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 Hippies:
     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.

“Peaceful” Protests:
     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:
     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 Punks:
     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.


27 Responses to “Counter Culture, Now and Then”

  1. I agree with everything you said about emo’s and punks, though you’ve inspired me to live like the punks of the past. Self-expression is good, though it’s stupid to act out just to act out.
    I think you should mention something about how the counter culture is currently heading toward veganism, straight-edge, and other artistic oddities.

  2. Thanks, your site is the first one I have found that has been relatively helpful for my Beats Poet paper! Good info!
    ~English major

  3. ohhh yea

  4. so basically…. you are correct….

    u shuld get a taco with me sumtime :]

  5. I fear conforming to what everyone wants me to be. . .uniformity almost a phobia of mine, so what you say is completely true, but what about the self-harmers that don’t dress like that?. I am lumped into the emo category and i strive to get out of it. It is a sad thing that so much of the true punk has disappeared.

  6. Bite my shiny metal ass, assholes, you were joked!

  7. I agree with everything except that being emo is popular. I am 14 and every school I’ve been to being emo sort of makes you an outcast. There is always more than one and they stick together but they are not accepted into the main crowd.

  8. your wrong about emo people.

    • wtf? no. to be outcast from the emo community, and try to be emo at the same time… it would suck because you don’t have a support group but you’re still dealing with serious shitty emotions. and the whole idea of counterculture period is that you’re outcast from the norm. if you aren’t outcast from the normal ideas, the ideas that have been around for generations. if you don’t revolt, you aren’t counterculture. if you fit the emo steriotype, cutting, wearing tight black clothes, and you try to fit in at the same time, you’re a lie. popular culture can’t accept that type of deep shit. to be emo and accepted by the norm, you would have to hide what is truly in your hear, or you aren’t a real emo anyway. living a hidden life isn’t emo, it’s just depressed and screwed up. everyone needs a support group. a true loner is in for some serious pain. believe me. I know. also, in regards to the ‘fake’ emos that just do it cuz they think it’s cool, they aren’t gonna try to be accepted by ‘normal’ people. they are going to go out of their way to be outcast by them, and be accepted by the emo community. the whole idea of emo isn’t really being outcast, that’s just what comes with it. the whole idea is looking within and finding truth. it’s almost a religion. the outcast part is a result of that. if you dig too deep you’re bound to offend pop culture. I would like to add that I don’t really know what i’m talking about. I cite my experience from my earlier life being a true loner without any support group, then being a metalhead and knowing the feeling of going deeper than the ‘norm’ would like to go, and having a support group to help me out. I have never been emo not that there would be anything wrong with that, it’s just not my thing. In my opinion emos are selfish and don’t look at the bigger picture. there is a philosophy of the world. you have to supercede your selfish emotions and see the real shit… in my opinion. I am not emo, I am just a thinker, looking in on that world from the outside, and reflecting on it.

  9. I think you are off the mark entirely about the definition of a counterculture. You seem to be stuck on the 1960’s counterculture and that today’s must be somehow related. I don’t believe this is true.
    A counterculture – that which runs counter to the dominant culture has certain characteristics. First, is that the counterculture must be reviled, or an object of derision, by the mainstream. Secondly, the dominant culture must see them as dangerous. And third, the counterculture is most likely discriminated against.
    Today it is very difficult for a movement or lifestyle to remain as a counterculture status because the moment they are spotted as a viable consumer group, they are marketed to. And once a group, like the emo’s and punk’s mentioned above as your examples, are marketed to with clothing, music, etc., they cease to be a true counterculture. What does that leave? I believe the only true countercultures today that meet the definition are the Town Hall/Tea Party protesters and smokers.
    Both of these groups are viewed as a danger to society, there’s a mainstream attempt to marginalize them, they are ridiculed, and treated as fringe outcasts. As a member of the actual counterculture of the late 1960’s, I can tell you that these were all familiar feelings we endured back then.
    signed – Drew Hastings

  10. I highly enjoyed reading your post, keep on making such exciting articles!!

  11. I read this forum since 2 weeks and now i have decided to register to share with you my ideas. 🙂

  12. As far as your comments about Emo and Punk culture. You are somewhat right, but you seem to be using this as a way to state that society is going downhill. For counterculture to be defined, it has to have certain traits in common. These traits make it a fad. Even the ’60s counterculture was to a certain extent popular. It was a movement. People join the movement if they have similar beliefs, and they try to conform. Every way of belief will have the purists, but everyone else is tagging along. I mean the fact that there is the tag hippie for people of the ’60s counterculture means it’s a fad. You even said yourself that emo is a discrase for the actually depressed people, and punk culture is a discrase to those few who are purists: Billie Joe. There was a fad of the ’60s counterculture, and there were purists who thought it was going wrong. I would like to think of myself as a purist metalhead. Metal is another counterculture that you didn’t mention. There is the fad. when you see someone walking down the hallway in black clothes, concert shirts, spikes long hair etc… you assume they are stupid and violent. this is a conception made by the fad. People listen to heavy music, and wear tough clothes and think they’re cool. That is not what metal is about. metal is about getting in touch with yourself. accepting the fear and depression, and discovering phylosophical truths. It’s about being yourself and knowing these truths apply to you alone. The loud music is for effect. It’s for venting not showing off. People show off how loud they can turn up their headphones up and stand the noise. they joke about killing and being violent and think that since they wear tough clothes they’re allowed to disrespect everyone. That is the fad. I wear black clothes. ripped jeans, tight concert shirts, i walk around with headphones in banging my head. I don’t approach people with smalltalk. It is my shell. But people who talk to me know that I am actually a kind deep person. I’m not dumb. I attend the top high school in the United States. All fads were underground at some point. Everything was a counterculture, and came into popular culture.

