Thursday, April 24, 2014

Subversion and Subversives

A client whom I consider a friend, a graduate student in cultural studies, sent me an e-mail yesterday actually asking my opinion on cultural matters. My answer was informal, but I like it, so ...

On 14/04/22 22:49, [friend] wrote:
Do you think that Subcultures still present a subversive attitude ? I feel that subculture has become mass culture and actually more common than mainstream culture.

Hi, [friend],

Your question has started my day out right. I hope my answer doesn't convince you that I'm crazy as well as outside the box.

Definitions are important here. Mainstream culture and subculture literally or etymologically refer, respectively, to the dominant culture in a society and a non-dominant culture in that same society. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, mainstream American culture was people of European descent, nominally Christian, desiring to be "respectable" (i.e., seen as honest, chaste, hard working, etc.). Short hair and neckties were pretty much the symbols of the culture. Blacks and immigrants were subcultures. With the exception of Motown music, on the one hand they kept to themselves, but on the other they were trying to blend in to mainstream culture: melting pot and free market were the watchwords. Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King would be the names best known with that mentality: blacks trying to get whites to open the door to the mainstream -- i.e., transplanted European -- culture. (This is a very broad brush I'm painting with here -- there were many exceptions.)

But things have changed in 50 years, so you're close to right: what was once a subculture has become not "more common than mainstream culture," it is the new mainstream culture. Most "white-collar" workers don't wear ties at work anymore. More importantly, "respectability" is frowned upon. For years after 2006 I used to walk 25 minutes each way from my office to the train, and I was amazed that even if I only heard five seconds of a consversation on the sidewalk as I walked by, almost all of them included words related to pelvic functions or anatomy. We didn't talk that way when I was growing up, and anyone who did would have been shunned. Now everyone does it, and people whose names everyone knows consider it a worthy goal to have these words appear on TV without being beeped out. And of course, tattoos, sagging, piercings, etc., are all part of the new mainstream.

Then there's the immigration situation. Because I believe that the Bible teaches that people and their property are sacred I have no problem with people coming here from other countries. They are human beings. I have no right to stop anyone from coming here peaceably (i.e., without threatening people or their property, which means there should be no government subsidies for them or anyone else either). My job as a Christian is to convince them that God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Period. (And yes, that's why I'm so eager to keep the conversation going with you and anyone else I can get to interlocute.)

But when people come, they will bring their ideas. At least some Muslims will bring with them a sense of justice that includes blasphemy laws, honor killings, and the like, which are not part of the mainstream culture I grew up in. Almost everyone brings with them the idea that free markets are bad things, and most of the descendants of white free-market-loving native born have been convinced of the same idea. As these ideas have become more popular, the culture is changing. Ideas once considered crazy, like jailing people who sell raw milk (or hemp, for that matter) are now the law of the land -- i.e., mainstream. Much of that change happened before I was born, other was being touted by the popular media when I was growing up and wanting to fit in, so I took it on without question. It was only when a crazy guy asked me the right questions that I decided I wanted out of the mainstream.

So yes, punk is now mainstream. As consumers demanded punk clothing, music, tattoos, whatever, businesses mass produced them. You can buy punk clothes at Penney's, right next to the sports logo apparel. The regime has tamed the punks; they are now docile bodies happy to be ruled, as their almost unanimous votes for Obama testify so clearly.

The only remnant of the old subversive subculture is us free-market anarchists. Only we are asking if killing Muslim women and children overseas is a good idea. (Even the Muslims at the local mosque people from my church meet with for discussions a few times a year speak of the US military as "us" and the Iraqis and Afghans as "them.") Only we question subsidies for favored corporations (Monsanto) and unions (e.g., teachers unions in tax-funded schools), the growing police state (NSA, DEA, ICE), etc.

Gotta make some money, so I'll quit. Thanks as always for writing. . . .

Enjoy your day. I'm supposed to expect a paper from you sometime soon, right?

Hanna w sihha!


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