Category Archives: Counter Culture

SUBCULTURE

In this day and age, we live in a society where every person is expected to live up to a mainstream standards of how to dress, how to act, and even who to love. These expectations are of foremost importance to our culture and for the majority, people follow these expectations. But when you look into society there are groups that chose to live by their own set of values and norms, sometimes very similar to mainstream society,  and these groups are termed subcultures. They live in harmony with mainstream society but they choose to follow their own standards, but do not stray too far from mainstream society. When values and standards vary even more from the mainstream we find groups called countercultures, which are subcultures that deliberately go against certain aspects of the larger “mainstream” culture.

An example, that encompasses both of the terms sub and counterculture, would be a relationship group called polyamory, poly meaning “many” or “several”, and  amory meaning love. Polyamory is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved, and this aspect is what makes its practice a counter to the mainstream culture. The social norm of mainstream culture is to have a monogamist relationship based on truth and trust. Even though polyamory does go against social norms of love between a closed pair of people it still has the same values of trust and honesty, which gives the culture a more vague, but arguable, trait of being a sub to mainstream culture.

I recently learned about this term/culture from a dear friend of mine who has been living in a polyamorous relationship with their spouse for more then six months now.  They kept this a secret initially because of fear of how I would react to this information, and in all honestly, my first reaction was shock. I was shocked to find out this even existed in society. I didn’t understand how this could work or even be accepted by people, let alone an entire society. When my friend explained this life style choice to me, she stated clearly and rigidly that, “polyamory is not about sex, it is not at all like swinging. Polyamory is about having an open relationship with your spouse where you both are allowed to have a relationship with another person, and everyone involved knows one another and we’re understanding of the situation. It is about love and the overwhelming amount there is capable for people.”  My next question was to ask how far this relationship would, or could go, because legally you can only marry one person. From here my friend informed me the farthest it would go is to have all persons involved move into a house together, and live life loving each other. After I heard all the information I could, and doing my own research on  polyamory as a lifestyle, I had a few more questions. I asked my friend why they chose this life style, and they remarked, “ I feel this is what I was cut out for. It feels right to me, I have more love to share with someone other then my spouse. It also gives me a greater opportunity to be loved and love. I have known people who live this life style and when I finally understood its values and terms I realized this was the life I would like to live.”

When you relate this type of subculture/counterculture to society you find that many people are not informed about this lifestyle.  U.S.-based relationship values relating to intimate relationships are trust and loyalty, and to mainstream culture we view this lifestyle as deviant.  When my friends got married they signed a marriage license, which in most states means you are forever bonded to this person, and to commit adultery is illegal. Adultery is extremely frowned upon in our culture, it not only shows that you are disloyal to your spouse but it is also viewed as being dishonest to your fellow man.  I emphasize adultery because my friend who lives this life style chose a career that has strict rules concerning adultery. These rules never state what a punishment for adultery could be, but that you will be punished. As a result, my friend could potentially lose her entire career because of this.  Thus, one of my final questions to them was how could you live this life style knowing that one day your entire life career could come crashing to the ground, all because you and your spouse choose to live this way. My friend simply stated, “ I am willing to take the chance to live what I would consider a normal life, I am happy and strongly believe this is the right way to live. If I lose my career over this I will be hurt. But I don’t feel I should have to change my lifestyle to abide by what is expected of society.”

When I think about relationships in society today there are so many different types of love.  Our society has not come to terms yet with these new lifestyles, and at the same time new and vastly different relationships are popping up everywhere. As a society Americans are still working on accepting a homosexual lifestyles, let alone group relationships. I feel that after learning of my friends’ new way of love that society will most certainly shame them. It angers me to feel this way but that is how our society, and most any society works. We shame what we don’t understand and what is seen as counter to our mainstream. I think the solution to this situation is to be tolerant of things that are different. When we look back in history, stories just like this can be found in many different areas. This story is not about love, it is about acceptance that difference is inevitable.  Society use to shame anyone with non-white skin. But with time and awareness society overcame and did more than accept these differences; they began to celebrate them. It is not to say that there are not those who are jaded by the ideas of change to this day, but as a whole society, we can progress to be inclusive rather than exclusive. With saying this, I feel the only way this type of life style will be accepted is with time, and when society is informed and to an extent almost forced to witness these new values we can begin to embrace our differences.