    Drew, you say that these two things stated by the author aren’t really counterculture and i don’t think you’d agree with me about metal either. When you walk into a store do you hear metal playing on the radio? do you hear posthardcore screamo? punk?. When you watch commercials do the subjects dress in black? do they look antisocial? do they cut?. these are countercultures. Parents are afraid their children will get mixed up with people of these groups. they are afraid their child will mutilate themselves, do drugs etc… If I walk into class dressed as a metalhead, i will not be treated or graded equally to the preppy guy next to me in school colored parafinalia. If you met me after dark you would be afraid. If you met a businessman in a suit in a at the same time you would walk right on by without a thought. Things aren’t declining.

    Back to what I said in the second sentence about society going downhill, It’s always the same. Nothing changes. It is natural to think there is a time in the future or past that was or will be better. THERE ISN’T.

    • I would like to add that, Drew, I am not trying do disrespect your position in the counterculture of the ’60s at all. I will assume until proven otherwise that you weren’t just someone that latched onto the trend and that you were a ‘purist’.

  13. I would have to agree that, in general, the counterculture of the ’60s seemed more meaningful than today’s counterculture. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that there are a few punks, goths, and emos who have just as much integrity as any hippie, but I think what sets the ’60s counterculture apart was the peoples’ shared vision of a world free from war and racism.
    And as far as emos go, I don’t really know what to think about them. I mean, I’m sure that there are some who actually are depressed and who just act and dress to express themselves, but they generally come off as whiny and self-absorbed. I guess you can’t really tell who’s really a “tormented soul” and who’s a poser just by looking at an emo kid. That makes the idea of faking depression all the more aggravating. Kids who have serious problems in their lives may be written off as whiny emos just because some kids capitalize on the idea that inner anguish is cool. I’m kind of introverted and I’ve been diagnosed with depression, so I guess you could say I have an “emo” personality. I try to dissociate myself with emos though. Actually, I don’t really associate myself with any real counterculture. I guess I’m just a conformist like that.

  14. Everything in the world today is absolutly terrible. Everything is becoming all for on and none for all. Somthing happend to the culture of america. All the music of today is all about wiolence, racism, drugs, and money. All people want to do today is worship the almighty doller and try to better themselves no matter how many people they have to step on. I find that living a self sufficiant life style is perfect for me(maby you will if you try it to). Just about 98% of things i eat come from local areas(if not in my home town at least from around michigan). Try to make your own clothing. Im working on a shirt right now made from recycled jeans that i have worm out from the past many years. Try to walk or hitchhike to were you are going. Not only do you get to meet many interesting people, you get to experiance natural scenry. Listen to peacful music. You don’t have to not listen to rap(although i hate it) try to listen to some peacful music thats not about money, sew, drugs etc. Try to listen to bands such as the Radio Department or Death Cab For Cutie. You will find that you will be happier throughout the day and not thinking about violence that comes from the music of today. Try to live life as happy as possible. Love life and all thats in it.

  15. I agree that the counterculture movement had and still has a great affect on today’s society, but I do not believe that it is most apparent today through music. Yes, some genres of music share similar ideas, but I don’t think either punk or emo come close to being what the counterculture movement was in the 60s. I think that the counterculture movement can never be replicated as powerfully as it was, but that the era of beatniks and hippies has changed the youth today. While these genres of music fueled the youth to rebel, revolting against your apparently terrible parents and even worse life (that punks and emos seem to be obsessed with) is nothing compared to revolting against an corrupt government and a bloody, pointless war. Hm, sounds familiar?

  16. So if being a punk or emo is conforming now how do I show that im not conforming with out being “trendy”?

    • also i wanted to add that ive been “punk” for awhile and i run into the problems of people thinking Im cool or popular and i dont want those things at least not like that

    • Conformity is to do what appeals to other people in order to appeal to other people.
      Non-conformity is, at it’s core, doing what you want because *you want to*. Damn the consequences.
      Let’s say you like how punks dress, but dig on Kanye West and watch a lot of romantic comedies? A Conformist will pick one of those, the punk attitude for instance, and roll with just that. A Non-Conformist would embrace all three. (I’m not presuming what anybody else does, here, this is actually my preferences that I’m using as an example)

