 1960’s, is commonly known as “counterculture”. A counterculture movement takes one or multiple social norms from established culture that it is in opposition to, and fights said norms. This idea of “culture jamming”, a term coined by the San Franciso area band Negativland, is built on a hope that a counterculture movement can reshape the norms it tries to destroy, into ones which suit its’ needs and ideologies. In the vast majority of cases, the objective of counterculture has not even remotely been reached; in fact, most attempts have failed miserably, unable to attract even the most minute amount of noteworthy attention or following.
However, not all counterculture movements have failed. Perhaps the three most cited examples of counterculture making a more than negligible impact are the rise of rock and roll music and electric guitars in the early fifties; the hippie, anti-war and free love movements of the late sixties; and the rise of grunge music, along with the attitude of rebellion and freedom of youth in the early nineties. These three movements were anything but failures: they all gave rise to icons – the Elvis Presleys, the Jimi Hendrixes, the Kurt Cobains – who are still revered today; and they all had a transformative impact on society, garnering mass media attention, massive followings, perhaps even bringing change among the masses, and creating ripples which emanated throughout society for years afterwards.
This, however, brings to light a truer – and more severe – problem that plagues counterculture. Think once more about the objective of counterculture from before; a fight against mainstream societal norms that results in said norms being modified or changed entirely. The entire point of this goal is to go against the grain; to be different; to be anti-popular. However, if a counterculture movement succeeds in its’ goal, if it should gain popularity to the point where the majority subscribes to it, then it is no longer counterculture: it IS the culture; it inherently becomes the very thing that it fought, sometimes for years, to destroy. In converting the masses who “sell out”, those same masses – along with those already following the counterculture – are just selling out to a different brand, a different corporation, a different ideology, a different genre.
This could be viewed as simply meaning that counterculture is a pointless ideal, but it is something much more sinister: the idea of counterculture is a complete falsehood. Whether it is viewed as but an impossible fantasy, or as an outright lie, in the end counterculture has never existed in the way that it has tried to, and never can: counterculture, when defined by...