 

Works Cited

Wikipedia contributors. “Polyamory.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2013.

 Witt, Jon. SOC 2012. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. N. pag. Print.

 

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COUNTERCULTURE

In today’s social structure, it is almost everyone’s goal to “fit in”. However it is becoming less rare to have large groups of people choosing to not fit into the dominant group. As a result of people’s different interests, beliefs, and goals there are a variety of different groups that people typically identify with such as sports fans, the party crowd, computer nerds, academic nerds, preps, video gamers, and even hipsters. Individuals tend to choose a group and conform to their values and norms. Norms are considered an established standard of behavior maintained by a society, where values are a collective conception of what is considered good, desirable, and proper or the opposite like bad, undesirable, and improper in a culture(Witt,57,59). The mass majority of people’s cultural beliefs and practices along with values and norms help create the dominant ideology(Witt,62). This mainstream ideology legitimates existing powerful social, economic, and political interests. However in the United states we have a difficult time identifying a singular and inclusive dominant core culture. We have a lot of cultural variation between the subgroups in our society because many people are not able to connect or agree with dominant ideology. Sometimes members of our society completely oppose almost every single value and norm of the mainstream group, and this is where countercultural groups find their members, from the outcasts or objectors of the dominant ideology.

Subcultures are an ethnic, regional, economic, or social group exhibiting characteristic patterns of behavior sufficient to distinguish it from others within an embracing culture or society (Subculture,1).  These subgroups within a culture typically share some values and norms with the dominant ideology. Subcultures are closely similar to countercultures, however countercultures deliberately opposes certain aspects of the core culture (Witt, 65). It can be very challenging to distinguish a group as a subculture or a counterculture, I personally decide the difference based on if they coexist with the dominant culture or not. If the group coexists peacefully with the dominant culture I would consider the group a subculture and if the group does not want to be involved with the dominant culture I would them consider the group a counterculture. People of countercultures often fight to affect some kind of essential change to mainstream culture. Some clear and obvious examples within the last century include feminists, hippies, and punk movements. They all tested the dominate culture to break down previous norms and values that the countercultures did not agree with.

A very small counterculture arising in my hometown is a group that is refereed to as “The furries”. In a larger, more commonly known group they would be considered Therians. A therian is a member of a contemporary subculture of therianthropy, which is based upon a spiritual or psychological identification and relationship with animals and sometimes they believe themselves to be actual animals trapped inside a human body. The furries all believe themselves to literally be wolves. Therians normally try to follow the animal interactions, such as the furries creating a hierarchy of order, such as ‘Alpha Wolves’ and also howling at the moon. They also believe in openness about their sexuality, their animal instincts, and as a cause are normally very sexual in general. The furries typically refuse to talk to other people outside their culture group, and disobey authority figures every chance possible and this is why I would consider them a counterculture.

The subculture I think everyone notices taking over currently is the hipster culture. There is even a television series based on this subculture called Portlandia, centered in Portland, Oregon, the Hipster Capitol. Hipster refers to a subculture of young, recently settled urban middle class adults and older teenagers that appeared in the 1990s. The subculture is associated with independent music, a varied non-mainstream, fashion sensibility, liberal or independent political views, alternative spirituality or atheism or agnosticism, and alternative lifestyles (hipster,1). Hipsters mesh well in most cases with the dominant group because they follow music and fashion trends. The group has become so accepted that lots of their adopted trends are extremely popular and readily available in retail stores. Because they coexist with and accept some dominant ideology’s norms and values, I would consider them a subculture.

