Does counterculture even exist anymore? It’s a legitimate question, and one that’s been on my mind for some time now. This is especially concerning for myself as I consider what I do “counterculture” and have since the inception of this whole publishing/writing thing. You would be hard pressed to find a more concise example of counterculture than a Chicano writer/press – we are few and far between!
But first, what is counterculture? Well, it depends who you ask these days but for starters:
“A counterculture is a culture whose values and norms of behavior differ substantially from those of mainstream society, often in opposition to mainstream cultural mores. A countercultural movement expresses the ethos and aspirations of a specific population during a well-defined era.” – Wikipedia
There are numerous examples of counterculture in US history in the past 50 years and beyond – take your pick – punk, hippy, biker, gang, beat and countless others. When I started this whole thing, I was inspired by people who pushed back against the publishing mainstream and broke the rules; people like Henry Rollins, who started his own “punk” publishing company, 2.13.61. People who said, “Fuck you! I’ll published whatever the fuck I want!” That was bad-ass to me and I modeled my own publishing company after this example. To me, it was and still is “outlaw publishing” – that was the epitome of counterculture as far as I was concerned because publishing was and is so rigid, stuffy and highbrow with academics and million dollar publishing giants looking down their noses at anything that didn’t fit their model.
I was also inspired by books like The Anarchist Cookbook and the writing of Hunter Thompson just to name a few.
Now, many years later, I am wondering if counterculture even exists anymore. If it does, it’s hiding.
I cannot, for the life of me, think of a current counterculture movement. There is no more “punk.” Punk has gone mainstream. Hip hop? Mainstream. Anti-war movement? Disappeared. And I know what you’re thinking; how can I not view the current daily screeching/protesting/riots/arson/destruction of property and backlash that we experience (and have experienced) as counterculture? I’ll tell you – it’s simple really.
Newsflash: If the entire mainstream media, Hollywood in its entirety, all of network television, radio, the tech giants and industry…if popular culture on the whole, the whole of social media, politicians high and low, investors, all of professional sports, AND billion-dollar corporations support your movement? Then your movement is not counterculture. Your movement is mainstream. Your movement is not anti-establishment – your movement is the establishment.
To put it another way, if your movement is sponsored by McDonald’s, Starbucks, The New York Times, Disney, Google, Amazon, the mayor, city council, Congress, the local Kiwanis Club and your grandmother, then I’m sorry to say that it’s most definitely not a counterculture movement. In fact, it’s the antithesis of a counterculture movement.
Counterculture is supposed to be subversive. However, if the mainstream machine keeps embracing your subversiveness that tends to put a wrench in the whole operation doesn’t it?
For example, if you say, “I’m raging against the system, man!! I’m gonna burn this police station down!!” and then the mayor of said city gives their blessing, only to be followed up by a tweet of support by McDonald’s, then I’m sorry to say that you are most definitely not counterculture. You’ve been had.
So where does that leave us culturally..? That’s the thing; no one knows. Things are, to put it lightly, a mess.
But here’s another question; If there’s no counterculture, then who or what is the mainstream these days…?
That is also a complicated question as it seems there are several factions vying to take over and become thee “mainstream,” whatever that means any more. There are two cults right now that would love if everyone thought the same, looked the same, believed the same things and were all identical to each other. They both want to be in control and punish any who dissent. They’re both nuts.
Personally, I would argue that consumer culture is the true mainstream of our era and that has been consistent for some time now. The people pulling the strings are willing to wear whatever masks suits the current “movement” so long as people keep buying things. And so, people adhere to that. We buy. We consume. We obey, at least in terms of being a consumer culture on steroids.
And I don’t want to get overtly political here, as this is not a partisan opinion, just an observation from someone who started off as a counterculture press and writer, and who now finds myself in a weird place.
With the death of print, the number of underground publishers has become less and less, and of the ones that remain, most of them have tried to become mainstream in one way or another. Where are the weirdos? Where are the underground writers and artists?
I can count on my hand the number of print publications truly doing underground shit and for the sake of art, not sales. I count myself among them and I pay the price for that: banishment.
I remember about a decade ago, someone told me that the kids did not understand the concept of “selling out” and when you explained it to them, they failed to see the big deal. They didn’t care and that’s carried over into today’s world. Selling out seems to be the goal now.
So, you have this giant cultural disaster, where corporations are sponsoring subversive and rioters are endorsing corporations…and the media is still owned by only 5 mega-corporations, and those folks are hellbent on selling shit and the politicians are desperate for cultural pandering points, so they say and do whatever is a “hot take” at the moment, no matter how ridiculous it sounds or how contradictory it is to what they just said five seconds ago…and all I want to know is: does counterculture even exist anymore?
I don’t think it does.
It used to! And not that long ago! But alas, no mas.
I’ve long considered what I do “punk” and I’ve never shied away from that. I know what I’ve done with BSP thus far is countercultural because it’s long been the antithesis of the publishing mainstream – that was the entire goal of starting this endeavor. Corporate publishing giants have never knocked on my door looking to sponsor what I do and that suits me fine. I never sought that out with this venture and I never will. The press never gave a rat’s ass about what I do and you won’t find my books in any bookstores. Again, this is all fine as what I do has always been underground. It has always been that way, but these days I find myself so deep underground that I’m starting to question if there even is an underground any more.
I find myself with so few contemporaries these days. The number of writers and publishers pushing back against the mainstream and doing things for the sake of ART are few and far between now.
Where are all the subversive writers?
Where are the subversive artists and musicians?
Where is the underground these days??
Far too many seem hellbent on joining the mainstream now that it’s nauseating.
I’ve long considered Chicano culture to be countercultural but even that has been watered down and co-opted to the point that it’s nearly unrecognizable from what it once was, and the push to join the mainstream, both consumer and imaginary revolutionist, has taken over.
If you aren’t onboard with the mainstream messages you are to be shunned, banished or as i like to call it, brownlisted. I’ve been brownlisted now for a while now because I refuse to be a good little parrot and play the game. It reminds me of the era of Hollywood when people were blacklisted from working if they held (or were suspected of holding) certain beliefs. We are reliving that now.
And since we live in age where the meaning of words has become so diluted that words carry little weight these days, I wonder if we will ever recover from this era of wrongthink and though police. me thinks not for a very long time.
All of the musicians, writers, filmmakers and artists that inspired me growing up would be (and have been) given a scarlet letter in today’s stark raving mad and witch burning society. You don’t dare express an opinion that is out of line with the mainstream these days or you risk being burned at the stake…and so, many do not.
You would think that would create a vibrant and thriving counterculture but it has only resulted in silence.
And so, all of this has pushed down the narrative so far underground that I question if there even is an underground anymore. Maybe I’m wrong but when I put my ear to the ground and whisper, ” Hello! Is there anybody…out there?”
No one has responds.
I guess I can hope that someday, people will once again get the nerve and resolve to push back against the mainstream and start creating subversive art again, like I did and so many others did before me. But until that day, things seem very bleak.
We are truly in a new dark age as far as art and the freedom of expression go and that is depressing, at least for this subversive publisher.