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Here's a thought. Perhaps a "counterculture" is not as obvious today as it was in the 1960s because the larger culture itself has become so much more diverse and heterogeneous than it was then. The internet in particular has allowed many different subcultures to grow and flourish. Just think of the number of television networks available today. (When I was a lad, there were three, or four if you count PBS.) It's possible to argue that today zillions (an exaggeration!) of countercultures constitute the larger culture and that to a great degree we have our choice of countercultures with which we can identify.
Do I think there is "a" counterculture today? No, ... I think there are MANY countercultures.
[Further, I find it interesting that many people here immediately jumped to the conclusion that the student was referring to the United States! This may not be the case! I'm sure the countercultures in places such as the far East as well as the Middle East (among many others) differ greatly from the countercultures in my own country.]
I consider a counterculture to be a group that does not meld within the established culture of a region. My mind returns to the New York of the turn of the century (1900) where the city itself was full of countercultures, ... neighborhoods and buildings that housed only one nationality each: language, customs, fashion, etc. As the century wore on, many of these countercultures literally melted into what has become the "melting pot" of America.
As mentioned above, the controversial nature of discussing countercultures appears when one enters the realm of religion and race. Are the large Amish communities in both Pennsylvania and Ohio a true counterculture? How about the large pockets of Jewish people living in South Florida? One could argue that at least some Hispanic communities, Middle Eastern communities, and African American communities harbor a counterculture today. Does Harlem in New York City house a counterculture? Does Miami, Florida house a counterculture?
It is fascinating to hear about the thoughts above regarding even things such as sexuality and tattooing as comprising a counterculture. I have even heard that the deaf have their own counterculture, ... so much so that deaf parents are denying their children cochlear implants to keep them immersed in that very culture.
So let me end with this, ... I am glad there are countercultures present in my country! It keeps life interesting and proves quite nicely that even countercultures can exist peacefully in a greater nation.
I think any culture as a rule leads to the creation of a counter-culture. The reason being is that no one set of norms and values can ever possibly hope to encompass every member of its society, and thus we can see that counter-cultures emerge. You might like to think about movements such as goths and emos, and perhaps anti-globalisation protestors as examples of counter-cultural movements alive and well in today's world.
I agree with brettd. While there are certainly people who live at the extreme ends of the social spectrum, it's not as easy to stand out and be set apart (to run counter or against) from mainstream society. Take something like tattoos, mentioned above, which were once a fairly clear indicator or symbol of a certain kind of culture. Today, tattoos have become acceptable and even fashionable.
When people only have a few choices, a counterculture is necessary to ensure a voice of dissent. As a country's cultural, ethnic, religious, sexual, and political diversity grows, the need for countercultures diminishes.
Counter-cultures have existed in most societies since history began (history, as in "the written and documented accounts of past events").
You could argue that most rebel sects that followed a religion other than the one dictated by the society of the time would have been considered as counter-cultures. This is because a counter-culture is a stratum of society that reacts against the status quo by living lives that go against specific or established norms.
This being said, the United States is such a diversified country with so many different cultures living in one same country that it would be surprising not to find a counterculture. For example, you see the Amish who still live under the same parameters of centuries ago. You also have some radical sects of fundamentalists who basically make their own rules of behavior.
Aside from religious groups, you can argue that there is a counterculture of extreme tattooers who indulge in the physical pain and art of tattooing. There are also the bondage subcultures, the masochist subcultures, and other groups that just base their lifestyles out of one particular thing.
Rock and Roll is mostly known for creating a counter culture of music and dance never seen before, and Elvis could be easily labeled as the father of a counterculture of youth, music, sensuality and freedom.
Hence, there are plenty of groups that live in a counter-cultural way and I am positive that there will always be groups of this kind until the end of times.
I do believe there are various people around the US who live in countercultural ways. However, I do not believe that you can legitimately argue that there is a counterculture today that is in any way comparable to that of the 1960s.
There are many countercultural groups today. There are the sorts of self-styled "anarchists" who disrupt things like meetings of the World Trade Organization. There are various religious cults. You might even say that some hackers are a counterculture. However, all of these people are tiny minorities in today's society. There is no sense in which they are offerring a relatively coherent alternative to mainstream society like the hippies did.
In the 1960s, the counterculture was large and extremely influential. Today, it is small and culturally rather irrelevant.
The chief weapon our society has against a "counter culture" is advertising. We are brain-washed into a mind set of consumerism. Although this existed in the 60's, it was nowhere near as prevalent. The vilification of marijuana also plays into the decrease in counter culture. A thinking people is much more dangerous to a government than any armaments.
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