Commodification shifts the nature of a public. The cultural normativity established by the dominant aesthetic of any particular period exists for itself as well as because of itself, but not in isolation. I’m defining “aesthetic” as “the political unconscious;” “the way social harmony registers itself in our senses, and imprints itself on our sensibilities.” Your unconscious is what registers an aesthetic.
When we defined a counterpublic in reference to Warner’s ideas, we noted that counterpublics maintain, at some level, an awareness of their own subordinate status. This relationship between a public and a counterpublic is necessary because of shifts in value, because something like taste or value is anything but absolute. This is the difference between flowers and S&M.
But, wait. What happens in the scenario where “counter culture” is cultural normativity? What happens when a society’s aesthetic (and capitalistic) ideal is to be as different and unique as possible? The society’s subordinate counterpublic is, in itself, the dominant aesthetic. How can you define something with an oxymoron? The only way this dominance can exist is through its own instability. Culture and counter culture still maintain the same relationship, they’re just mislabeled. What happens when our culture’s social harmony rests on its tendencies to juxtapose or even outright contradict the cultural and aesthetic status quo?
Commodifying an ideal radically shifts both its priorities and its meaning. This commodification shifted the counter culture into its current dominant position. Suddenly, it’s more acceptable to be “yourself,” but yet it’s more acceptable to be just a representation of that ideal, documented through the clothing you wear or the bands you listen to. Dissenting from “culturally normative ideals” is itself becoming culturally normative.
Defining “counter culture” is impossible with no reference point. The only way a counter culture can be cultural normativity is if it does not truly have a subordinate status at all, but rather a facade of “subordinate status.”
Our culture isn’t counter culture, it’s Counter Culture.