A counterculture is defined as a group that ‘conspicuously and deliberately opposes certain aspects of the larger (dominant) culture’. In the past month, we have become aware of an emerging counterculture; that of the ‘Occupy…’ movement. I say ‘become aware’ because, really, this has been coming for some time. A movement such as this does not spontaneously happen. Do you remember in the 90’s when protestors regularly clogged the streets, burned cars and looted shops wherever there was a ‘G-whatever-number-you-want-to-include’ summit? Bands like Rage Against The Machine and Pearl Jam not only voiced agreement with the ultimate aims of the protests, but also went and played for the crowds.
As time passed, the movement lost it’s shock value, and the media stopped reporting on it.
Flash forward to New York last month where, after a week of prostests, the media seemed to grudgingly notice the movement again. Now there is a name; ‘Occupy Wall Street’. This was a conscious decision on behalf of the organizers, who have learned some things about marketing over the years. Having a name gives the sense that there is some central organizing thought that can be understood and packaged for mass consumption. In a sense, this is a countercultural movement using some of the tools of the dominant culture to turn that culture on it’s head. The problem that confounds the media now is how to make sense of exactly what that philosophy is. It is basically; ‘We’re unhappy with what’s going on’. There’s a lot of ground to cover with that blanket, and the media does not like vagueness. They want a soundbite, a clip, something to sum up what they’re selling.
There is not enough space here, or time in my day, to adequately explore all the reasons for the current ‘Occupy…’ movement. The basic point here is that the dominant culture, the one that makes exemplars of rich, white men, that will not prosecute them for financial malfeasance or ‘white’ collar crime, is being questioned and pushed from ‘below’. The groups of people who feel left out of the equation, who feel locked out of the American dream, are pushing back in a counterculture movement unseen since the 1960’s. That counterculture movement altered briefly the direction of the country toward a more progressive agenda. It also led to a major backlash by what could be called a countercultural movement from the right under Reagan that rolled back many of the gains in progressive politics since the 1930’s. Today; we are seeing the response from the left in the form of a new countercultural movement; one that I would argue is more mature and focused in it’s behavior.