The problems we are faced with as a result of countercultures in our society is a lack of harmony between groups and extreme forms of countercultures can be dangerous to society.  The dominant ideology needs to be accepting of being disagreed with, because it is only natural to have a few people with opposing view points. When there is a counterculture of people who want to create tension between themselves and the dominate group it creates a negative atmosphere. The only solution to get rid of the tension between the two culture groups is to agree to disagree and be tolerant of one another. Extreme forms of counterculture in the past include groups such as the Klu Klux Klan. This counterculture was derived from hate ideologies and made the group extremely toxic to society. It is important for the government to keep restrictions on these dangerous counterculture groups to keep society safe.

There is no possible way to rid our society of countercultures, nor should we all wish for that. Countercultures provide us with a variety of types of people and scenes to explore and find new aspects of ourselves within them. Everyone is different, some more then others and that should be okay.

 

Works Cited

Haddow, Douglas. “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization | Adbusters Culturejammer            Headquarters.” Adbusters Culturejammer Headquarters | Journal of the mental      environment. The Big Ideas of 2013, 29 July 2008. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.            <http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/79/hipster.html&gt;.

“Hipster (contemporary subculture) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free   encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.         <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hipster_(contemporary_subculture)&gt;.

“Subculture – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary.” Dictionary     and Thesaurus – Merriam-Webster Online. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.         <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/subculture&gt;.

Witt, Jon. SOC. 2012 ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 20122011. Print.

DOMINANT IDEOLOGY

Jon Witt defines a dominant ideology as “a set of cultural beliefs and practices that legitimates existing powerful social, economic, and political interests” (SOC 2012, 62). It is often thought of in contrast to the smaller subcultures and counter-cultures that exist within them. A dominant culture generally will be a body that assimilates the smaller cultures around it, taking in little bits of the surrounding cultures, but making the adherents of the other cultures lose their former cultural identities. It affects every aspect of human life: social issues, the economy, politics, religion, education, language, et cetera.

One can find examples of dominant cultures throughout human history. Some examples include the WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) in America, the British Empire in the 1600s-1800s, Communism in the 1900s, the “Culture of Death” talked about by Bl. Pope John Paul II, Jim Crow and Segregation in the American South, the Roman Empire in Europe and North Africa from 100 BC to 400 AD, and the “Dictatorship of Relativism” talked about by Pope Benedict XVI. All of these examples, while they have major differences (some are cultural trends, some are groups within a society, others are the societies themselves), are good examples of a dominant culture.

Alexander the Great

One example I would like to look more in depth at is the Hellenizing cultures of the Seleucid Kingdom (one of the nations that split from Alexander the Great’s Kingdom after his death.) Hellenization (a reference to Homer’s character in The Iliad: Helen of Troy) is the name given to the cultural diffusion that would take place whenever Alexander’s armies would take over a new country. It would happen in two primary ways: the Greek armies would adopt some of the local customs (exs: Alexander became King of Persia and Pharaoh of Egypt [instead of just simply saying these places were part of the Kingdom of Macedon], foreign deities were added to the Greek Pantheon [not the building, but a general term for their religious system], and the religious/cultural texts of the various peoples taken over were translated into Greek and collected at Alexandria [like the Jewish Scriptures being collected in the Septuagint]) and the peoples that were taken over were also expected to take on different aspects of Greek culture (adopting the Greek gods as their own, learning Greek language and philosophy, using Greek currency [drachmas, denarii, et cetera], having deference to Alexander in varying degrees, among other things.) Most took to the change pretty well, but Helenization effected different peoples differently.

