Jun 25 2012

The Counterculture Is Better In The Suburbs

""){ ?> By Rachel Haywire



The first time I was ever in San Francisco it blew my mind. It was a city of freethinkers and artists who were “on the level” and “got it.” Sometimes it’s hard for me to accept that I was born in South Florida. The isolation and alienation was so severe that I literally believed I was another species. In San Francisco, there were crazy people everywhere and it was the utopian dream. For several years I was born again. The freaks were everywhere and I united with my people at last.

So what happened? I gradually started to notice that people in the mass counterculture were as blind as “the sheep” only they were conforming to a different set of social norms. I came up with the term anti-sheep-sheep to describe them. I felt myself longing for the initial alienation of identifying as a mutant and feeling like I was the only one. After all, meeting people like you is a lot more exciting when you feel like you are the only one. The people who truly influenced my life were the few counterculture people who I met in South Florida. They were as isolated and alienated as I was. They felt like they were another species too.

I remember how we would have all these exciting discussions. “What are we?” was the question. Everyone seemed to have their own answer. “We are an alien species that has been put here to study the human race.” “We are demons from hell and our job is to eliminate the homo sapien.” It seems quite silly to me now but back then it was my inspiration for creating art. It was my job to become a tribal leader. I was going to give “what are we?” the best answer possible.

One of the kids I remember from South Florida created an entire civilization on paper. Since he did not belong in the world of the suburbs he was intent on creating his own world. He showed me a map of his civilization that consisted of a notebook full of beautiful drawings and cryptic messages. “This is where people like us are from,” he would tell me. His civilization had its own language consisting of symbols that he personally designed. We took acid together and discussed the possibility of replacing their civilization with our own.

I met some others in Miami. Thor was the metalhead philosopher. He carried a scepter, recited street poetry, and ranted about how nothing around us was real. His mission was to show people that they were living in the matrix, by any means necessary. Jackie was the transgender shaman punk who did not belong on this planet. Her goal was simply to return home so she could be among her own kind. “I think you guys are from my planet too,” she once whispered to Thor and I. “But what are we?”

The suburbs were an alienating place but the conversations were the best. It was all about being the few. We had a sacred sense of tribal unity that related to our sheltered and conservative upbringings. We were the ones. In San Francisco people didn’t grow up like us. They didn’t grow up like us in Los Angeles or New York either. In major cities people grew up with the counterculture being a visible part of mainstream culture. They grew up homo sapiens.

I want to make the argument that the counterculture is actually better in the suburbs. The scarcity of artistic and eccentric thought forces people to create their own civilizations. It fosters an intense unity between people who do not fit into the mainstream and creates extreme connections among those on the edge.

In contrast, larger cities force marketers to be “on the edge” so they can appeal to the counterculture demographic. You cannot walk down the street without seeing punks, ravers, goths, or at the very least hipsters. There is an over-the-counterculture element of commercialization that makes being a freethinking mutant another fad. The anti-sheep-sheep run prominent.

If I grew up in San Francisco: surrounded by counterculture models on billboards: always having a record store to hang out in: there is no way I would be the person I am today. Being a natural freethinker I would have rebelled against the dominant liberal culture. I wouldn’t have gotten any tattoos. I wouldn’t have become an alternative musician. I wouldn’t have made my artistic goal to answer the “what are we” question.

People were always shocked when I told them I was from South Florida. I was way too “cool” to be from the suburbs and obviously must have been from New York or LA. When I met other kids from the suburbs we would talk about how much easier it was to meet people like us in these big cities. We shared a deep knowledge about alienation that people from New York and LA simply couldn’t understand.

Big cities are known for their thriving countercultures but I see counterculture at its peak when it is at its most obscure. When there are only 5 other people in your entire city who “get it” you tend to get creative, start a fantastic cult, and plot world domination. It is the sense of alienation that connects people in the suburbs and it is through this alienation that new subcultures, tribes, and species are defined.

Maybe it is better to grow up human. You don’t need to sit alone in your room and wonder why you have been put on the same planet as “the sheep.” You don’t need to cry and scream because everybody around you is stuck in the matrix. You don’t need to be the real life protagonist of the movie “They Live” because nobody will put on their glasses. Still, there is so much that you take for granted because you have been surrounded by counterculture your entire life.

