Sociology of: childhood · culture
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Counterculture (also written counter-culture) opposed to dominant culture. Sociological term used to describe the values and norms of behavior of a cultural group, or subculture, that run counter to those of the social mainstream of the day, the cultural equivalent of political opposition. It is a neologism attributed to Theodore Roszak.
Although distinct countercultural undercurrents have existed in many societies, here the term "counterculture" refers to a more significant, visible phenomenon that reaches critical mass, flowers, and persists for a period of time. A countercultural movement expresses the ethos, aspirations, and dreams of a specific population during an era — a social manifestation of zeitgeist.It is important to distinguish between "counterculture", "subculture" and "fringe culture".
Countercultural milieux in 19th-century Europe included the traditions of Romanticism, Bohemianism and of the Dandy. Another movement existed in a more fragmentary form in the 1950s, both in Europe and the US, in the form of the Beat generation, or Beatniks, followed in the 1960s by the hippies and anti-Vietnam War protesters.
The term 'counterculture' came to prominence in the news media, as it was used to refer to the social revolution that swept North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand during the 1960s and early 1970s.
In the United States, the counterculture of the 1960s became identified with the rejection of conventional social norms of the 1950s. Counterculture youth rejected the cultural standards of their parents, especially with respect to racial segregation and initial widespread support for the Vietnam War.
In the United Kingdom, the counterculture of the 1960s was mainly a reaction against the post-war social norms of the 1940s and 1950s, although "Ban the Bomb" protests centered around opposition to nuclear weaponry.
As the 1960s progressed, widespread tensions developed in American society that tended to flow along generational lines regarding the war in Vietnam, race relations, sexual mores, women's rights, traditional modes of authority, and a materialist interpretation of the American Dream. White, middle-class youth — who made up the bulk of the counterculture — had sufficient leisure time to turn their attention to social issues. These social issues included support for civil rights, women's rights, and gay rights movements, and a rejection of the Vietnam War. Hippies became the largest countercultural group in the United States. The counterculture also had access to a media eager to present their concerns to a wider public. Demonstrations for social justice created far-reaching changes affecting many aspects of society.
Rejection of mainstream culture was best embodied in the new genres of psychedelic rock music, pop-art and new explorations in spirituality. Musicians who exemplified this era include The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Cream, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Velvet Underground, and Nico. The pop-art culture led by Andy Warhol also played a part in social change in the United States by redefining what art was and what made it valuable. Warhol's mass-produced monographs and silk-screens, such as the iconic Campbell's Soup Cans, challenged the notion that art is only about certain subjects (i.e., wealthy patrons or pretty landscapes), or that art is a singular creation. An entire generation's liberal views about art and drugs found prominent expression in Warhol's paintings, films, and music. Sentiments were also expressed in the song lyrics and popular sayings of the period, such as 'do your own thing,' 'turn on, tune in, drop out,' 'whatever turns you on,' 'Eight miles high,' and 'light my fire.' Spiritually, the counterculture included interest in astrology, the term "Age of Aquarius" and knowing people's signs (Sun Signs). This led Theodore Roszak to state "A (sic) eclectic taste for mystic, occult, and magical phenomena has been a marked characteristic of our postwar WWII youth culture since the days of the beatniks" (1968).
The counterculture in the United States reached its peak between 1966 and the early 1970s. It eventually waned for several reasons: mainstream America's disdain for unrepentant hedonism and conspicuous drug use, and the troubles caused by these excesses; the death of many notable countercultural figures; the end of the Vietnam War; and the end of Civil Rights protests following passage of remedial legislation. The counterculture continues to influence social movements, art and society in general.
The counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s generated its own unique brand of notable literature, including comics and cartoons, and sometimes referred to as the underground press. This includes the work of Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton, and includes Mr. Natural; Keep on Truckin'; Fritz the Cat; Fat Freddy's Cat; Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers; the album cover art for Cheap Thrills; and contributions to International Times, The Village Voice, and Oz magazine. During the late '60s and early '70s, these comics and magazines were available for purchase in head shops along with items like beads, incense, cigarette papers, tie-dye clothing, DayGlo posters, books, etc.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender community (commonly abbreviated as the "LGBT" community), mostly evident in North America, Western Europe, Australasia and South Africa, fits the definition of a countercultural movement as "a cultural group whose values and norms of behavior run counter to those of the social mainstream of the day."
At the outset of the 20th century, homosexual acts were punishable offenses in these countries. The prevailing public attitude was that homosexuality was a moral failing that should be punished, as exemplified by Oscar Wilde’s 1895 trial and imprisonment for "gross indecency." But even then, there were dissenting views. Sigmund Freud publicly expressed his opinion that homosexuality was a perfectly normal condition for some people.
According to Charles Kaiser’s The Gay Metropolis, there were already semi-public gay-themed gatherings by the mid-1930s in the United States (such as the annual drag balls held during the Harlem Renaissance). There were also bars and bathhouses that catered to gay clientele and adopted warning procedures (similar to those used by Prohibition-era speakeasies) to warn customers of police raids. But homosexuality was typically subsumed into bohemian culture, and was not a significant movement in itself.
