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.

the jones generation part 1: i ‘be’ one of the joneses

June 21st, 2010

Ok. I am a generations geek. I love to study the cycle of generations, generational behavior patterns and attitudes and why certain generations do something and other s do something else. Geeky? yes. Interesting? Well. To me it is.upstairs at the starwood

So. I had a comment on a post I wrote where I reminisced about The Runaways and the writer suggested I was part of the Generation Jones (which I had never heard of and in my typical curious style immediately started researching what the hell this whole Jones thing was all about).

The Generation Jones website (yes, there is one) suggests that Generation Jones (originally penned by historian Jonathan Pontell) is the group of people born between 1954 and 1965 (this group of people represents about 25 percent of the population). The “Jones” symbolizes moderation between the “personality extremes of the Boomers’ idealism and the Xers’ cynicism.” Apparently they uncovered this ‘lost generation’ <or made it up> assuming it was passed over by society studiers as the focus slid from Boomer to Gen X’ers.

Well … nothing like getting ignored to spur some new thinking.

Well, as noted earlier, I am a generational guy.

And I imagine we could find niche generations within any larger generational turning/shift if we looked hard enough.

Shit. I imagine if anyone practiced long enough, anyone could dance on the head of a pin <if they desired to>.


Narcissistically I loved the idea of talking about myself as within my own generation (admittedly they use words that appeal more to me then some of the Boomer words or GenX words). And, of course, I like anything centered on me <doesn’t everyone?>.

But. I thought the whole idea of a Jones Generation, or Generation Jones, was kind of silly.

Then. Lo and behold The Economist came to the rescue of the Generation Jones concept. Buried in the 14 page special report on rebalancing the American economy (4/3-9 issue) they make a specific reference to the children of boomers born in between 1955-1964 <those gosh darn jonsers!>.

miami-viceHmmmmmmmmmmmmm … I stopped and thought a little more about this Jones generation thing.

The point in The Economist is that most typical generations spending/saving behavior changes after they move out of the traditional home buying years (savings increase as a % of household income) yet the Baby Boomers during the specified period did not increase savings as a %. In fact they maintained an incredibly low (10% of disposable income) savings % during this period.

So. The consumer boom I grew up in defied fundamental wisdom (The Economist refers to it as “the binge”) and it is this group I was born into that is running face first into the traditional economic rules that are reasserting themselves.

Okay. That made me ponder this whole Generation Jones idea a little more.

The theory is that Generation Jones still wants to change the world but they are less ideological and more pragmatic. Pontell explains:

“. . . We are practical idealists, forged in the fires of social upheaval while too young to play a part . . . Our practical idealism was created by witnessing the often unrealistic idealism of the 1960s. And we weren’t engaged in that era’s ideological battles; we were children playing with toys while Boomers argued over issues. Our non-ideological pragmatism allows us to resolve intra-Boomer skirmishes and to bridge that volatile Boomer-GenXer divide. We can lead.”

In addition I read words like “Chaos reigned, and we kids (with decreasing parental and societal guidance) were too challenged in finding our individual identities to be very concerned with finding our collective one. Jonesers, like others, focused on “me”, not “we” in the Me Decade of the 70s.”

Well. Once again portions resonated.  It was an odd time to be growing up.

Portions of us (this age group) were defined by the three D’s (my three D’s … I didn’t steal them from anyone)

–          drinking age

–          draft

–          democracy anniversary.

I grew up as the drinking age shifted from 18 to 21.

I grew up as the draft was dissolved (but I knew kids who had a draft number).

I grew up and celebrated the 200th anniversary of United States democracy.

It was an odd time of personal responsibility and unrestricted versus restricted actions.

Sure. There are some other cultural aspects (they point out MTV, the birth & invention of the internet by “Jonesers”, political leadership) but I would argue any niche could find enough of those extraneous data points to justify a niche generation.

So. I looked at this poll these Jones people did as they tried to justify their concept.

A nationally representative sample of 500 U.S. adults born in 1961 (the year Obama was born) showed that today’s 47 year olds clearly feel not like Boomers or Gen Xers, but instead believe they belong to the heretofore lost generation in-between Boomers and Xers (Generation Jones).

