Counterculture is often defined as a subculture whose values and behavioral norms differ substantially from those of mainstream society. In theory, the concept of a counterculture seems easy to grasp. But in reality, the line between what is delineated as mainstream and counterculture is often blurry. When advertisements, one of the most recognized and celebrated methods of mainstream communication, coopt a counterculture, does a counterculture remain? Does the ability of a counterculture to be co-opted by the advertising industry somehow defeat its original purpose or intent?
I present an archive of televised advertisements, spanning the past 60 years, that co-opted the generational counterculture at the time they were made. We often hold an implicit assumption that counterculture originated in the 1960s, with the advent of hippies, widespread radical politics, and the prevalent use of psychedelic drugs.
Original installation at the Logan Center for the Arts, Chicago, Illinois.
Although counterculture was ostensibly birthed from a rejection of materialism and, more broadly, the throes of consumer capitalism, we see an uncanny phenomenon in the way that commercials of the time used countercultural imagery and themes to advertise their products – with the end goal, of course, of turning a profit.
I explore three generations of co-opted counterculture as told through these commercials, starting with that of the hippies, that of grunge and punk, and that of both hipsters and (then) anti-hipsters. My archive plays with the idea first posed by Theodor Adorno that all counterculture might very well be subsumed within the existing structures of capitalism. I created this work for a final project in a class taught by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates.