Is a counterculture still possible?

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
We've talked around this in a few threads, but

I would contend that it's almost impossible to imagine a counterculture - as opposed to a subculture - existing at this point in time

Advertising is so sophisticated and integrated at every level of cultural consumption, and

Artists themselves do their own branding - spend large amounts of time doing it - on as many social media platforms as they can

The cycle of recuperation is almost instantaneous

Is it possible to envision a culture, scene, movement, whatever that hasn't already been commodified at the moment of its birth (or rather, codification) or soon thereafter?

If it is, what would such a culture look like? How would it avoid commodification?
 

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
Further question: was a true counterculture ever possible, or has everything always been merely a commodity waiting to be commodified?
 

DannyL

Wild Horses
I agree that's it's impossible in the classic Dick Hebdige sense of subcultures occurring as distinct fashions with associated musics. Cultural spaces aren't siloed any longer and as you say, everything is recuperated at such speed. Nothing has the space to grow in the dark anymore. It does actually make me wonder if being offline will take on some kind of catchet of exclusivity in the future.

However, I'd say there are some areas of culture that still generation gap me, confuse me and I get that sense of cultural production occurring that's designed to exclude outsiders - the meme culture that existed around 4chan would be one example. Maybe that's a "subculture" now? Even if it's entirely online. It's certainly a counter-culture in the sense of being in opposition to the liberal wisdom of the generation before them. I found Angela Nagle's book a useful read about this even if it's problematic in some ways. It seems very punk to me in some ways in that way of really telling your elders to fuck right off.

I've also wondered about some of the kind of Instagram fitness culture - obvs not free from capitalism and mediated imagery - but there seems to be this very intense culture of sculpting the body, that involves rejecting normal consumption in terms of booze and diet. The intensity of focus around this reminded me of subcultures - and obvs I'm auto-excluded from this due to my ageing, decaying body. I was talking about this with a mate and he said "yeah, we might be able to nick their trainers, but we can't steal their genetics".

I know this is more on the level of subculture rather than counter-culture as such but just some opening thoughts.
 
Last edited:

DannyL

Wild Horses
Further thoughts - to what degree does this interface with K-Punk's Capitalist Realism idea?

Is the impossibility of counter-culture connected to the impossibilty of being able to imagine outside of capitalism?
 

firefinga

New member
Counterculture... What for?

Todays youth has sold pretty much all of their lives out to a handful of silicon valley overlords.

It's hilarious anyways, a bunch of "benevolent tech-moguls" became filthy rich by commercially exploiting by-products of the military industrial complex calling the shots today.
 

john eden

male pale and stale
I'm not sure that counterposing counter culture with commodification is useful really. It's a process. A bit like social revolutions, if that isn't too pretentious.

Counter cultures have been commodified because they have failed to transform society and make the commodity form redundant.

I think it's also useful to look at what is happening to mass culture (and compare this to mass workplaces just to add a further layer of marxist pretension). There is less and less of a unified mass culture, so there can be less and less of a unified counterculture.

Everything is very fragmented and there are fewer mass events that everyone participates in at the same time and discusses the day afterwards.

So I think you would need something big to happen to bring everyone together - something external to artists.
 

thirdform

Active member
punk was kinda conservative though. that's why post-punk happened ultimately.

but then the post-punk revival in the 00s was also kind of conservative.

more to do with the race element through which the modality through which class is lived rather than the inherent musicality or amusicality of tunes or albums. i think ultimately we've exhausted nearly all musical possibilities. we know what synths can do now. keith fullerton whitman can write a patch and get it generating sequences for 5 hours stick it on soundcloud and its captivating in its own right. I'm not dissing it i think designing synths is a talent in its own way. the future musical developments will be revolutionary but more in the mathematical sense. like for instance Sote, he isn't really doing anything that's totally unexpected future shock but it's new and innovative.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?li...GE5juTjH22ufSViB6NP2h5anNeChOFQ24XhCH_pMkru2s
 
Last edited:

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
the meme culture that existed around 4chan would be one example
yes that is an interesting shout

it seems to organically resist commodification, without even having to try to

and certainly yes it it has that "what are you rebelling against? well, what have you got?" vibe

it's perhaps too nihilistic to coalesce into something tho? and when it does it's the literal worst, white supremacists, proud boys, Nazis, etc.

see 8chan's connections to Christchurch and yesterday's El Paso atrocity

there is some larger discussion to the extent which parts of the (alt etc) right have become/embody "counterculture", often by appropriating traditional tools of the left

it depends what one means by "counter". to a real and imagined liberal hegemony, yes. to capitalist realism, I don't think so.
 

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
fitness culture otoh is 1 million percent not countercultural, which I say as someone pretty well versed in it.

literally everything is about monetization. they're just selling different stuff.
 

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
Is the impossibility of counter-culture connected to the impossibilty of being able to imagine outside of capitalism?
yes

also something something acceleration of pace, as of recuperation

counterculture exists in the brief moment between coalescence/codification and recuperation
 

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
Counter cultures have been commodified because they have failed to transform society and make the commodity form redundant
that's inevitable tho?

I do think commodification is the useful framework because it is the ultimate end of culture, and thus what counterculture is counter to

of course real life is far messier, with things often all mixed up together, but the fundamental point is true

I wouldn't deny social revolution is another potentially useful framework

however, social revolution is ultimately itself subservient to commodification, unless it can itself transform society and make the commodity form redundant

which so far has not happened, and seems unlikely to happen, tho again perhaps this is a failure to imagine a world outside
 

DannyL

Wild Horses
fitness culture otoh is 1 million percent not countercultural, which I say as someone pretty well versed in it.

literally everything is about monetization. they're just selling different stuff.
Yeah I know - I meant subculture rather than counterculture I think = definitions are failing me here. I was just struck when a friend was writing a piece about fitness culture sometime last year that the cultural energy around it was similar to what I'd call "subculture" only I didn't recognise it as such, being too stuck in that classic Dick Hebdidge model where a "subculture" = a distinct fashion allied with music. The 4 Chan stuff is similar in that I didn't recognise it as a "subculture" on first hearing about it.
 

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
however I absolutely agree it's impossible to discuss without looking at mass culture

obviously there must first be a culture for something to counter

tho I don't see why counterculture needs be unified or en masse? the counter is the key element.

and that has to do with imagination. there's some mythic element in it, an origin story in counter to the origin story of hegemony.

i.e. black metal of early 90s
 

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
more to do with the race element through which the modality through which class is lived
I think you're simplifying punk, post-punk, and their relation to each other and conservatism a bit

but I would agree that that modality is far more important than the art itself, exist to the extent to which the form of the art itself embodies or comments on that modality

I think one could hypothesize in general that scenes of people with more relative cultural privilege are more resistant to commodification

i.e. they can better afford not capitalize, in monetary or other terms, on their cultural production
 

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
it was similar to what I'd call "subculture"
it's very much a subculture, yes

I've never read Hebdige, but I'm assuming "distinct" fashion could be allied to some key factor other than music

the fitness industry - on IG + in general - is in fact hypercommercialized

it is a virtual deluge of marketing, trying to sell people a vast and bewildering array of products, most of which they don't need even in relation to their stated aims
 

blissblogger

Active member
punk as conservative / postpunk as radical

depends how you look at it

musically for sure, postpunk was more radical and forward-looking

but attitudinally or as a politics....

in its purest form, punk was purely nihilistic, self-destructive, wanton, apocalyptic - the inversion of all values - omni-directional rage blasting and burning all before it, then expiring leaving nothing behind

postpunk by comparison was constructive, progressive, thoughtful - reformist.
 

blissblogger

Active member
the commodification phase
- is that in fact the measure of a successful revolution? one that actually gets out there into everyday life and affects ordinary people

at the very least, you'd have to say that there's been virtually no counterculture that's affected large numbers of people that hasn't gone through the commodity stage

okay, there's been some free festivals, some improv concerts with more people onstage than in the audience, squatted gigs

pirate radio is the big one, although the original pirate radio of the Sixties could not have been more commercial and capitalistic - the people behind it wanted to break the state's control of the airwaves and make radio more like America - peppy DJ-presenters, adverts, nonstop pop

the terrestrial pirates of the 80s onwards are more like community radio, giving away minority-taste music for free (although they have their own entrepreneurial aspects, shady business side - and adverts and promotional element)
 
Top