Is big city counterculture actually counterculture? I am not so sure that it is. Listening to GG Allin in New York is great but it does not give you the same rebellious thrill as listening to GG Allin in the suburbs. The more taboo something is the more exciting it becomes. Something cannot, by definition, be both popular and edgy. In South Florida it is edgy to be against war. In San Francisco it is socially enforced to the point of banal conformity.

The counterculture is better in the suburbs. It is through the isolation of “being the only one” that your life changes the moment you meet a brilliant person to make art with. Some of the most eccentric minds in existence are currently stuck in these boring towns of nothing. They have “what are we” conversations until 6 AM and it never gets old. They represent us because the billboards refuse to.

  • By PapayaSF, June 25, 2012 @ 10:49 am

    There is much truth to this. I think there is as much, if not more, pressure to conform in a “non-conformist” area like the San Francisco Bay area… it’s just that the pressure is to fit the mold of what currently counts as “non-conformist.”

  • By Nice Doodle, June 25, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

    A creative impulse should usually be discouraged if not crushed on Frank Lloyd Wright. Slippin’ and a’slidin’, peepin’ and a hidin’, been told along time ago.

  • By Art Dent, June 26, 2012 @ 7:30 am

    The : is not : a : substitute : for the: COMMA.

  • By Khannea Suntzu, June 26, 2012 @ 10:20 pm

    I wonder if I would be a freak too twisted even for SF, Rachel.

  • By Anonymous, June 26, 2012 @ 10:44 pm

    Hey, Rachel, check this out:

    Open letter to Julian Assange

  • By The Anti-Christ, June 27, 2012 @ 12:52 am

    there is no ‘counter’ culture if we’re defining the regular culture as a conformist propagation network. because in that case a ‘counter’ culture would exist solely as individuals, and an individual, by definition, is not a culture. my point is, it’s not that the counter culture is any less real in the city, it’s just the larger group makes it easier to see it for what it always was; the same old shit: insular, dogmatic, pretentious and ironically arrogant. So why put so much importance on this concept of a ‘counter’ culture, shouldn’t it be our goal as a species to be more tolerant of everyone’s weird BS? that way the individual becomes more collective, and the collective becomes more individual.

  • By Anonymous, June 28, 2012 @ 7:18 am

    tl;dr: I want to feel special.

  • By alex, June 28, 2012 @ 8:44 am

    “If I grew up in San Francisco: surrounded by counterculture models on billboards: always having a record store to hang out in: there is no way I would be the person I am today. Being a natural freethinker I would have rebelled against the dominant liberal culture.”

    That’s not called being a freethinker, that’s called being a contrarian. Big difference.

  • By Parker East, June 29, 2012 @ 5:20 am

    I feel uniquely qualified to comment on this as I was born and lived in Kansas until high school, with high school on the mid-atlantic Florida coast. Later I moved to San Francisco for two years.

    Whether being anti-war is banal in a place or not, the justification for that stance is independent of the climate. Ideally, whatever you do with your life ought occur for the sake of the thing done. Hopefully Thor would be waking people from the matrix in SF even if he had to go to the Financial District and the Marina to find the sleeping ones.

    I get that we have a special bond from growing up awake in a relative dead zone, and I get that some of the people in the city wear the plumage (physical and mental) to fit in, not because they’ve thought it through. However, the counter-culture isn’t better anywhere. The only constraint or encouragement you have is to be true to yourself and its expression.

    Perhaps if we’d been born in SF we’d be pushing everyone’s boundaries even further.

  • By Arvid, July 30, 2012 @ 3:36 pm

    This reminds me of any time I go out of state (I live in Louisiana) and people ask me why I don’t have an accent.

  • By Tim, February 9, 2014 @ 11:34 pm

    Yea, although I live in L.A. and it being a big city… I still feel kind of alone of being more of a minimalist and things.

    I’ve been planning on maybe backpacking up to northern CA and maybe head up to Oregon. I would really love to find a city that feels like home 🙂

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