2008-09-24

The counterpublic and its parasitic counterculture

This may well be one of the best articles I've ever read on the internet.

Nearly two weeks ago Transpontine over at History is Made at Night (which is one of my favourite blogs) posted a response to my article about feminine men and their subcultures (a topic which, from another perspective entirely, has been getting a lot of interesting discussion over at Wayne & wax). In it, he pointed out an article on the blog Pop Feminist, entitled "Can Women Be Part of Counterculture?"

It's been spinning madly in my head ever since. It's a brilliant read and it's helped me get my mind straight on loads of issues I've posed questions over on this blog, issues of class, race and not least gender.


At heart, the article picks up a question which I've never given deeper thought before: why does the counterculture, or hipster culture, or alternative culture, consist almost entirely of kids from privileged groups? White, middle-class, heterosexual boys? If I'd offered up an explanation previously, it would have had to do with class almost exclusively – the counterculture is a middle-class culture and society excludes other ethnic groups and many women from economic gain.

Pop Feminist, on the other hand, offers a much more persuasive argument. Based in part on a critique of the "white negro" of Norman Mailer, she offers up a distinction of two types of marginal groups:
Let me suggest a basic foundation for counterculture:
Counterculture:
Elective marginalization

Women and other disenfranchised groups, on the other hand, constitute a counterpublic:
Counterpublic:
Forced marginalization
Whereas Mailer talks about the "psychopathology" of blacks, Pop Feminist puts in much more clear sociological terms. Counterculture, hipsterism, etc. is the concious approach towards a marginalised state from those who are privilidged enough not to have to be there. Those who are already marginalised have no place in it, and constitute a counterpublic. It really puts words on my distaste for a lot of the hipsteristic activities that I encounter, and it seems to me to be a very profound insight that I've still yet to fully digest. (As you can tell by this rather rambling post.)

It's frightening how many issues this cuts across that I've been dealing with in this blog and elsewhere. For instance, the whole discussion on slumming/trustafarianism/wiggerism that stirred so much controversy here suddenly appears to be of central importance after all. The attraction of hipsters to working-class and black culture that I've discussed here is given a good explanation, as is why the two nevertheless never meet.

And, of course, the issue Transpotine was responding to also makes much more sense. If the "feminine" men are thought of as "gender slummers", the exclusion of women that they participate in is a natural step – women can't be part of the counterculture since they're part of the counterpublic.

1 comment:

Pop Feminist said...

Hey! Thanks for this thoughtful post!