Enlightened Conflict

tapping into counter culture is culturally impossible (these days)

October 9th, 2013

What fun is it being cool if you can’t wear a sombrero?” – Calvin & obey tshirtHobbes



We often talk about rebelling against society.


Being different to make a statement.

Being against something <or counter to what is perceived as the norm> and simply, through appearance, making a statement.

Technically this is called ‘counter culture.’



It is difficult to be against something … or be ‘counter culture’ in today’s world.

As the topmodels guys suggest … “what we have seen above all is how capitalism has succeeded in assimilating every counter movement going.”





There is money in distinctness.

There is money in rebellion.

There is money in ‘cool’ <and, oddly, money in uncool>.


And marketing people have become quite savvy at exploiting what is originally fringe behavior with the intent to maximize the fringe <by the way … there is absolutely nothing wrong with that … in fact … one could actually argue that capitalism – or companies – are forwarding the idea through the drive to make money>.



What that means is the fringe gets exposed to the mainstream.

counter culture fingerWhat that means is rebelling … or being part of a small rebellious ‘fuck you rest of the world’ counter culture … is next to impossible.


At least certainly not sustainable.


Following that thread of thinking … what inevitably happens in today’s’ world is that some celebrity embraces that fringe … every day people following that celebrity see the behavior … and copy it <not because they embrace the idea but rather they embrace what the celebrity embraces>.



It’s not just capitalism or economics … it is also about culture.


The Guardian just had an article: Is it chic to be a geek?


“The word no longer has negative connotations, according to a survey, but tell us if you’d happily identify yourself as a geek.”


A survey indicates geeks are considered “cool and chic” as opposed to being “boring and unattractive.”

Holy shit.


Who would have ever thought that being a geek would be good?

<not me … although I do have some geeky characteristics>


The TopModels guys actually can walk you through the sociological underpinnings to what is happening:


Who is really rich? The fat guy with the fat wallet or the witty guy with the great body. Some people have both – good for them. Do both guys have something in common? Yes, they both constantly have to re-innovate themselves in order to defend their position against contenders. counter culture prestige behaviorSo how do you defend your position? 



Where are you?

  1.  You can adopt the behavior and methods of foreign elites (if you check out the fashion in Copenhagen, you will be the hipster of Millwaukee).



  1. Invent new cultural actions (e.g. newspapers for free) But make sure that competitors of your own “group“ do not adopt them. Or if they do make sure everybody knows they got it from you. They will feel inferior.



  1. Adopt quickly new behaviors of groups“ below you (preferably from the avantgardist). If rich people use the fashion items of the hipsters, the hipsters lose their prestige. Therefore: they will not climb the prestige latter.



A Canadian Andre Potter identified four phases of conspicuous consumption <a guy named Thorstein Veblen coined this term in late 1800’s to describe how consumers try to show off or raise their social status through consumption> and used them to describe the effect of counterculture in capitalism:


–          Keeping up with the joneses

The 1st half of the 20th century saw the change from aristocratic to bourgeois consumption. The middle classes began to vie for status by trying to afford the same as their neighbors <the Joneses>.


–          Anti-consumption

Anti consumption developed in the 1960’s as a critique of the mainstream. The swinging 60’s generation, the hippies, and later the punks, tried to deviate from the norm. They distinguished themselves from the mainstream in a variety of ways <attitudes, behaviors, style, etc.> and even politics. The coolest became the pioneers of new political trends.


–          Cool is mainstream

MTV and later the internet dissolved the educational elitism of counterculture <where an elite few could actually be cool>. Suddenly it was possible for everybody to be cool and different. Because everybody has access to it counterculture became mainstream. People thought they were different when in fact they were either like everybody else or a significantly large group of everybody else’s. It was the uncool who were suddenly – and unexpectedly – counterculture. Cool was dead.



–          Authentic consumption

However the end of cool was not the end of conspicuous consumption. It was the birth of cultural capitalism. Authentic consumption incorporates the anti-consumerist aspiration. By consuming you are not only doing something for yourself but also for the environment, or the poor, or whatever cultural cause you would like to associate your capitalism consumption with.


An example: Starbucks claimed ‘it’s not just what you are buying it’s what you’re buying into.’ You aren’t just buying coffee anymore … you are supporting fair trade and fair working conditions. You are buying yourself out of the feeling of being a consumer <note: now there is a great thought>.




The real point is that being cool, or embracing counter culture, is difficult.

too cool dads generationIt is fleeting at best … unless you keep moving and changing.


Being cool becomes an attitude in and of itself.

It is a full time job.



What a job <sigh>.



And, oddly, if you actually make being counter culture a full time job … well … what do you stand for? By  constantly changing you actually don’t stand for anything.


That is a disturbing thought.



And keep ahead of the ‘cool’ curve.



We have even come up with a term on when something becomes uncool.



When something becomes uncool it is “jumping the shark.”


Most of us spend a lot of time asking ourselves if we are doing the ‘right’ thing aesthetically and appearance wise. Some of us more than others … but we all do it to some degree.


Everyone wants to be ‘cool’ in some form or fashion. Even if it is just one aspect.

But cool is actually hard to define.

Because once you do it? It isn’t cool anymore.

So what do we do? We use status symbols to try and emulate it <think t-shirt logos, ripped jeans, etc.>.


By the way … we are not just talking about teenage trends … every age-group, every social class has its own status symbols, the mainstream to the same extent as the avant garde.


And trying to keep up with all of this mental gymnastics is tiring because it seems that as soon as you have done something ‘cool’ … it’s jumped the shark.

topmodels jumping shark model

topmodels jumping shark model



Jumped the shark.


The saying was inspired by the TV series Happy Days, specifically an episode in which Fonzie tries to jump over a shark on water skis. This ridiculous script idea suggested that the scriptwriters were literally losing the plot … they could no longer sustain the show’s success and were resorting to cheap gimmicks in a desperate attempt to retain viewers. The term is now used more generally to describe the moment when something loses its freshness and starts to go downhill.


In today’s world everything ‘jumps the shark’ almost as soon as it is introduced <if it is any sort of idea at all>. The good news is that good ideas spread faster than ever before. The bad news is that good truly cool ideas spread faster than ever before.


Which means being a rebel today is tough.


What I mean by that is as you ‘rebel’ or show your distinctness … within weeks you walk out your door and the teens getting on the school bus are wearing a tshirt saying the same thing … as well as the nerdy guy mowing his lawn for the 5th time that week.

counter culture gatsby


The problem is that appearing to rebel is the new cool.


It is simple as that <and as sad as that>.


It is unimportant what you truly believe … just that you appear to believe.


And that is why counter culture has died.

Enlightened Conflict