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Posts Tagged ‘counterculture’

Passion fuels the lives we envision for ourselves better than discipline or elbow grease alone.

However, a little bit of passion’s dark side — anger — may be the best defense of our identity, and a future that looks like us.

Sousse 2009 by A.AshmanThis week Dialogue2010 participant Elmira Bayraslı shared the anger that keeps her hybrid. Rather than assimilate or choose one social group to belong to, the daughter of Turkish immigrants in New York ferociously defends her hard-won ability to switch to independent American woman — and back again.

As an expat I know this righteousness-to-be-hybrid. A defense mechanism not only kicks in but is kept in place by a low level anger about external pressures to live and be a certain way. It’s been a cornerstone of my survival, and for many people living between worlds.

Today I was reminded exactly how homegrown this righteousness is by a Facebook group of one-line jokes about Berkeley upbringings. How counterculture taboos affected childhood is dizzying:

  • boycotts of table grapes and iceberg lettuce make kids anxious when visiting un-PC families,
  • a sneaked McDonald’s meal draws punishment while smoking weed does not,
  • the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are off-limits (pseudo-military!),
  • while the whitebread Brady Bunch and misogynistic Barbie are what’s wrong with the world.

Free Speech protests witnessed from baby strollers make this group a veritable Red Diaper Baby playdate.

Also glimpsed: the realization that  much of what characterized a Berkeley childhood thirty or forty years ago — that is, the lifestyle and belief system of an alternative community, the anger that separated it from the rest of the nation — has now become mainstream in America.

So, my righteous sisters and brothers, what are you going to keep being angry about when it comes to who you are?

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Growing up in a countercultural town, the presentation and packaging tactics of Madison Avenue and Hollywood, and the protocol of the diplomatic world seemed like subversive tools of the establishment. I often think of a brilliant local character known as a founding father of California’s rich architectural history who wandered the streets of Berkeley barefoot, his red beard and hair wild, beer belly protruding from a ripped t-shirt. Where might his speaking career — and wind of Berkeley’s astounding architectural heritage — have taken him, if he hadn’t appeared to be a vagrant?

Recently marketing futurist Seth Godin talked about the decisive role of cultural wisdom — or sophistication — in business, and asked why we don’t take it more seriously.

I polled my online contacts, asking Is poor presentation a death sentence for a good idea? LinkedIn said yes (66%), to be successful an idea demands professionalism. “Presentation is EVERYTHING!” effused one person. Facebook was split, debating what professionalism means and the harm of over-marketing, with craftspeople and small business owners shouting “Hell no!” Commitment ranked as the top factor in success. One pragmatic man observed “Professionalism works in dull markets,” while a fellow Berkeleyan admitted we have to ”be able to engage with the status quo enough to be able to transmit a new concept.” Here at WordPress, 50% thought if the idea was winning people would forgive a shaggy package and one respondent likened presentation to the booster rocket that gets the Space Shuttle in to orbit.

Is superficial accessibility superficial? Or are movements we think of as “fringe” on the periphery not just because their beliefs are minorly held, but because they refuse to persuade from within general convention?

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