Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter’s The Rebel Sell: How the Counterculture Became Consumer Culture was another interesting read. It was fascinating to learn about their perspective about the concept of the counterculture and how they believe it became consumer culture. Their chapter entitled Freud Goes to California was also very interesting, and as you can imagine, being a therapist from CA and all, I had to make it the focus of my blog. They start out giving due credit to Freud’s influence when they state, “As a matter of fact, before 1900, when Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams, people didn’t generally think of themselves as walking around with both a conscious and unconscious mind. The fact that we do now is part of Freud’s legacy.” They continue the chapter analyzing his theories in relation to the idea of the counterculture. Although I think Freud was a little disturbed himself, I think his thoughts on repression and how this relates to society being captivated by the countercultural ideal have some merit.
“According to Freud, civilization is essentially the antithesis of freedom. Culture is built upon the subjugation of human instincts. The progress of civilization, therefore, is achieved through a steady increase in the repression of our fundamental instinctual nature and a corresponding decrease in our ability to experience happiness.” It has been a long time (back in the late 90s when I was getting my masters degree) since I have read any of Freud’s material. Seeing him quoted repeatedly in this chapter took me back a little and made me realize that, although a little crazy, he had a brilliant mind and some interesting theories about human nature (which did not include his weird theory of sons desiring their mothers and daughters desiring their fathers). I actually see quite a few people repressing their needs and desires and struggling to feel happy. People seem to be pretty good at being martyrs and stuffing their needs for the sake of serving or giving to their loved ones, and inadvertently becoming bitter, resentful and overall unhappy. The way the authors take this concept of repression and apply it to the counterculture movement makes some sense. They make the point, “And if the problem with society – the reason that we are all so unhappy – is society itself, then the only way to emancipate ourselves is to reject all of culture, all of society. We must ‘drop out’ of the whole system.”
The crux of the book is this idea that society thought it was bucking the ‘system’ and the culture, heralding the idea of being counterculture, only to realize, like Kurt Cobain, they never could because they will always be immersed in the water we swim in called consumer culture. The authors did an amazing job of using the Cobain story to illustrate this point and Freud confirms this when he says, “a person becomes neurotic because he cannot tolerate the amount of frustration which society imposes upon him in the service of its cultural ideals.” Kurt Cobain definitely became neurotic in his quest to be the poster child for counterculturalism, only to realize he could not escape the human nature of consumer culture. To the point where he ironically posed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with a T-shirt that read ‘Corporate rock magazines still suck’ Everyone wrapped up in the countercultural craze were so concerned about ‘selling out’, they truly lost all rational ability to relate to the culture they were swimming in.
I also was entertained by the authors highlighting Freud’s theory of humor and I couldn’t let this blog go without reprinting the joke included in the chapter for us all to enjoy again:
“A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: ‘My friend is dead! What can I do?’ The operator, in a calm soothing voice says: ‘Just take it easy. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.’ There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy’s voice comes back on the line. He says: ‘OK, now what?’”
I laughed out loud at the joke until I read the following…“Socialization does not stamp out cruelty, it just teaches us to control ourselves. If the underlying impulses were not still there, looking for an opportunity to get out, why would so many people find the thought of a hunter shooting his friend so entertaining?” Realizing the morbid thought of it all ruined the joke for me, but it also was fascinating how we can find humor in something that would normally be a forbidden thought, which just might be, as Freud would argue, the id snuck something past the superego. Overall, I enjoyed the book and felt that the authors did a good job of convincing me of their premise about the fact that being counterculture is a pursuit that can never truly be realized…ask Kurt Cobain. Also so glad you guys were about to get brushed up on a little psychoanalytic theory in the process of reading this book.