Although distinct countercultural undercurrents exist in many societies, here the term "counterculture" refers to a more significant, visible phenomenon that reaches critical mass and persists for a period of time. A countercultural movement expresses the ethos, aspirations, and dreams of a specific population during an era—a social manifestation of zeitgeist. The term is applied to a group, rather than opinions of a single individual, separately.
Countercultural milieux in 19th century Europe included the traditions of Romanticism, Bohemianism and of the Dandy. Another movement existed in a more fragmentary form in the 1950s, both in Europe and the US, in the form of the Beat generation, or Beatniks, followed in the 1960s by the hippies.
The term 'counterculture' came to prominence in the news media as it was used to refer to the social revolution that swept North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand during the 1960s and early 1970s.
White middle class youth, for the first time since the Great Depression of the 1930s, had sufficient leisure time to raise concerns about social issues—especially civil rights, the Vietnam War and women's rights. The far-reaching changes that began during the late 1960s and early 1970s affected many aspects of society, creating a social revolution in many industrialized countries. The effects of the 1960s and 1970s counterculture also significantly affected voters and institutions, especially in the U.S. Every Western capital experienced significant protests.
As the 1960s progressed, widespread tensions developed in American society that tended to flow along generational lines regarding the war in Vietnam, race relations, sexual mores, women's rights, traditional modes of authority, experimentation with psychedelic drugs and a predominantly materialist interpretation of the American Dream.
The Hippies became the largest countercultural group in the United States, fighting for racial equality, women's rights, sexual liberation (including gay rights), relaxation of prohibitions against recreational drugs, and an end to the Vietnam War. Hippie culture was best embodied by the new genre of psychedelic rock music and the artists who exemplified this era, such as Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Janis Joplin. The pop-art culture led by Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick also played a prominent part in the social change in the United States by redefining what "art" was and what made it valuable. His mass-produced monographs and silk-screens, such as the iconic Campbell's Soup Cans challenged the notion that art is only about certain subjects—i.e. wealthy patrons or pretty landscapes, or that art is a singular creation. Warhol's expressed views of glamour, art, and drugs very prominently through Warhol's paintings, films, and music (through his sponsored bands The Velvet Underground and Nico and his Factory).
Theodore Roszak stated, "A eclectic taste for mystic, occult, and magical phenomena has been a marked characteristic of our postwar WWII youth culture since the days of the beatniks" (1968). The spiritualism included major interest in astrology, such as the term "Age of Aquarius" and knowing people's signs (Sun Signs).
The counterculture in the United States reached its peak between 1965 and the mid-1970s. It eventually waned for several reasons: mainstream America's backlash against its excesses, many notable countercultural figures died, the Civil Rights movement achieved its main goals, and the Vietnam War ended. Though most of the 1960s countercultural groups have died out, they have left a lasting mark on society that continues to inspire modern-day movements.
At the outset of the 20th century, homosexual acts were punishable offenses in these countries. The prevailing public attitude was that homosexuality was a moral failing that should be punished, as exemplified by Oscar Wilde’s 1895 trial and imprisonment for "gross indecency." But even then, there were dissenting views. Sigmund Freud publicly expressed his opinion that homosexuality was a perfectly normal condition for some people.
According to Charles Kaiser’s The Gay Metropolis, there were already semi-public gay-themed gatherings by the mid-1930s in the United States (such as the annual drag balls held during the Harlem Renaissance). There were also bars and bathhouses that catered to gay clientele and adopted warning procedures (similar to those used by Prohibition-era speakeasies) to warn customers of police raids. But homosexuality was typically subsumed into bohemian culture, and was not a significant movement in itself.