  17. I’m…. a little of both I suppose. Style wise. I like the skinny jeans and the band t-shirts (but only the ones I like. it’s not like I go around and wear a bunch of t-shirts just because I want the style. I’m more girly I admit but I still love my botdf t-shirts. I’m just a…more girly version compared to most who just stick to the skinny jeans and t’s)buit I also love the dark dresses and stuff they wear too. I love the style and no matter what anyone says I’m proud to be different. I have big fluffed cat red hair and I wear tons of eyeliner and mascara. It’s who I am as a person. I love being able to take all my makeup and on any given day draw a masterpiece on my face like an artist. Your face is your canvas. Embrace it.
    Now as far as all the emo stuff. I very, very strongly disagree with you. Being ’emo’ does not mean you cut or mutilate yourself, nor does it mean that you are mocking the ones who really do cut themselves. Personally? I do not cut myself. Never have, never will. But at the same time I don’t judge those who do, though I do acknowledge the fact that its not a good thing. And it may be true that they’re a lot out there that are just trying to fit the classic image of it all and are just trying to mimic it, but there are people who have their own style to it and their own way at expressing it and that’s why they say they’re expressing they’re own unique style. It’s because they are. I have my own style to it too, but I make sure to keep my roots at the same time, I never try to be someone I’m not.
    I was always the quiet kid in class that didn’t speak. I STILL don’t talk much in class. get to know me and I’ll talk up a storm, but in class I’m relatively…. quiet. And as long as I can remember I’ve dressed in dark clothes. I always preferred the darker lacier clothes with occasional pops of color. I remember in 4th grade when I’d dress in all black and my friends and family members would tell me I needed more color in my wardrobe. I was always like ‘nope I love my clothes. Too bad.’
    My point is, is that yes there are people out there like what you described but the majority aren’t what you’re saying. And how you’re describing the cultures….I just don’t think you see the entire thing like I do. You see people who will do anything to fit in and will subject to things they aren’t to be just that. But while I agree that they’re totally people like that, I also realize that happens in every culture and I see people just being themselves who aren’t all screwing themselves in the long run. I have friends who dress like this (me also) and we all have goals. One of my old friends plans to be a doctor. I plan to be a scientist of some sort. And believe me, I’m 100% against drugs,( though I don’t judge those who do them) racism, sexism, and I’m going to strive to help our dissolving world before its too late.
    I just see farther than what was said here, maybe part of it’s because I’m part of the group, maybe not. But it’s how I honestly see it.

  18. Wheeew! Far funkin out man, I mean I’ll be 65 in Dec, and saw the groups that evolved and/or devolved in the wake of the baby boom generation I was in the 3rd year of after WWII and the impact of Korea, Nam, Nicaragua, etc, etc, as I aged and matured going through the 50’s as a sugar junkie as that was how my parents had their own fad’s coming out of the war after the great depression, into the until then unknown affluence and TELEVISION, which being a foster Adoptee, from birth, scorned by my natural born siblings, born in ’36 & ’43, who are both well off and retiring, as I progressed through the first modern new large schools where the administration shunted us through streamlined programs tailored by them without elective options in a melting pot of all classes, without regard for personal differences.
    Before my generation it was take what you get, and be lucky to get anything at all, as it was before my generation. Yes there was fads and styles breaking the mold of “all in it together to the death” mentality that prevailed before TV through the war (WWII),
    So when we reached out with the prosperity of the 50’s into the 60’s we were divided into the baby boomers in a brave new world, and the war babies or previous generations, after the Kennedy assassination, breaking all the restrictive molds and conventions.
    Yes I was a “Hippie” in an economy that ran away from us as we protested the injustice of the “Military Industrial Complex” that is about to enslave us all now in “The New World Order” if we survive “Agenda 21”, and Reaganomics through the Bush years (both of them).
    I fix fly and own aircraft but can’t afford a second can of of cat food for my pet’s as I look at 6 mpg in a ’83 motorhome or $650 to the nearest job open to me in the Dallas area, from Tucson, seeing job after job I can’t get to.
    I am part Indigenous native american Indian (3/8’s), but not “White enough” for some, yet others (except the 1 in 1000 or more, who makes an issue of it) say I’ll “Pass”, but I ask pass what?, an IQ test (I was 200 at 18 months, or the equivilent of around 180+ at my current age), and ask the same as Don King said, over 20 years ago. “Why can’t we all just get along”

  19. Is your goal to mobilize youth to be more expressive of the ideals they hold for the world? If so, this blog post is very uninspiring. Back in the early 60s the concrete issues to protest were the Jim Crow laws, and the Vietnam War. Both worthy of protest. But nowadays we have a black president, and the fact that there was very little protest over the Iraq war strongly implies that the draft had a lot to do with the Vietnam Protests. In fact some politicians went as far to say that the draft should be reinstated because of this. Other catalysing agents around back then were LSD and Rock n’ Roll. LSD became vilified over the years and Rock n’ Roll became extremely formulaic. I wasn’t around during the 60s and I really wish I had been because they sound like they were truly inspired times (and scary as well,) but your not going to bring it back by criticizing kids. Moloch the heavy judger of men!

  20. all these counter cultures ruined America. all went downhill once the sixties came. the best time era was that of the forties and fifties. mostly the late forties. after that American culture and moral has been degrading constantly. all because of rebels without a cause

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