2012 and the “Counterculture”

Friend and 2012 colleague John Hoopes posted a link over at 2012 Tribe to our book (John is a contributor too), 2012: Decoding the Countercultural Apocalypse. In response, one Tribalist asks:

Not sure how applicable the term “counterculture” is here. Are conservative Armaggedonite Christians countercultural? The current connotation of the word is “new age” and/or “hippie,” but seems like there are just as many holy rollers embracing the end as any other group.

This is an interesting point, and speaks to issues raised elsewhere in these pages, and in my 2012 book description as ‘the commodification of countercultural values’. When “new age” and “hippie” values are co-opted by the mainstream (chiefly mainstream commerce) in the way they are in the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) demographic, how can they be described as countercultural: surely they are simply cultural?

At the same time, conservative Christians who live according to their beliefs are in many ways countercultural, as they run counter to a secular, liberal mainstream culture. What’s the most countercultural example of sexuality on TV at the moment? I’d argue it’s Bill Henrickson’s polygamous family on Big Love. A fundamentalist Mormon hardly springs to mind as countercultural, but his polygamous lifestyle is wildly countercultural, and his desire to normalise it in the eyes of the community makes him something of a radical (albeit wearing a suit and tie). In a couple of conversations recently with more mission-minded Christians, I’ve bought the issue up of framing Christianity as a countercultural movement, and their eyes have lit up: from a cynical point of view they see the value of being countercultural in the eyes of the Boomer generation, who fetishized the countercultural to the point of suffocating it, and of course the young are always interested in that which superficially passes for radical; more genuinely, the gospel message is inherently radical and countercultural, both in a historical and contemporary context.

So in short, I think the term works in the title from whichever direction it’s viewed, even if those views aren’t themselves necessarily reconcilable.

5 thoughts on “2012 and the “Counterculture”

  1. Hi

    I’ve been wondering about this question for a while, mainly in relation to Christian Rock.

    One framework I’ve found useful is Raymond Brown’s historic/’epochal’ analysis (culture as residual, dominant, or emergent), with the ‘residual’ and ’emergent’ trends then further analysed as either in opposition to or incorporated into hegemony. On such an analysis (it’s possibly best imagined on a 2-dimensional grid), the category of ‘oppositional-emergent’ is structurally almost indistinguishable from ‘oppositional-residual’. So, ‘counter-cultural’? Sure. And the borderlines are always being negotiated. As Peter J. Martin says, in some other and much better words, yesterday’s shock rocker is today’s industry commodity – all depending on societal use. (Actually, yesterday’s shock rocker was probably already an industry commodity… but not necessarily, at least to some minimal extent… .)

    Whaddarya reckon?

    1. That’s interesting. I’ve had conversations about the nature of “emergent” with folks who, when creating a typology of the “emergent church”, assume it to be characterised as (post)liberal. But what about forms of church (or culture) which are not (post)liberal: something can genuinely *respond* to contemporary culture (as opposed to being “residual”) while being anti-liberal and still emergent? It seems to me biased to assume emergent to be liberal.

      In the same way, opposition to hegemony: given the broad spectrum of libertarianism, for example, do we know what we’re actually getting in terms of counter-hegemony? The assumption is the resulting counter-hegemonic position is more just, perhaps even employing an ethic of care. But it could equally be micro-hegemonic (my neologism for the day): something which offers an alternate set of power structures (its own closed little economy), running counter to hegemonic power structures, but not the broader notion of power structures, per se. This theory feels clearer in my head than the words I’m using at the moment…

      My feeling is that the notion of counter-, post-, emergent- and so forth are useful only as very blunt instruments and might cause more bother than they’re worth. I’m just not sure about it, to be honest. As you say, the borderlines are always being negotiated.

      1. My Gramsci is largely second-hand, so if the essence of “micro-hegemonic” has been travelling under another name for the past few decades, I’m happy to be corrected!

  2. Hmmmm… I typed “Raymond Brown” instead of “Raymond Williams”, above. That might have given you entirely the wrong impression of what I was intending to say, sorry.

    The “emergent” of Raymond Williams is quite different from the “emergent” of the “emergent church”, the latter being almost entirely “residual” in Raymond Williams’ sense, with a thin veneer of postmod language and thought to disguise the obvious reactionism at its core (a form of postmodernism which is fully incorporated into the dominant culture of late capitalism, rather than in any opposition to it). And, I think you’re right that not all oppositions to hegemony are better than that which they would displace. Should one, for example, support Al Qaeda because they are truly oppositional, when they also would (given the power) be bigger wankers than the current wankers? Enemy-of-my-enemy politics are dangerous.

    But now the conversation’s got onto the emergent church, probably just because I typed “Brown” instead of “Williams” and put you on an entirely different track. Whereas, I was meaning to comment that there are genuine grounds for treating a ‘residual’ culture as counter-cultural in certain circumstances, just as much as an ’emergent’ one (in terms of Williams’ Marxism and Literature, pp. 121-127).

    Ah well.

    1. “there are genuine grounds for treating a ‘residual’ culture as counter-cultural in certain circumstances, just as much as an ‘emergent’ one”

      Yes, I agree!

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