a Meow Meow Pow Pow Roundtable - edited by h.
A few months ago, I reviewed Jim Ruland's book about the rise and fall of SST Records, which included stories about a singer whose biography Ruland worked on, Keith Morris. Morris's band after he left Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, included Greg Hetson, who would also go on to play with Bad Religion. A few short years after I met Bad Religion backstage as a teenage boy getting into punk rock, Hetson and his partner would become parents to a daughter named Violet.
Like all y'all during the pandemic, I downloaded TikTok and found numerous ways to pass the time. One account I stumbled onto was a twentysomething Violet Hetson sharing apocryphal punk history (this is my nice way of saying she was trolling humorless purists by calling everyone the wrong name and mixing up who was in what bands). Even legendary Reagan Youth got in on the joke by sharing the videos. When not mispronouncing Jello Biafra's name, Violet Hetson fronts an amazing rock band called Powerviolets.
This is one of only many examples of new generations adding new accomplishments to what previous generations did before them - for example, the Meat Puppets, who were also covered in Ruland's book, are still at it and their current lineup includes Elmo Kirkwood, the son of founding member Curt Kirkwood (and, of course, nephew of other founding member Cris Kirkwood).
I would think most people see this as a progression of counterculture. And yet another review of Ruland's book claims the following:
Corporate Rock Sucks... (is) a case study in how principled countercultural movements, under the iron grip of capitalist realism, have again and again made themselves toothless adjuncts of the mainstream. At a moment when it’s hard to imagine anything in American culture posing a threat to the established social order, Ruland’s book helps explain why we lack a meaningful counterculture today.
It's meaningful to me.
But I thought I'd ask some folks who'd have their own say about it.
-h. (Blog Editor, Meow Meow Pow Pow - check out my stuff at HubUnofficial.com)
Gina Gurewitz - Writer, Mother, Professional Punker
It’s easy to dismiss the idea of an enduring counter culture when pop stars now sport face tattoos and Travis Barker is married to a Kardashian, but in my experience, the counter culture is alive and well, bubbling, as it always has, just under the surface. Every generation seems to think they were the last to stick it to the man, and punks are no exception. The worst thing you could be in the punk scene in the late 80s and early 90s was a sellout, then many of those so-called sellouts went on to decry the emo scene of the 2000s as inauthentic posturing, and now those emo stars are old enough to be shaking their fists at the underground rappers and anti-pop artists of today.
In order to keep Epitaph from turning into a legacy label (though he has plenty of those incredible artists as well), my husband Brett has always been involved in the new scenes, and as a result, I have been introduced to a steady stream of young artists who are operating under the radar, working, living and creating collaboratively, exploding sexual and gender norms, just as DIY as the punks of my generation, even if their music sometimes sounds like the score of an 8-bit video game. Some of the punkest kids I’ve met recently look like 90s ecstasy clubkid burnouts, or like pretty riot grrls who aren’t girls at all, or at least, not all the time. The counter culture still exists, you just have to be young enough, or motivated enough, to find it.
Gina Emiko Gurewitz writes and lives in NELA with her husband, two children and three jumbo dogs.
Kelli Callis - That Girl Zine
For those of us who came of age in the late 80s and early 90s, the 60s and 70s were all the rage. The heshers had matured into gentlemen who appreciated the fine auditory cuisine of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Black Sabbath. Jean jackets were accompanied by tie dye shirts, and hair grew from feathered mullets into unwashed angel mops. The alternative scene embraced the 60s-- with Deee-Lite, peace signs, gogo boots, mixed with a rising awareness of direct protest and cultural dissent. We went to meetings, we phone banked, we took to the streets, not quite knowing what to do because many of our boomer parents had given up on social change and were settling back on leather sectionals, trying to figure out how to pay off the new pool.
The 90s hit us head on, as we disrupted the mainstream with our independent labels, our DIY ethic, putting on our own shows, putting out our own media with cassette tapes and zines and for some, news servers and message boards. And then everything went mainstream as our rebellion became a fashion statement, K-Mart ads for grunge, Seventeen magazine step-by-steps how to look like a riot grrrl.
So when I saw my teenage students sporting Nirvana and Joy Division and Misfits shirts, I would smile and quiz them about their knowledge, usually disappointed but appreciating that now I can replace missing t-shirts cheaply from the Target and Forever 21 racks. But then, I saw a Blur shirt, and a GG Allin one, and then the students started having detailed answers about what songs they liked, where they got the shirts from. And then I found out there’s a Zine Club on campus (why I’m not the advisor, you’ll have to ask them!). And now there are debates about the origins of “real” emo-- is DC hardcore real emo or did it all really blow up with the midwestern button up scene? We can thank YouTube and memes and Copypasta that they have an opinion on these things. And yet, the DIY ethic is popping up. With the recent Supreme Court decision on abortion leaked, many female students are sporting pink venus symbol with a fist in the middle stickers like they’re ready to Rock the Vote.
Every generation wants to hop back 20-30 years to copy and paste the best parts of that generation, usually all aesthetics and little substance, but if the kids today are resurrecting a revolution we let whimper and die while we were scrolling through TikToks for alien conspiracy theories, I say we give them the tools we used and see what they can do with it. I’ll stash some zines in the neighborhood Little Library and will make a home for radical activists’ autobiographies on my classroom shelves next door to high-interest Sci Fi and David Goggins and Rickson Gracie. Let’s milk this little revolution and show them how to pour milk in their eyes to get rid of the teargas sting before the revival of the 2000s takes over and we’re all in velour jumpsuits watching bad reality tv again.
