Absence of a counterculture

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Mar 23 09:03:19 MST 2003


NY Times, Mar. 23, 2003
A Movement, Yes, but No Counterculture
By JOHN LELAND

IN the fall of 1965, J. Edgar Hoover took stock of the movement against the 
Vietnam War and described it as a culture apart. The protesters, Hoover 
said, "represented a minority for the most part composed of halfway 
citizens who are neither morally, mentally nor emotionally mature."

A generation later, Suzyn Smith marched along Constitution Avenue in 
Washington last Saturday and announced that at her next demonstration she 
would wear something dressier than her casual black tank top. "The media 
tends to focus on the people dressed like hippies," said Ms. Smith, 24, who 
thought the hippies were getting too much play. As she walked with her aunt 
in a crowd protesting war with Iraq, Ms. Smith described a vision markedly 
different from Hoover's. "You have all sorts of regular dorky middle-age 
people, church groups and old people," she said. "It's not like everybody's 
part of some big counterculture."

And so it has gone with American protests against war in Iraq, starting 
sporadically in October and continuing across the country last week. The 
peace signs were back, and even some of the tie-dye; John Mellencamp and 
Public Enemy performed protest songs. But in a fundamental way the latest 
antiwar movement is unlike its socially seismic 1960's predecessor.

Three and a half decades ago, protesters massed with a political goal — to 
end a war — but also out of a conviction that many of the values 
undergirding American society were flawed: 1950's conformity, the 
materialistic rat race, racism, and even monogamy and the nuclear family. 
The alternative values they expressed through fashion, music, sexual mores 
and other lifestyle choices seemed to propose an entirely different world. 
And many historians feel that this counterculture shaped America more 
profoundly and for years longer than the stop-the-war rallies.

But as protesters came together across the country last week, with a few 
radical contingents disrupting cities or destroying property, so far there 
has been little sense that they also shared a common desire to remake the 
country's values and institutions.

"It's been amazingly diverse," said Paul Buhle, a lecturer in American 
civilization and history at Brown University and founder of the New Left 
Journal of Radical America. "Typically, the radicalizing experience in 
America is that a group of people wake up and say, `Everything I've been 
told is a lie.' And so you have a movement for change in values about race, 
sexuality, peace and art, all coming together in periods of stress. So far, 
we've seen very little of that. The only thing that unites people is fear 
of the consequences of war."

In part because of the Internet, the antiwar movement has assembled without 
apparent leaders. Pacifists march with fiscal conservatives, traditional 
liberals with centrists who favor war but only with support. Fittingly, the 
signs at demonstrations have told a story not of philosophical uniformity 
but of sprawl:

"Straight White Anglo-Saxon Males for Peace."

"Capitalist Swing Voter for Peace."

"Pro-Life and Anti-War."

"Queers Against War in Iraq."

Instead of a new counterculture, what the demonstrations have instead is a 
memory from the 60's that protest alone can change things — and that may 
make a counterculture unnecessary, said the critic Greil Marcus, the author 
of "Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century," who 
demonstrated in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in the 60's and is active 
in protests against war in Iraq. "What happened four decades ago is 
history," Mr. Marcus said. "It's not just a blip in the history of trends. 
Whoever shows up at a march against war in Iraq, it always takes place with 
a memory of the efficacy and joy and gratification of similar protests that 
took place in years before."

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/23/fashion/23PROT.html


Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org


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