Counter Culture, Now and Then
Counter Culture, Now and Then:
When considering the influence of the Beat poets on the counter-culture revolution of 1960’s America, it is no wonder that even in today’s society counter culture is present- although it has drastically changed. The growing trend in American popular culture has changed from fitting into a specific way of life, or being viewed as one entity, to becoming known as a unique individual but still conforming to a specific way of life. This change in trends of course has been caused by the media- mainly the music industry with the growth in popularity of new forms of punk, and the “emo” genre. Counter culture of the past referred to a more political take, one that included questioning the morals and values of a society.
The most well known figure of the 1960’s counter culture is of course the hippie. Coming out of the beat generation American’s were beginning to get restless with their suffocating ways of life and wanted to rebel. Now before I continue I would just like to take a stance and clear up any negative stereotypes towards hippies that might be floating around. When most people hear the word hippie they think of some tie dye wearing, drugged up, Bob Dylan listening freak, who mooched off the government while sitting in a park smoking pot all day, singing songs about flower power and love. Although I am sure that some of the people involved in the Hippie movement were just there to skimp off the responsibilities of “respectable society”, as there are always negative influences involved with anything, they sadly gave the rest of the positive parts of this movement, and people a bad name.
What exactly were the Hippies trying to achieve? Inspired by Ginsberg, and his colleagues work, the Hippies were trying to achieve a higher state of consciousness that would free themselves from the materialistic values, and way of life. Everything from the colors, to the community focused way of life, and yes, even the drugs were used as an attempt to get people to think and question the world around them. Now I know it’s hard to get past the drugs use. Considering the fact that most of us have been taught by our parents or our educational institutions that drugs are bad, it is not hard to see why the Hippie movement has been given a bad name. What we have to understand is that the people of the sixties were not aware of the negative side effects of drugs during that period in time. It was not until many of these individuals became addicted by the end of the sixties that the effects of drug use was known to them.
Now when talking about the 1960’s counter-culture movement I cannot leave out the individuals who were protesting the war in vietnam. These individuals did not necessarily buy into the hippie way of life and took a different approach to protest. They held peaceful protests fighting for civil rights, the end of the war, and equal opportunities for women. Their fates however, were not all that different from the Hippies- both did not end well. Now here I have to touch briefly on Kent State because I think it is an important part of American history. I believe that Kent State signified the end of the counter-culture of the sixties and was the catalyst that pushed American’s into the very selfish age of the 1970’s.
For those of you who are not aware of what exactly Kent State was I will give you a quick summary of the events. As we all know university students were holding protests all over America mainly focused upon the war in Vietnam, all of which tended to followed a similar pattern- a formula for the order of events if you will. All of the protests would being peacefully, then some fights would break out, and then the national guard would be called in to help “put an end to the violence”. They would quickly begin tear gassing the crowd and beating them with their batons. The protest would end with a bad name and maybe even a few deaths. Now Kent Sate was really the most devastating of all these protests. It seemed to be the climax of all of the negative events that had occurred until then.
During Kent State the same type of pattern had begun. The national guards began tear gassing the crowd and a group of twenty students broke away from the crowd in an attempt to get away from the tear gas. The were chased by the national guard until they hit a dead end. At this point in time, the the national guard dropped into formation and opened fire on the unarmed students. A total of sixty-seven bullets were fired in thirteen seconds. Four students were killed and nine were critically wounded. No investigation was held and no one was held responsible for this event. As you can see the American people began to believe that if their government was willing to kill innocent students in order to silence the protests of the war, their counter-culture movements would do little to help end the war in Vietnam.
Counter Culture Today:
When comparing these individuals and their role in the 1960’s counter-culture you may understand my negative attitude towards the individuals involved in modern- counter culture. Instead of protesting things like the war, or materialism, modern counter-culture “protests” superficial trends, such as fashion, or encouraging self-expression by self-mutilation. The most well known counter culture figure of the millennium are the punks, and the emo’s. My problem with these individuals is their lack of substance to anything they are protesting, and the fact that they are actually conforming by refusing to conform to a specific way of life. If there are any individuals out there who do not agree with me I would be more than happy to hear your side of the story, for now I will present mine.
The emo was a product of the post-hardcore subculture. It has grown from just a musical genre to the creation of a handbook explaining how to look, dress, act and even how to think about the world around you. Now, I’ll admit I am not the type of person who enjoys judging people or grouping them into stereotypes, but for the most part these “emo kids” are quite happy to follow these stereotypes to a T because it is currently the “cool thing to do”.
Generally an emo must conform to a personality of being shy and introverted. They are often broken hearted and quiet. The dress of choice includes tight jeans and t-shirts, often bearing the name of emo bands, black thickly-framed glasses, and skate shoes. The hairstyle tends to be the same for all individuals. For males it is relatively short and brushed to cover one side of their face. It can be dyed black and is often straightened. For females their hair is also dyed black, often with streaks of blond underneath, also brushed to cover one side of the face, straightened, and relatively long. Lots of eye liner is key to complete this look. They will often write poetry dealing with anger, confusion, or depression. In a nut shell the emo is a quiet, misunderstood teen who has been associated with self-mutilation as an outward expression of the pain they feel within.
My response to the emo is simple, grow up! The fact of the matter is most of these kids come from strong middle class families and have no real reason to be depressed. This may sound harsh, but you have to admit it’s hard to sympathize with someone who has been given everything they need and want and has claimed to be depressed in order to fit in with the new fad that is currently part of popular culture. Now, I understand that depression is a serious problem that affects many teens, which is actually why this aspect of the emo way of life is so frustrating. They are taking a serious problem like teen depression and suicide and making it a cool trend. This is not only dangerous to the cognitive development of these individuals, but down right disrespectful to the population of teens actually suffering from depression. The emo image has become a joke, something heavily criticized and completely void of any individuality.
The punk movement began with good intentions. Ideally the punk lifestyle protests a restricted way of life- kind of like the hippies. The punk movement of the eighties was mainly concerned with an individuals right to freedom and a radical rejection to conformity. They believed that by buying into the mainstream way of life you were “selling out” for your own personal gain. Generally they leaned towards the left of the political spectrum and participated in many political protests focusing on global change, anti-capitalism, and even anti-racism, and sexism. However the punk spirit has quickly died out and all that is now left of it is its fashion, a sad fragment of it’s music, and a skewed view of rebellion as a popular way to express ones self.
Today’s punk is one that believes in anarchy and rebellion and strives to achieve this by dressing in a non-mainstream way. Ironically the whole ideal of protesting conformity has been lost with the punks new popularity in modern culture. It is now common to see several punks walking together dressed the same, acting the same, and speaking with the same mannerisms. I have heard an anecdote time and time again from the punk rocker Billie Joe about the true definition of a punk and what it has become. I will share this with you now:
“A guy walks up to me and asks ‘What’s Punk?’. So I kick over a garbage can and say ‘That’s punk!’. So he kicks over the garbage can and says ‘That’s Punk?’, and I say ‘No that’s trendy!’
Billie Joe has illustrated how today although the trend is towards striving to be an individual, individualism is feared, and in order to feel accepted we are all carbon copies of each other conforming to a specific set of guidelines telling us how to behave in order to be part of the latest social trend.
It seems that the original spirit of counter-culture founded by Ginsberg and the beat poets, has become a new way of conforming to a different set of societal trends. Instead of aiming for a better society, the new counter-culture movement strives towards the creation of unique individuals, but is torn apart by the collective force of consumer culture. It is a shame to think, that as the population of our world continues to grow, it’s people are becoming a mass collection of stereotypes to be ridiculed by the future generations.