Kelli Callis has been writing the perzine That Girl since 1993. She pays the bills as a mean and grumpy English teacher in the suburbs. You can find her on IG @thatgirlzine.
Brandie Posey - Comedian, Writer, Producer
As the US flirts with authoritarianism more & more every day, it's imperative that our art forms maintain a strong counter culture instead of just reflecting back that slow descent into fascism any person paying attention can't shake feeling. Looking at comedy specifically, so many of the corporate-approved comedians who are making big money on platforms like Netflix are at best toothless & at worst aggressively promoting hate speech against minorities in their acts.
When you're chasing a paycheck from means-tested, focus-grouped entertainment assholes, you ultimately end up dancing for the forces that have kept America from ever getting anywhere near fulfilling it's lofty goals. America in reality seeks to divide & distract the masses with shiny things & new groups of people to blame instead of looking at the real culprits behind the suffering of so many of our fellow citizens - greed & power consolidated by the ultra-rich. And so many comedians are more than willing to play along if it gets them a little taste because "it's just comedy".
I can't tell you the number of times I've told a woman or a POC or a trans person that I'm a comedian & their entire body language shifts, because so many comedians chasing the mainstream dream have done so by making these people their punching bags. I don't blame them, I thought stand up was mean & incredibly toxic too until I started seeing the "alternative" comedians of my youth & realized there was more out there.
Any time you are a person the world seeks to keep from power, speaking into a microphone, it is a revolutionary act. To make your voice the loudest in a room, in a country that does not want you to be heard, is powerful. Not squandering that power by towing the company/America's line will always be sorely needed, now more than ever as wealth consolidation & civil unrest grow day by day. A good joke aimed at the powerful or even just expressing a truth the world would rather not acknowledge will tip the scales towards the powerless if but for a moment in time. And sometimes that's just enough relief to get through another day.
Jessie Lynn McMains - Author, Owner of Bone & Ink Press
People have been lamenting the deaths of various subcultures—or the times when said subcultures were a true threat to the mainstream culture—since approximately forever, so I always take any blanket statements like that with a grain of salt. It’s certainly easy to think that all subculture is toothless in this day and age, because of the way things look on social media. A lot of what is out there on social media, or at least a lot of what we see, involves the aesthetics of certain subcultures without a lot of the real meat, or meaning, behind them. But I do think subculture still exists and has relevance; you just don’t see all of that on Instagram or what-have-you. Just in my small corner of SE Wisconsin, there are punks and rappers, graffiti artists, skateboarders, zinesters, LGBTQ+ groups, urban gardeners, spoken word performers, visual artists, etc. I think one just needs to investigate their local and regional subcultures—either away from the internet or using the internet as a tool to connect with nearby groups—to find like-minded people, and to see that there’s still a lot of subcultural action out there. When you join in with local subcultural groups, you’ll find that a lot of those groups overlap or work together towards common goals. And when that happens, subculture becomes counterculture and poses a true threat and alternative to the mainstream.
Chloe Luxe - Adult Entertainer
Counter culture is still alive and well but, like most things, it has evolved. As a fat, queer, Latina sex worker my entire existence is against social norms. I think that what a lot of people think of when counter culture is mentioned is this very white washed punk, goth, stick it to the man mentality when in reality it’s evolved to include a more diverse crowd. Is counter culture dead or is it just including voices that weren’t being heard anymore and now it doesn’t seem as exclusive as it was when Siouxsie, Nico, and Sid could just be blatantly racist and antisemitic and people just looked the other way and still raised their fists against fascism in a display of performative activism?
If anything I feel as if counter culture is more prevalent today than it has been in the past. There are now more people of color being represented and body positivity has become a political statement.
As a sex worker I have participated in being a part of counter culture. Porn in itself was very much about thin, white bodies with blonde hair. Today I have witnessed a counter culture formed where porn is now DIY and includes all shapes, sizes, and colors. I have a fat body, piercings, tattoos, breasts that are not perky, and I brand myself as being goth, but I have seen a huge uptick in the followers I have amassed. Is this not counter culture because I capitalize off of it, or is it extremely part of counter culture because I am not anywhere near societies ideal of beauty but have still carved a name for myself in an act of protest against those standards?
I think that the popularity of the internet has made some people feel as if counter culture doesn’t exist anymore because it’s now more readily available to more people. What I don’t understand is why that makes counter culture obsolete. It has never been about exclusivity. It’s just about going against societies norms and if more people can get behind that idea via social media and organizing online, why is that a bad thing? Everything evolves, counter culture included.
Party Brains - Video Game ENTREPRENEUR & Pro Wrestling Promoter
Let me nip the main point in the bud right now: YES! Counter culture still has meaning! A good amount if you’re doing it “right”.
So long as there is a popular culture to push back against, counter culture will have a place and meaning.
I’ve never looked at the counter culture as being a big rebellious statement. Hell, if anything, culture NEEDS counter-culture and vice versa. The ability to look at what you’re doing subjectively and ask “is this in line with what my peers are doing OR is it slightly askew from the norm.”
For me personally, pop culture norms have always served as a box that I’ve had to creatively figure out a way to be free from. Even if it’s to stand within arms reach of the box and say “look what I was able to pull off.” The feeling of intentionally doing something different from everyone else just for the sake of saying you did. That shit is awesome.
I guess counter culture will continue to have meaning, assuming those contributing to it push forward past those ever changing goal posts.
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