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Sixty years after the movement for sexual revolution and the anti-Vietnam War protests, where do we really stand?

A colorful Volkswagen bus decorated with hippie drawings. Does counterculture still exist in today’s society? // Courtesy of Vasilios Muselimis via Unsplash

By Natalie Vinh

When asked to reminisce about the ‘60s and ‘70s, popular cultural events like Woodstock or protests ranging from anti-war to pro-women’s rights may spring to mind. 

Those going against the mainstream developed their own identity, known today as counterculture — a movement diametrically opposed to the status quo. The word itself was synonymous with hippies and flower children, bringing about pictures of protesters with signs bearing “Love Not War” and engaging in all things hedonic.

Today, it’s more popular to go against the mainstream, with people often offended by being labeled as “basic.” 

It begs the question: does counterculture still exist?

Counterculture is a movement that opposes social norms, according to Boundless Sociology. While it’s debated that counterculture began and ended with the hippie movement in the ‘70s, the concept actually existed for many years prior.

Counterculture in the 1920s led to artistic expressions, like the rise of flappers and the Jazz Age. Even the Age of Enlightenment is considered to be a counterculture movement.

Because the lines between mainstream and counterculture have blurred together, there’s no one movement we can point to as an example of modern counterculture. 

Rather, we see counterculture just about everywhere we go. From the unique way we dress to the music we listen to, counterculture is as big a part of daily life as mainstream culture. 

Some even point to Black Lives Matter as a counterculture movement, despite how widely accepted civil rights movements are today. Anti-vaxxers could also be considered their own counterculture movement.

Which begs the question: Is modern counterculture a good thing?

The purpose of counterculture movements like the anti-Vietnam War protests was to change public opinion. We see the same thing today with anti-vaxxers, desperately attempting to stop mandatory vaccinations for school enrollment and traveling.

Whether counterculture movements are a good thing can depend on your beliefs. It could be argued that even when these beliefs are unpopular, they still display public interest and are indicative of the times we live in.

This is exactly why counterculture movements will never truly disappear.

An article published on Medium titled, “California Countercultures,” puts it plainly.

“The counterculture will never fully die,” writes author Jiayong Li. “Rather it is up to us to create our own identities as we see fit.”

Some believe the counterculture movement was extinguished after the 1970s. Jordi Costa, an expert in the historical roots of Spanish counterculture, discusses the topic briefly in an article titled, “Is Counterculture Still Alive?”

“The time of counterculture has passed,” Costa writes. However, even Costa is willing to admit that the lines between strange and basic are so blurred, there’s no way of telling whether counterculture still exists.

“Its memory remains, breathing life into other countercultures that we often do not even know how to see,” Costa writes.

Whether or not counterculture still exists depends on the individual’s perspective. With the rise of individualism in mainstream society, who’s to say whether different interests are indicative of an entire subculture?

The general consensus is that although counterculture is no longer as large of a movement as it was in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it’s present if you look close enough.

One thing remains true: so long as culture exists, so will counterculture. There cannot be one without the other.

We may have just reached a time when counterculture itself is totally mainstream.

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