The American Counterculture

Article excerpt

The American Counterculture Christopher Gain Edinburgh University Press, 2007.

The book is divided into two parts. Part One concentrates on elaborations of the American counterculture between the years of 1945 and 1960. Part Two focuses on the years 1961-72. The emphasis of the book was on how the aesthetics of the counterculture were played out in music, fiction, film, and paintings. The author points out that history is not neatly divided into decade-like segments. There is necessarily selectivity in what is included and what is excluded in a book of this type.

Following the turbulence of the Great Depression and World War II, the nation was ready for a return to normality and stability. By the 1950s Americans were buying television sets and watching programs involving situation comedies, westerns, drama, and depiction of families in everyday life. Developments in print and recording technology contributed to the emergence of mass markets for art and music. Advances in radio technology allowed a growing number of teenagers to have ready access to their own kind of music. The economic prosperity of post war America permitted the elaboration of many aspects of popular culture as well as the social experimentation that accompanied an emerging counterculture.

The author defines the counterculture so broadly that it encompasses a great deal of the field of popular culture. The basis for including discussions of Elvis Presley, Jackson Pollock, and the movie High Noon as examples of counterculture is puzzling to this reviewer. The author fails to develop an explicit conception of the counterculture, but instead provides a general review of popular culture in the United States during the 1950s and the 1960s. While his central concept lacks clarification, discussions of the conflicts surrounding the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, the "Summer of Love" in Haight-Ashbury, and Woodstock in upstate New York are clear examples of how the dominant cultural values of American society were turned upside down and rejected.

The tension between individualistic and collective goals could not be resolved in the American counterculture. It was difficult to find an appropriate discourse for social protest and to express reservations about the generally positive views Americans held of their increasing economic prosperity. A great deal of the cultural productions of the 1950s was focused on the many aspects of alienation in modern social life. …


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