After the death of Alexander, his Kingdom (which stretched from Italy to India) was split up by his generals in a civil war, in the end leaving four Greek Kingdoms. The Seleucid (centered in Syria) Kingdom is especially interesting. Sitting right on the border of the Seleucids and the Ptolemys was a small area called Palestine. This was one of the smaller areas that Alexander had allowed to retain a certain degree of cultural identity (not requiring them to adopt Greek religion, being partially governed by their priesthood). Because this area was on the border of the two nations, it was often fought over by them and changed hands a lot (cf. Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 11.8-13.16).

The inhabitants of Palestine were mainly Abrahamic Monotheists who followed the Torah (Law) of Moses. There were Samaritans to the North (Samaria) and Jews to the South (Judaea) and the East (Galilee). To generalize, the Samaritans had been more assimilating than the Jews (some even accepting a looser form of Monotheism which believed the God of Israel was the God, while the gods of other nations were lesser gods), and the Jews held more steadfastly to their ancestral beliefs (strict Monotheism, keeping certain dietary laws). Though there were more moderate forms of diffusion that retained cultural traditions yet also learned from Greek culture (like the author of the Old Testament Book of Wisdom, the sage Yeshua ben Sira, the philosopher Philo, et cetera); some even leaving Palestine for other parts of the Greek Kingdoms.

Antiochus IV

Because of the various subcultures found in the area, when Antiochus IV (Epiphanes “[God] manifested”, “called Epimanes, ‘madman,’ by his enemies” [note on 2 Maccabees 4:7 in NOAB]), a Seleucid King, came to power in the area he pushed for Hellenization to be hurried up (for greater unity/social cohesion in the kingdom). He encouraged people to worship the Greek gods, and reject their ancestral traditions. The Samaritan Temple was rededicated to Zeus Hellenius and the Jewish Temple rededicated to Zeus Olympius (Antiquities 12.5). Antiochus also established a gymnasium in the city of Jerusalem and required the breaking of the Jewish Dietary Laws (Antiquities 12.6). The Bible records it like this, “Then the king [Antiochus] wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that all should give up their particular customs…whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die” (1 Maccabees 1:41-42,50 NRSV). Because of the varying levels of diffusion and accepting of Greek culture among Palestinians, there were a couple of different reactions to this. Samaritans and more Hellenized Jews tended to support such moves. Jews more faithful to their way of life ended up doing one of two things: they were either martyred for not following the King’s orders or they violently fought against it. One can see from an account of the martyrdom of Eleazar the priest, that pressure to conform to Hellenization came not just from the Greeks, but often from their Jewish country men (“Eleazar, one of the scribes in high position, a man now advanced in age and of noble presence, was being forced to open his mouth to eat swine’s flesh [considered unclean in Judaism]…Those who were in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside because of their long acquaintancewith him, and privately urged him…to pretend that he was eating the flesh of the sacrificial meal that had been commanded by the king, so that by doing this he might be saved from death, and be treated kindly on account of his old friendship with them” [2 Maccabees 6:18,21-22 NRSV]). In the examples of Eleazar and of Mattathias (the original leader of the Hasmonean/Maccabean Revolt), one can also see that the government authorities often would go to the elders of the community first, to try to help lead the rest of the people to follow suit, but often these elders would end up becoming examples for the people to be deviant in response to the king’s demands. (cf. 1 Maccabees 1:15-28, 2 Maccabees 6:18-31, Antiquities 12.5-6). Both martyrdom and the military responses clearly exemplify what we mean by a counter-culture that rebels against the dominant ideology of the time. Eventually the rebellion was successful and took back Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple (the root of the feast of Hanukkah), and established the Hasmonean line of kings/priests (cf. 1 Maccabees 4, 9-16).

As Sociologists and Historians today, we constantly must look back on Dominant Ideologies of the past, and then take a look at our culture, and pick out the similarities and differences, to try to avoid the inevitable (or at least become aware of whatever we find.)

Works Cited

Josephus, Flavius. JOSEPHUS: The Complete Works. Trans. Whiston, William. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Ed. Michael Coogan. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. Print. New Revised Standard Version.

Witt, Jon. SOC 2012. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print.