August 2003
volume 1, issue 2


Counter Cultural Dialectics

These tropes would come back to haunt the political and cultural movements that were seen as working within its framework. These locations would become fault lines for the insistence upon the recognition of multiple positions of difference other than the singular image of the hip white male with his posse of radical babes and brothers he was down with, armed to overthrow the state through rhetoric, grass and “off the pig” chants.

Characteristically unstable, The Counter Culture upon its decomposition left a world defined by its dream of cultural wealth. A world of music and arts, with a profusion of cultural styles and positions, recognized and empowered.

The bargain called in is a landscape of economic scarcity owing to competition for what is now considered “limited resources”; from the benevolent social policies developed during the Depression era through Johnson’s “Great Society” down to “Reaganomic” budget cutting, public arts defunding, trickle down theory, and the neo-conservatives.

In this phase, self-defined identities are empowered to define and defend their spheres. This is a phase for radical self-interest and self-definition.

These identities are given legal room to flourish in a political ecology deregulated to encourage competition. Law is less interested in deeming what is appropriate than it is in encouraging capitalism’s oversight of a Darwinian selection process. Since artists and cultures are all in direct competition with each other for increasingly shrinking resources, this is the landscape of cultural wars and cultural policing. This struggle can be seen as evidence of the dark flip-side of the profusion of autonomies; that is resistance to the awesome force of de-identification. The erasure of self in the malling of the landscape.

Counter cultures’ politics are generally along the lines of single-issue advocacy and particular to discreet communities; arts funding, AIDS funding, no more three strikes laws, “Save the Redwoods.” As a result of the totalizing trend of modernist movements, post-modern art and politics shy away from over-reaching political goals. They actualize the “act local” of the “think global,” emphasizing the micro. The personal is political for groups struggling for a toehold.

The final phase is a speculation of where we are at today. Although the presidency makes intimations towards creating the laws that bring us back to the structured modernist world of “for us or against us,” the reality of most cultural workers without a Middle Eastern look is not yet quite so dire. It would be presumptuous to claim that we are not operating in a post-modern framework since much of what we are experiencing can be described as post-modern.

However, some differences are emerging that mark a new phase of counter culture. One of the most obvious sign of this is the reemergence of massive protests making flesh the networking of cultural players who formally would have nothing to do with one another. Examples of this abound: “teamsters and turtles,” garment workers of the developing world with college students, anti-war Republicans. Some may refer to what is going on today as post-post modernism or hyper-post modernism, others might refer to it as the era of Globalization.

Clearly, Bush would have us believe that this is a time of economic scarcity. I would argue that the return of deficit spending is more than coincidental. Today, hyper-competition and massive market deregulation threaten to create a universal condition of cultural scarcity in the future corporate/military state. The networked mega conglomerates of AOL/Time Warner, the Guggenheim, and War on Terrorism Inc, wage battle, crushing or incorporating non-affiliated voices into their fiefdom’s regimented network.

Likewise, today’s resistance is affinity-based around issues of shared values. Counter cultures’, activists and artists have had to tactically network themselves and act in order to pool resources to subvert, disrupt or trip the light fantastic. Through these
created forms emerge the possibility of political and cultural praxis. Further, they may develop into the possibility and promise of massive, yet responsive counter cultures.

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