25 April 2012

The counterculture be damned!

Attention Discordians, SubGenii, Goths, Greenies, Thelemites, Chaos Magicians and followers of R. A. Wilson! Your image of utopia has already been co-opted and commercialised. The ruling class took all your good ideas and now uses them to perpetuate its rule. The idea that the system can't handle "true individuals" ignoring social conformity, doing drugs and "fucking like dogs in the street", has been proved wrong by the process of late period consumer capitalism. They sold it back to you.
...our notion about what’s wrong with American life and how the figures responsible are to be confronted haven’t changed much in thirty years. Call it, for convenience, the “countercultural idea.”... As this half of the countercultural idea originated during the 1950s, it is appropriate that the evils of conformity are most conveniently summarized with images of 1950s suburban correctness. You know, that land of sedate music, sexual repression, deference to authority, Red Scares, and smiling white people standing politely in line to go to church.... The ways in which this system are to be resisted are equally well understood and agreed-upon. The Establishment demands homogeneity; we revolt by embracing diverse, individual lifestyles. [...]
Go to any poetry reading and you can see a string of junior Kerouacs go through the routine, upsetting cultural hierarchies by pushing themselves to the limit, straining for that gorgeous moment of original vice when Allen Ginsberg first read “Howl” in 1955 and the patriarchs of our fantasies recoiled in shock. ... But one hardly has to go to a poetry reading to see the countercultural idea acted out. Its frenzied ecstasies have long since become an official aesthetic of consumer society, a monotheme of mass as well as adversarial culture. [...]
Corporate America is not an oppressor but a sponsor of fun, provider of lifestyle accoutrements, facilitator of carnival, our slang-speaking partner in the quest for that ever-more apocalyptic orgasm. The countercultural idea has become capitalist orthodoxy, its hunger for transgression upon transgression now perfectly suited to an economic-cultural regime that runs on ever-faster cyclings of the new; its taste for self-fulfillment and its intolerance for the confines of tradition now permitting vast latitude in consuming practices and lifestyle experimentation. Consumerism is no longer about “conformity” but about “difference.” Advertising teaches us not in the ways of puritanical self-denial (a bizarre notion on the face of it), but in orgiastic, never-ending self-fulfillment. It counsels not rigid adherence to the tastes of the herd but vigilant and constantly updated individualism. We consume not to fit in, but to prove, on the surface at least, that we are rock `n’ roll rebels, each one of us as rule-breaking and hierarchy-defying as our heroes of the 60s, who now pitch cars, shoes, and beer.

Thomas Frank wrote the above in 1995 and very, very little has changed. Capitalism can make a profit from people fucking like dogs in the street, and use those profits to oppress people, just as long as those people keep going to work (or running their small businesses) once the hangovers wear off. This is what you get from dismissing the labour theory of value, and the consecutive belief that consumption choices are political. And that's why all those great "majickians" got jobs as advertising copywriters, why Grant Morrison now writes superhero comics, and they probably think that that's liberation.

Sorry if I seem too combative, but I was always an "outsider" to the great counterculture of the 90's and early Aughties. I didn't get invited to those parties, I couldn't afford those clothes or books, I wasn't offered those good drugs. I was the person who got rejected by the cool mainstream kids AND the cool alternative kids. So it's a little bit schadenfreudlich to see what happened.