This study is not concerned with the counterculture as a historical phenomenon as much as it is concerned with the genesis of counterculture as an enduring commercial myth, the titanic symbolic clash of hip and square that recurs throughout post-sixties culture. On occasion, the myth is phrased in the overt language of the historical counterculture (Woodstock II, for example); but for the most part the subject here is the rise of a general corporate style, phrased in terms of whatever the youth culture of the day happens to be, that celebrates both a kind of less-structured, faster-moving corporation and that also promotes consumer resistance to the by-now well-known horrors of conformist consumerism. Today hip is ubiquitous as a commercial style, a staple of advertising that promises to deliver the consumer from the dreary nightmare of square consumerism. Hip is also the vernacular of the much-hyped economic revolution of the 1990s, an economic shift whose heroes are written up by none other than the New York Times Magazine as maximum revolutionaries: artists rather than commanders, wearers of ponytails and dreamers of cowboy fantasies who proudly proclaim their ignorance of "rep ties."
The questions that surround the counterculture are enormous ones, and loaded as they are with such mythical importance to both countercultural participants and their foes, they are often difficult to consider dispassionately. Furthermore, the critique of mass society embraced by the counterculture still holds a profound appeal: young people during the 1960s were confronting the same problems that each of us continues to confront every day, and they did so with a language and style that still rings true for many. This study is, in some ways, as much a product of countercultural suspicion of consumerism as are the ads and fashions it evaluates. The story of the counterculture—and of insurgent youth culture generally—now resides somewhere near the center of our national self-understanding, both as the focus of endless new generations of collective youth-liberation fantasies and as the sort of cultural treason imagined by various reactionaries. And even though countercultural sympathizers are willing to recognize that co-optation is an essential aspect of youth culture, they remain reluctant to systematically evaluate business thinking on the subject, to ask how this most anticommercial youth movement of them all became the symbol for the accelerated capitalism of the sixties and the nineties, or to hold the beloved counterculture to the harsh light of historical and economic scrutiny. It is an intellectual task whose time has come.