I’ve found in the last two years or so that South Park has a great deal of wisdom to dispense through humor, wit, and sarcasm. Whether covering elections, religious matters, alien invasions, or supposed countercultural movements (like hippies), Trey Parker and Matt Stone show themselves with nearly episode to be intelligent and witty while also being crude and crass. The episode I watched last night, though I did laugh merrily, left a tiny little sting of understanding in me.
While I want to give as much credit as possible to the movements and revolutions of the sixties for all that they did to increase awareness of political issues and give generations a voice and the courage to use it, the movements we saw did indeed fall short of what they had hoped. The counterculture movements of the sixties marched and protested the Vietnam War, but didn’t see the war end. They brought tight-lipped issues like sex out of the dark room it was kept locked in, leaving new avenues to enhance love and relationships, but also left a generation disaffected and displeased with the definitions of love and relationships. They brought new understanding to art and music, but instead of seeing them as catalysts to revolution, saw them as the revolution itself.
Though political organizations such as Students for a Democratic Society existed at that time to turn kids on to the issues of the day, many of them were horribly misguided and instead stuck to getting kids to protest the government that didn’t listen. Kids took drugs thinking it would expand their minds and found themselves burned out instead. It’s no wonder that these people “sold out” and turned into yuppies; they really they went about this in the wrong way.
The punks and the hipsters of today aren’t much better, who spend hundreds of dollars on clothes, hair products, and Pabst Blue Ribbon just trying to be “different” from everybody else. Wearing tight jeans and V-neck shirts, or spikes and combat boots isn’t rebellion, it’s fashion. Though people today are becoming more socially conscious, the fact that they insist on a uniform to come with it isn’t punk, isn’t cool; it’s just falling in line with another group. Be free to express yourself, sure, but don’t make it a standard.
Changing the world comes first with a change of mind. I’m not saying everyone has to be on the front lines of every march or protest, but I am hoping that some of this wil ignite the desire to see change we all once had within us before our own cynicism and apathy put it out. Remember when you were a kid, how you wanted to do things like be an astronaut, or drive trains, or build stuff? The world had no limits at all, and then we got to high school and were forced to stop imagining by teachers and peers alike. Speaking without a word, we were informed of the standards of fashion, standards of the working world, and we fell in line and the fire went out. Some of us went out and bought the hair dye and covered jean jackets with patches of punk bands, or tie-dyed some shirts, smoked some weed, and read some Maoist literature, thinking we were individuals by doing so.
‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where —’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
What all these movements needed was perspective, wisdom, and goals. You can’t just wander down any road and expect to get to a destination you want. If you’re going to go forward and change some part of the world you think isn’t right, determine what it is you want to do and how to do it. I’m not confining you; I’m telling you that sitting around listening to the Grateful Dead while you do acid isn’t going to expand your mind or overthrow the system. I’m glad to say that people today who see the hellish strongholds that exist in our world today are focusing in on one of them at a time and working to tear them down, brick by brick. They are able to do so because they’ve taken the time to learn how!
On a related note, if you’re going to claim to be countercultural, then BE COUNTERCULTURAL! This is what irritates me about festivals like Burning Man. While I am all for experiments in community and trying to live differently than what our country currently does, you can’t just do it once a year for a week in the desert. It has to become part of who you are, and I question any festival that claims to experiment with community and not impact its attenders (the same goes for you Creationfest!). Teach people how to live better so that they can leave wherever you’re at and go do it in the world!
Bottom line, if you’re going to change the world, it’s not going to happen by fashion, drugs, art, music, or week-long festivals, no matter how much you want it to. One of my favorite quotes comes from SLC Punk: “Rebellion happens in the mind.” Separating yourself from the “system” with loud music and clothes isn’t countercultural; it’s subcultural. You’re not fighting back, you’re just becoming another group. To be countercultural it to be subversive within the culture itself, tearing it down from the inside. Also a quote from SLC Punk: “You can do more damage to the system when you’re inside it.” It’s the kind of people who have realized this that will, indeed, change the world.
So put down your PBR, turn off Wilco for awhile (they’ll be there when you get back), and go do something to change the world.