Eventually, a genuine gay culture began to take root, albeit very discreetly, with its own styles, attitudes and behaviors and industries began catering to this growing demographic group. For example, publishing houses cranked out pulp novels like The Velvet Underground that were targeted directly at gay people. By the early 1960s, openly gay political organizations such as the Mattachine Society were formally protesting abusive treatment toward gay people, challenging the entrenched idea that homosexuality was an aberrant condition, and calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality. Despite very limited sympathy, American society began at least to acknowledge the existence of a sizable population of gays. The film The Boys in the Band, for example, featured negative portrayals of gay men, but at least recognized that they did in fact fraternize with each other (as opposed to being isolated, solitary predators who "victimized" straight men).
The watershed event in the American gay rights movement was the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City. Following this event, gays and lesbians began adopting the militant protest tactics used by anti-war and black power radicals to confront anti-gay ideology. Another major turning point was the 1973 decision by the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the official list of mental disorders. Although gay radicals used pressure to force the decision, Kaiser notes that this had been an issue of some debate for many years in the psychiatric community, and that one of the chief obstacles to normalizing homosexuality was that therapists were profiting from offering dubious, unproven "cures".
The AIDS epidemic was initially an unexpected blow to the movement, especially in North America. There was speculation that the disease would permanently drive gay life underground. Ironically, the tables were turned. Many of the early victims of the disease had been openly gay only within the confines of insular 'gay ghettos' such as New York City’s Greenwich Village and San Francisco’s Castro); they remained closeted in their professional lives and to their families. Many heterosexuals who thought they didn't know any gay people were confronted by friends and loved ones dying of ‘the gay plague.’ The LGBT community were increasingly seen not only as victims of a disease, but as victims of ostracism and hatred. Most importantly, the disease became a rallying point for a previously complacent gay community. AIDS invigorated the community politically to fight not only for a medical response to the disease, but also for wider acceptance of homosexuality in mainstream America. Ultimately, coming out became an important step for many LGBT people.
In 2003, the United States Supreme Court officially declared all sodomy laws unconstitutional. Annual gay pride events take place throughout the US and the world. Many of the current debates at the forefront of the LGBT community, such as same-sex marriage and parenting) would have been unthinkable even 20 years ago. As of 2007, the gay community is focusing on marital rights, although sufficient numbers of Americans oppose gay marriage to the point that 27 state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage have been passed by comfortable popular margins of 60–80%. This indicates that despite the wider acceptance and tolerance of homosexual life, it is still viewed by mainstream American society as an aberration, making it in every sense one of several contemporary 'countercultures'.
Although not exactly equivalent to the English definition, the term "Контркультура" (Kontrkul'tura, "Counterculture") found a constant use in Russian to define a cultural movement that promotes acting outside usual conventions of Russian culture: use of explicit language, graphical description of sex, violence and illicit activities and uncopyrighted use of "safe" characters involved in everything mentioned.
During the early '70s, Russian culture was forced into quite a rigid framework of constant optimistic approach to everything. Even mild topics, such as breaking marriage and alcohol abuse, tended to be viewed as taboo by the media. In response, Russian society grew weary of the gap between real life and the creative world. Thus, the folklore and underground culture tended to be considered forbidden fruit. On the other hand, the general satisfaction with the quality of the existing works promoted parody, often within existing settings. For example, the Russian anecdotal joke tradition turned the settings of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy into a grotesque world of sexual excess. Another well-known example is black humor (mostly in the form of short poems) that dealt exclusively with funny deaths and/or other mishaps of small, innocent children.
In the mid-'80s, the Glasnost policy allowed the production of not-so-optimistic creative works. As a consequence, Russian cinema during the late '80s to the early '90s was dominated by crime-packed action movies with explicit (but not necessarily graphic) scenes of ruthless violence and social dramas on drug abuse, prostitution and failing relations. Although Russian movies of the time would be rated R in the USA due to violence, the use of explicit language was much milder than in American cinema.
Russian counterculture as we know it emerged in the late '90s with the increased popularity of the Internet. Several websites appeared that posted user-written short stories that dealt with sex, drugs and violence. The following features are considered the most popular topics for such works:
A notable aspect is the influence of the contra-cultural developments on Russian pop culture. In addition to traditional Russian styles of music, such as songs with jail-related lyrics, new music styles with explicit language were developed.
In the recent past Dr. Sebastian Kappen, an Indian theologian, has tried to redefine counterculture in the Asian context. In March 1990, at a seminar in Bangalore, he presented his countercultural perspectives (Chapter 4 in S. Kappen, Tradition, modernity, counterculture: an Asian perspective, Visthar, Bangalore, 1994). Dr. Kappen envisages counterculture as a new culture that has to negate the two opposing cultural phenomena in Asian countries:
Kappen writes, "Were we to succumb to the first, we should be losing our identity; if to the second, ours would be a false, obsolete identity in a mental universe of dead symbols and delayed myths".
The most important countercultural movement in India had taken place in the state of West Bengal during the 1960s by a group of poets and artists who called themselves Hungryalists.
Counterculture is a term used in psychology and sociology. People use it to describe a set of views that are not of the mainstream. These values are in contrast to what the mainstream people believe. An example of a counterculture that was started in the 1960s is the culture of the hippies. This counterculture focused on drug use, sexual freedom (freedom of choice), and women's rights.