Eventually, a genuine gay culture began to take root, albeit very discreetly, with its own styles, attitudes and behaviors and industries began catering to this growing demographic group. For example, publishing houses cranked out pulp novels like The Well of Loneliness or The Velvet Underground that were targeted directly at gay people. By the early 1960s, openly gay political organizations such as the Mattachine Society were formally protesting abusive treatment toward gay people, challenging the entrenched idea that homosexuality was an aberrant condition, and calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality. Despite very limited sympathy, American society began at least to acknowledge the existence of a sizable population of gays. The film The Boys in the Band, for example, featured negative portrayals of gay men, but at least recognized that they did in fact fraternize with each other (as opposed to being isolated, solitary predators who "victimized" straight men).
The watershed event in the American gay rights movement was the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City. Following this event, gays and lesbians began adopting the militant protest tactics used by anti-war and black power radicals to confront anti-gay ideology. Another major turning point was the 1973 decision by the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the official list of mental disorders. Although gay radicals used pressure to force the decision, Kaiser notes that this had been an issue of some debate for many years in the psychiatric community, and that one of the chief obstacles to normalizing homosexuality was that therapists were profiting from offering dubious, unproven "cures".
The AIDS epidemic was an unexpected blow to the movement, especially in North America. There was speculation that the disease would permanently drive gay life underground. Ironically, the tables were turned. Many of the early victims of the disease had been openly gay only within the confines of insular gay ghettos such as New York City’s Greenwich Village and San Francisco’s Castro); they remained closeted in their professional lives and to their families. Many heterosexuals who thought they didn't know any gay people were confronted by friends and loved ones dying of ‘the gay plague.’ The LGBT community were increasingly seen not only as victims of a disease, but as victims of ostracism and hatred. Most importantly, the disease became a rallying point for a previously complacent gay community. AIDS invigorated the community politically to fight not only for a medical response to the disease, but also for wider acceptance of homosexuality in mainstream America. Ultimately, coming out became an important step for many LGBT people.
In 2003, the United States Supreme Court officially declared all sodomy laws unconstitutional. Annual gay pride events take place throughout the US and the world. Many of the current debates at the forefront of the LGBT community, such as same-sex marriage and parenting) would have been unthinkable even 20 years ago. As of 2007, the gay community is focusing on marital rights, although sufficient numbers of Americans oppose gay marriage to the point that 27 state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage have been passed by comfortable popular margins of 60-80%. This indicates that despite the wider acceptance and tolerance of homosexual life, it is still viewed by mainstream American society as an aberration, making it in every sense one of several contemporary 'countercultures'.
During the early '70s, Russian culture was forced into quite a rigid framework of constant optimistic approach to everything. Even mild topics, such as breaking marriage and alcohol abuse, tended to be viewed as taboo by the media. In response, Russian society grew weary of the gap between real life and the creative world. Thus, the folklore and underground culture tended to be considered forbidden fruit. On the other hand, the general satisfaction with the quality of the existing works promoted parody, often within existing settings. For example, the Russian anecdotal joke tradition turned the settings of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy into a grotesque world of sexual excess. Another well-known example is black humor (mostly in the form of short poems) that dealt exclusively with funny deaths and/or other mishaps of small innocent children.
In the mid-'80s, the Glasnost policy allowed the production of not-so-optimistic creative works. As a consequence, Russian cinema during the late '80s to the early '90s was dominated by crime-packed action movies with explicit (but not necessarily graphic) scenes of ruthless violence and social dramas on drug abuse, prostitution and failing relations. Although Russian movies of the time would be rated R in the USA due to violence, the use of explicit language was much milder than in American cinema.
Russian counterculture as we know it emerged in the late '90s with the increased popularity of the internet. Several web sites appeared that posted user-written short stories that dealt with sex, drugs and violence. The following features are considered most popular topics for the works:
The interesting aspect is the influence of the contra-cultural developments on the Russian pop culture. In addition to traditional Russian styles of music like songs with jail-related lyrics, new music styles with explicit language were developed
Kappen writes, "Were we to succumb to the first, we should be losing our identity; if to the second, ours would be a false, obsolete identity in a mental universe of dead symbols and delayed myths".
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