Well, duh!

Salon posted a rather long review of a new book by Hal Niedzviecki titled Hello, I'm Special. The book deals with the concept of the counterculture becoming the acceptable culture, right under our very noses. We're all "conforming individualists". In short, the book discusses the idea of individuality as a pressure pill many of us swallow, spoonfed by those who market "hip". The concept of being one's self is simply a facade we all convince ourselves we achieve. In reality, we're just bah-bah sheep who shop at the same stores, eat at the same restaurants, and consume the same art -- because that's what has been defined to us as "tasteful". We believe that we're after our own specific destiny, but we shape our concept of that destiny based upon the pop culture we wade through on a daily basis. We're reactionary, even in determining our course through life.

Is it just me, or is that sort of obvious? Do I truly not understand that my desire to be a DJ or a music journalist stems from the fact that I grew up idolizing such figures, and that I get off on being a tastemaker? That by being in that position of "power", I'm not a sheep but a shepherd? But in reality, my views as tastemaker are still shaped by others -- music magazines I respect, friends whose opinions I value, record labels that release and promote music I enjoy. Sure, ultimately I make up my own mind about what I like and dislike, but not without the influence of a massive wave of hype. So, I'm attempting to pull the wool over my own eyes in thinking that I may be less a follower, more a rebel, because I like Animal Collective, Cat Power, Band of Horses, and other artists with animal-themed monikers.

Getting back to the original point, of course the counterculture is now the mainstream. The art, style, opinions, and consumption habits of those perceived to be a part of the counterculture will eventually become hip, and once that happens it will be replicated and marketed to those considered less hip. It's how icons are built, and why they eventually crumble if not adaptable to the new hip. Look at the second generation of punk, the '80s and early '90s craze that was a reaction to the punk of 1977. If The Clash wanted to continue to sell records, they had to adapt to a new slew of less edgy bands who threatened to overtake their throne. Likewise, bands like Green Day and the Red Hot Chili Peppers had to morph into arena rock outfits if they sought to uphold record sales as they aged. Those who don't change, ultimately fade away or at the least become less vital to those peddling hip.

Taken in more broad terms, the counterculture works in cycles like anything else. Punk was originally an outsiders movement which eventually developed into a hot commodity once marketers figured out how to make rebellion sell. Look at the third generation of punk that we're suffering through right now, the sort of watered-down piss that gets pumped into the headphones of 15 year-olds round the globe. Does that music owe any real debt to The Sex Pistols? Well sure, in that both forms seek to sell style. (But at least The Sex Pistols backed it up with substance.) Go back to the counterculture movement of the '60s, which blossomed into every other youth and his or her hippie neighbor growing long hair, experimenting with drugs and sex, and adopting -- at least temporarily -- a "fuck the man" attitude. Once it was deemed to be hip to be a hippie, plenty of people wanted in. But once the trend became a commercial endeavor -- as evidenced by the success of Woodstock -- it's core members who had defined the movement became disillusioned, and eventually the trend passed until another trend (punk rock) could usurp it.

Blah blah blah. I'm sure that there's some original analysis happening between the covers of Hello, I'm Special -- not to mention plenty of references to well-respected philosophers -- but I just don't find the concept all that original. Certainly, not to the extent that it merits a book. Then again, maybe I'm just pissed off that Niedzviecki beat me to the punch.

1 comment:

hungrygirl said...

I laughed out loud when I got to, "Is it just me, or is that sort of obvious?" I thought you were heading in a totally different direction--i.e., "what a load of crap."

Amen brother.