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Over the Counterculture

Wilfred M. McClay

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Wilfred M. McClay on Transgressive Bohemians as Regressive Bobos

When future historians look back at our own era, one of the oddities they will surely notice is the peculiarly exalted status of the idea of "counterculture." Indeed, a self-consciously countercultural ethos has become dominant among college-educated and culturally aspirant Americans. This observation was at the heart of journalist David Brooks's hilarious but also thoroughly accurate depiction of the "bourgeois bohemian" in his book Bobos in Paradise.

Not so long ago, the quest for liberation from social convention carried certain perils. But now we have made that quest into a new social convention in its own right, with its own canons of respectability, such as the routine celebration of books and movies and other works of art solely on the grounds that they are "troubling" or "transgressive," qualities now deemed to be peculiarly meritorious in and of themselves, quite apart from their specific content.

Of course, one of the many dirty little secrets of this dirty little ethos is that it rests upon a veiled form of class snobbery. There must always be certain unnamed "others," the gaping suburbanites and mindless rubes who are thought to sustain and uphold the philistine conventions from which "we" perpetually need to be liberated. But those "others" seem increasingly shadowy and hard to locate. The specter of a monolithic "red state" America is an easy way of positing the continued pernicious existence of such benighted "others."

But as a resident of a certifiably red state, I can authoritatively testify that we are all Bobos on this bus -- or at least most of us. The new convention has been triumphant beyond its wildest dreams, and now suffuses our popular culture and our advertising, assimilated into the mainstream in the most remarkable and incongruous ways.

Read the entire article on the Touchstone Magazine website (new window will open).

Posted: 30-Sep-06



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