The American U appears to have reached a curious status in 2017. The movement that started in New York City with the legendary CBGB club, where the Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, and the Velvet Underground made their debut, has been looking very different over the last few years, and observers of counterculture movements are beginning to take notice.
A recent discussion between Daniel Wattenberg and Scott Gallupo, staff members at British news magazine The Week, touched on the subject of American counterculture shifting away from its liberal roots. Wattenberg lived and breathed punk rock as a young man, and he remembers that a substantial part of the ethos was based on fighting against the establishment. Just like hippy culture fought those who opposed drug use and who were not happy with the sexual revolution, a new counterculture may have emerged against the American liberal sentiment of recent decades. This may even explain the populism of Trump supporters and the rise of the “alt-right” movement.
In an insightful article by Michael Sendrow of Medium magazine, the issue of punk rock having lost its rebellious edge is carefully explained as follows: there was a time when indie music labels were truly independent because they disliked the monopolizing forces of major labels. At labels such as Dischord and SST, the management felt a lot like the music of Fugazi and the Dead Kennedys: raw, powerful and uncompromising.
At some point, punk rock merged with alternative rock and became mainstream. Initially, this was a good thing since it merged musical sentiments of political dissent with art; however, it became so effective that it became part of a corporate moneymaking machine. In other words, when Starbucks sells CDs that feature alternative rock, it is easy to see that things have changed.
There was a time when the movements headlined by punk rock wanted to destroy the system. These days, however, it is the White House that wishes to destroy the system and to go against the will of more than half of voters. The new counterculture is in power, and it is having a very hard time trying to become mainstream.