"Co-optation" and "Heterodoxy"

Craven, Jim jcraven at SPAMclark.edu
Mon Aug 30 15:10:41 MDT 1999

I read a book this weekend that many may have read but I do recommend it:
"The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip
Consumerism" by Thomas Frank, U of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1995.

I was taken by two passages:

   "This book is a study of co-optation rather than counterculture, an
analysis of the forces and logic that made rebel youth cultures so
attractive to corporate decision-makers rather than a study of those
cultures themselves. In doing so, it risks running afoul of what I will call
the co-optation theory: faith in the revolutionary potential of 'authentic'
counterculture combined with the notion that business mimics and
mass-produces fake counterculture in order to cash in on a particular
demographic and to subvert the great threat that 'real' counterculture
represents. 'Who Built America?', the text book produced by the Social
History project, includes a reproduction of the now-infamous '[The]Man Can't
Bust Our Music' ad and this caption summary of co-optation theory: 'If you
can't beat' em, absorb' em.' (p. 7)


"...it was and remains difficult to distinguish precisely between authentic
counterculture and fake: by almost every account, the counter-culture, as a
mass movement distinct from the bohemias that preceded it, was triggered at
least as much by developments in mass culture (particularly the arrival of
the Beatles in 1964) as changes at the grass roots. Its heroes were rock
stars and rebel celebrities, millionaire performers and employees of the
culture industry; its greatest moments occurred on television, on the radio,
at rock concerts, and in movies. From a distance of thirty years, its
language and music seem anything but the authentic populist culture they
yearned so desperately to be: from contived cursing to saitly communalism to
the embarrassingly faked Woody Guthrie accents of Bob Dylan to the
astoundingly pretentious works of groups like Iron Butterfly and The Doors,
the relics of the counterculture reek of affectation and phoniness, the
leisure-dreams of white suburban children like those who made up so much of
the Grateful Dead's audience throughout the 1970s and 1980s." (p.8)

So I wondered about the application of this dialectical model (what is
counterculture vs "mainstream" culture; fake counterculture vs "real"
counterculture; influence of counterculture on "mainstream" culture vs de
facto co-optation of counter-culture by "mainstream" culture nominally
passed off as increasing acceptance of aspects of "counterculture" within
"mainstream" culture; etc ass applied to "Heterodox" versus "Orthodox"

Real versus Fake Heterodoxy?; What does Heterodoxy really mean and what
distinguishes a genuinely Heterodox approach from a Fake Heterodox approach
or from an "Orthodox" approach? Why the use of "Heterodox instead of
"Radical" or is Heterodoxy indeed synonomous with "Radical" or
How much of Heterodoxy has been co-opted by the so-called "Orthodoxy" in
order that the Heterodox might operate in some of the same "permissible" and
"acceptable" media dominated by Orthodoxy? How much of Orthodoxy has been
really challenged or co-opted by the Heterodox? How much of Heterodoxy is a
co-opted caricature--of the caricatures of Radical Left held and spread by
the Orthodoxy? How much of Heterodoxy is based on caricatures of the

These were some of the questions that crossed my mind. I see all sorts of
academic programs now openly proclaiming "heterodox" approaches available
(after a thorough grounding in the orthodox) but I wonder if this is not
simply analogous to the synthetic counterculture that is in reality neither
"counter" or any kind of real sub or separate culture from the dominant
culture of crass eogism, materialism, competition, racism, sexism, etc. Sort
of like the fake Ken Kesey bus that tours the US for Coca Cola's "Fruitopia"
drink line?

Just some random musings.

Jim C

James Craven
Clark College, 1800 E. McLoughlin Blvd.
Vancouver, WA. 98663
(360) 992-2283; Fax: (360) 992-2863
blkfoot5 at earthlink.net
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