ThirdAge, a popular website for mid-lifers, commissioned the poll, in conjunction with Obama’s Aug. 4, 2008 birthday.  When respondents were asked which generation they believe they are a part of:  57% chose Generation Jones, while only 22% picked Baby Boomer, and only 21% said Generation X.

The underlying concept for the poll was that rather than focusing on expert opinion to determine the question of Obama’s generational identity, a very effective way of answering this question is to ask the actual people born in 1961 to self-identify their generation.

Gen Jones Pie ChartQuestion:

500 U.S. adults born in 1961 were asked:

“Do you consider yourself to be a member of the Baby Boom Generation,
Generation X, or a lost generation in-between (usually called Generation Jones)?”


22% chose: Baby Boom Generation
57% chose: Generation Jones
21% chose: Generation X

ThirdAge commissioned this polling of a nationally representative sample of 500 U.S. adults born in 1961, conducted July 31- August 1, 2008.

Here is where I struggle with the research (but I do admit I am intrigued with this whole Generation Jones thing).

Of course people checked the box on “a lost generation in between”.  I could have predicted that <and i am certainly not a genius>. Given an opportunity for someone to self identify themselves as being “unique” (or distinct) the majority of people are going to run as fast as they can to stand in line for the “hey, I am part of a special group” and sign up.

But. It is interesting research (I just hope they didn’t spend a whole bunch of money on it).


If you wanted a niche generation and you needed a spokesperson Generation Jones got very very lucky (or better said … fortunate?). Jonathan Pontell, who coined the term for this 53 million-member-strong generational segment, is a dynamic charismatic speaker. Compellingly genuine personally … and awesomely articulate at delivering factoids that sound appealing. For example, he describes this generation as stuck “between Woodstock and Lollapalooza.” Nice phrasing.

“They didn’t buy into or were too young to understand the Baby Boomer tantrums; yet they were a tad too old to join the Gen-Xers in the mosh pits.” <another great sound bite>.

Pontell describes their heritage:

“So who are we? We are practical idealists. The name “Generation Jones” derives from a number of sources, including our historical anonymity, the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ competition of our populous birth years, and sensibilities coupling the mainstream with ironic cool. But above all, the name borrows from the slang term ‘jonesin” that we as teens popularized to broadly convey any intense craving.”

Next. The Joneser website did an awesome job of collecting a specific factoid to showcase that the “Joneser collective personality is clearly separable from that of Boomers and Xers.”

“Admittedly, determining generations is complicated, an inexact science, with inevitable blur on the edges. Nonetheless, broad accurate generalizations emerge with careful analysis. The three generations differ in many ways. One major difference is that Boomers tend to be idealistic, Xers tend to be cynical, and Jonesers tend to be a balance of idealism and cynicism. Attitudinal research bears this out.

For example, UCLA has conducted a particularly extensive national poll of 350,000 college freshman annually since the mid-60s. Students are asked to rank in importance different goals in life. Look at the following contrast between the three generations on the two key goals reflecting idealism and cynicism:”

GOAL 1966
(median yr. of Boomers)
(median yr. of Jonesers)
(median yr. of Xers)
developing a meaningful
philosophy of life
85% 61% 42%
being very well off
44% 60% 76%

Look. What I may be tempted to take away from this study is that … of all the generations … Generation Jones knew what they wanted the least (or was inherently a wishy washy generation) but suffice it to say this factoid doesn’t hurt the argument for a Generation Jones.


I admit I don’t like the Generation Jones name. I’d like to see a name that better reflects the history or something quintessential or self defining about our time.

Regardless, I like the idea of a generational identity that’s more squarely focused on me or maybe better said “what I perceive as my time.” It’s kind of fun. I like thinking I am part of this group of people:

Russell Crowe. Madonna. Barack. Nikolas Sarkozy. JK Rowling. Elle McPherson. Michael Stipe. Eddie Murphy. George Stephanopoulos. James Taylor. Tracey Ullman. Weird Al Yankovic. Suzanne Vega. Allison Janney. Ronnie Lott. Emma Thompson. Katie Couric. Sharon Stone. Michelle Pfeiffer. Ellen DeGeneres. Andie McDowell.

So. For now I will use Generation Jones to my benefit. Start feeling more special and maybe start calling personal posts that reflect growing up experiences as Generation Jones posts. And I will have some fun with it <but it is still a little stupid to think it is a real generation cycle>.

Enlightened Conflict