A few years ago, the former head man at Coffee House Press, Allan Kornblum (replaced by Chris Fischbach in 2011) , posted something on their website that touched on the word “counterculture”. I responded to the post in the comment section. This was before it finally hit me that most people who post editorials online do not do so to invite debate. I wrote:
“But I was also inspired by the idea of the day that starting a small press was a political act, that as a small press publisher I was participating in something we proudly called, the counterculture.”
The Counterculture is alive and well in the 21st century and printing itself on virtual paper; the new twist is instantaneous, global reach. Can’t help longing for the wonderful counter-cultural readers of ’75, though… today’s reach plus yesterday’s demand would equal nirvana.
Kornblum responded (a response since removed from his site, I see: big brotherish temptation to indulge in history-fiddling strikes in even the tiniest corners. It’s lucky that I’ve developed the habit of saving online conversations):
Today we have the illusion of a counterculture community through the internet, but is it real counterculture or is it just virtual?
The old counterculture contributed to the end of the war in Vietnam, and launched the environmental movement, the feminist movement, the gay rights movement, and more. We not only wrote and published, we put our feet on the ground and got some things done. I’d like to see the current counterculture do more than share entertaining videos.
Of course my response may just be the result of impending geezerdom. And the feeling of unity that seemed to energize the counterculture of the 60s and 70s may have only been an illusion. But if so, damn, it sure was a sweet illusion.
to which I responded:
“Today we have the illusion of a counterculture community through the internet, but is it real counterculture or is it just virtual?”
Good question… I think the answer has to be mixed. (Plus: I was thinking more of a literary avant garde than a political movement but I’ll bite! laugh)
The problem with tallying the achievements of the “old counterculture” against those of the “new counterculture” is somewhat like old baseball stats vs modern ones (but in reverse)… in an alternate universe in which winning teams actually get to alter the rules of the game.
On many levels, The Present is the dire result of a battle that was *lost* very soon after the last of the victories you cite… the first symptom of this loss would be Reagan’s inauguration.
In an America that has moved so far to the Right that Al Gore (remember his book-burning wife?) is considered a *Liberal Icon* and the economy has everyone obsessed with not becoming homeless, from what quarter might Replacement Radicals come? Radical Consciousness in the West (ie, not contemplating the using of torches and pitchforks to kill the landowners but conceptualizing within the paradigm of “changing the system from within”… a very middle class approach) requires the luxuries of time to think and freedom from existential pressure (which breeds the requisite amount of foolhardy confidence… and I don’t use that phrase disparagingly).
And there’s the New Materialism to consider: it was pretty easy to reject the mainstream, as a high school senior, back in 1966, when the most seductive things Society had to offer were sex-on-demand (ie, marriage) and color TV: rebels ‘n radicals could find better sex *outside* of marriage and better TV in the form of illicit drugs. Now, however, Mainstream Society itself is the purveyor of full-spectrum toys and pleasures and “dropping out” means ascetic self-sacrifice (and zero popularity among the hottest “chicks” and “dudes”).
It’s as though God stole all the Devil’s best tricks after *finally* realizing that the chocolate-covered carrot works much better (except in extreme circumstances) than the stick.
When even self-proclaimed Lefties won’t dare to criticize “our troops” (they are, after all, not drafted but voluntarily sign up to shoot at third world villagers who haplessly run afoul of US Foreign policy) and the death of a son or daughter in active duty can mean a sort of jackpot payout to grieving families, where’s the necessary rhetorical heat and outrage-momentum supposed to come from?
I think the useful modern political epiphany has to be that *substantive change* (vs the fake version that Clinton and the current POTUS sold) will have to be a generational project.
It’s great that legal Civil Rights for “minorities” and Women sneaked through before the gate slammed down (though those gains are by no means impervious to roll-back), but I don’t think that, at any point in the past few centuries, the Progressives were in charge! (laugh)
As for the *literary* counterculture (which I happen to think is thriving): in texts begin our dreams of responsibility…
to which Mr Kornblum did not respond
Mr Kornblum writes a little memoir of his own HERE; you have to envy him for having been a young adult during an era which saw writers/poets a bit more concerned with Lit itself than with working the greasy levers of the dubious literary-career machine and the cautious ethos of self promotion that effectively bars “writers”, now, from writing anything hotter than room-temp cat shit