Bikers and the counterculture : technlogy, masculinity, and resistance in America, 1965-1975
MetadataShow full item record
During the 1960's a subculture of American motorcyclists became the subject of a intense media attention, its members quickly cemented in popular representation as lurid anti-heroes by virtue of their stylized embrace of danger and their efforts to live radically contingent lives of sublime depravity. Working within an anti-modern tradition that dated back to the turn of the century, the student counterculture of the period, in particular, found this figuration of the biker subculture to be seductive, adopting the biker as a model of its own ethos of insurgent presentness and an icon of its carnivalesque aesthetic. The counterculture responded to the biker particularly insofar as he represented the type of marked whiteness that this new generation of youthful insurgents was attempting to cultivate; he was identified as a hybrid, liminal figure and closely associated with the entropy of the frontier, which played a central, if ambivalent, role in the counterculture's critique of technocracy. And it is in this capacity that the biker has remained a fixture of popular discourse. His uniquely customized motorcycle, or chopper, offered a rebuke to Detroit and its priorities, becoming symbolic of an alternative relationship to technology that was fundamentally nostalgic and hostile to the hegemony of technologized rationalism. The chopper provided an evocatively paradoxical piece of undomesticated technology, elaborating the American tradition of vernacular engineering and serving as another avatar of the frontier, even as it embraced certain elements of the post-war years' populuxe aesthetic. It was a bit of bricolage, a strangely ephemeral and intimately personal machine that, like pop art, combined mass-production and handcraft, and its enthusiasts expressed a nostalgic desire to experience the technological sublime and the dislocations of nascent modernity.