Counter That!

We talk a lot about the counterculture in the work we’ve been doing lately. It may surprise you to learn the term was coined no earlier than the 1960s by Theodore Roszak in The Making of a Counter Culture HERE. The tradition itself, though, no doubt goes back as far as societies have existed. I guess before Roszak they were just called troublemakers. 

Authoritarianism incites resistance. Convention provokes pushing against the boundaries. Discrimination drives good people to demand change. Partiality elicits protest against unfair play. 

Life isn’t fair but throughout time people have gathered together to make the case it can be more fair. Different in ways that seem to them a better means of living together. Something more hospitable and less oppressive. Perhaps a potential pathway to getting along rather than simply continuing the ageless battle for the upper hand between groups who differ in their outlook and are unwilling to allow room for the others.

Then, there are the artists and their perpetual struggle with commerce, their contempt for selling out, the requisite disdain for the bourgeois. Bohemian is a term that dates way back in history as it’s applied to artsy types, particularly those of the poverty and garret lifestyle.

In the U.S. it was for a time a term synonymous with newspaperman, back when they all were assumed to be males, and counted Walt Whitman, Bret Harte, and Mark Twain among those who gladly wore the moniker HERE. That those three at least hardly meet the standard of impoverished artist makes one suppose the Fourth Estate concept of speaking truth to power and calling the Establishment to account earned the title for the scribes.

In my lifetime, there has been the classic counterculture that Roszak described, which was an amalgam of groups opposed to the established order of the time. The civil rights movement originally and then the anti-Vietnam war uprising were the biggest motivation for activist protest, and feminism, particularly when the Pill became legally available, was another major impetus in struggling with the orthodoxy of the era.

The Beat generation fed into it from the classic artists-as-outliers perspective, incorporating with its disdain for middle-class values and the American Dream a demand for the end to censorship seen as impinging on artistic freedom. Grove Press, Lenny Bruce, the Free Speech movement at Berkeley evolved into a larger and louder demand for freedom of expression of every sort when the Hippies took center stage.

The struggle between Art and Commerce writ large is the narrative thread that weaves through these conflicts. The hierarchy of commercial above aesthetic interest, the wars it justifies, the inhumanity it requires, the inequity it perpetuates is seen by many as the template of the Established Order.

No less a contest between base instinct and the higher mind is the playing field on which these struggles occur. That the primitive may be where the higher mind resides in this construct and the machinations of crass commercial interest be the base instinct is one consideration that might be drawn from its history. 



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