Defining counterculture used to be so easy. There were “us” and “them.” And if there were any doubts, the dictionary helped clear them up. Counterculture, to Merriam-Webster, is any culture “with values and mores that run counter to those of established society.”
That worked in the early 1960s. That decade had three television networks, a couple predominant religions, media conglomerates with the same playbook, a single (acknowledged) standard for sexuality, and a government with two functioning parties that still maintained a sense of shared public service and compromise. The flip side, the idealistic counterculture hippie movement, was equally easy to define.
They wore haircuts and clothes that easily identified them, listened to music the broader culture hated, took drugs without apology and fought against the government on a shared platform of equal rights, free love and pacifism.
This shared ethos is why figures as disparate as Jerry Garcia and Charles Manson can both be considered hippies.
The ensuing decades have shattered the illusion of a single, dominant culture. The edges are harder to see. When nearly everyone has the equivalent of a printing press and broadcast facility on their phones, big media have splintered and every minute communities of the like-minded form, evolve, multiply and demand respect, who’s to say who’s in and who’s way out there? Everyone has a community where they fit in and can be accepted, if they want to find it.
What defines counterculture when there is no clearly defined culture to begin with?
As long as iconoclasts want to be on the outside looking in, there is a counterculture. It’s the ultimate freedom — to declare oneself an outsider and grasp the creative license that comes from being one of “them.” Counterculture is a mindset, not a fence erected by society. The hippies are the icons of modern counterculture, but people today have a host of places to proudly plant their freak flags. That’s the benefit and maybe curse of being free.
Dallas Observer's Counterculture Guide
Religion: Meet Dr. Susan Harper, Feminist Witch
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.