5 Amazing Counter-Cultures You've Never Heard Of
Subcultures -- be they goths, punks, nerds, or latter-day codpiece enthusiasts -- exist for the purpose of banding together with others of like mind to temporarily escape the unpleasantness of the larger, non-codpiece-appreciating world. But sometimes that unpleasantness gets pretty serious. So what's a good codsman to fado? Give up what he loves? Hell no! He buckles down, and he builds the most gargantuan, elaborate, vulgar codpiece this world has ever seen. Just like these folks ...
The Swing Kids Of Nazi Germany
When you think "Adolf Hitler," you probably think "good with children." His version of the Boy Scouts had just as much fire-starting and knot-tying as the original, only practiced on different subject matter. Astoundingly, not all kids in Nazi Germany wanted to spend their spare time wearing jackboots and dancing on the graves of their enemies. Some just wanted to wear zoot suits and dance to jazz.
These guys were performing a criminal act. No, it wasn't criminal awkwardness.
The Swingjugend, or Swing Kids, originated in the very earliest days of the Nazis' rise to power. They mostly came from middle- and upper-class German families -- in other words, the precise group Hitler targeted to become prominent members of the Nazi party by offering them special schooling and membership in the aforementioned Hitler Youth. But they eschewed his state-sponsored hatred in favor of listening to a type of music "strictly banned by the Nazis as being 'degenerate' and Negro-influenced."
As depicted in this propaganda, which (while racistly drawn) fails to make jazz look uncool.
Though there are reports of German Swing Kids brawling with members of the Hitler Youth West Side Story-style, they were largely a peaceful movement, their usual form of protest being to categorically ignore the Nazis' strict curfews and bans on foreign music and dancing. Said ignorance ended rather predictably, of course: in concentration camps.
But it's hard to keep a good jazz fan down. Even in the abhorrent conditions of the Nazi detention camps, the Swing Boys retained their identity by singing popular swing tunes while working the salt mines or by sneaking into the SS cantina to listen to unauthorized radio shows, while the female Swing Girls waited until lights out to cover their windows with bed sheets and sing for their fellow political prisoners. And no, we have no idea how they managed to pull off the jitterbug with balls that size.
You know what they say about a man with big jazz hands.
The Punks Of Burma
Though it's given painful birth to a bouncing baby democracy today, the small Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar (known as Burma on Tuesdays) spent nearly half a century under authoritarian military rule. But that didn't stop young Ko Nyan from digging through a trash can outside the British Embassy in the mid-'90s, finding a magazine article about Sid Vicious (a good 15 years after Sid had become fertilizer on Nancy's grave), and kicking off an underground punk rock movement in a country whose government actively, even violently, kept it isolated from the rest of the world.
Isolation: Not a good tool for killing punk.
Burmese punk bands threw underground concerts at a time when a gathering of more than five people was grounds for a jail sentence. Some members worked for less-than-poverty wages at factories, saving up for years just to buy their badass leather jackets.
And though we've been referring to the movement in the past tense, Myanmar's punk scene is still alive and well today. Although the military junta has been officially dissolved and replaced by an elected government, many punks feel that change isn't happening quickly enough and that only a true revolution -- a rock 'n' roll revolution -- can inspire sufficient rage against the machine.
The Skhothanes: Poor South Africans Who Wear Expensive Designer Clothes (And Set Them On Fire)
While apartheid in South Africa officially ended in the 1990s, its shadow still very much looms today. There's a whole generation that grew up in ultra-poor townships, not because of segregation as a state-mandated system but because of segregation mandated by economic necessity. Of course, the simple fact that you don't have two rands to rub together doesn't mean you shouldn't look like you just stepped off a runway in Milan.
"Swag? On. Fleek? On. Keeping it levels? 100."
The painfully fashionable young people above are the Skhothanes, derived from a Zulu word meaning "to boast." Under the searing South African sun, they gather in their Sfarzo Couture jeans (up to three pairs in layers, just in case the top pair isn't impressive enough), their Carvela shoes, and their Versace shirts, and ... they have dance-offs.
Sponsored by [insert South African high-end champagne].
A more extreme sect of the movement, the Izikhothane, have taken their dance-offs to a darker place: Not content with merely wearing the most expensive designer clothes, they demonstrate their superiority over their rivals by burning said clothes. And if that doesn't do the trick, they burn dollar bills, smash cellphones, and dump bottles of expensive liquor on the ground. It all sounds, well, a bit impractical, but one could argue that this behavior is simply the rebellious response to long-term and severe economic oppression. Or, more simply, maybe some clothes just look better on fire.
Related: 5 Cruel Ways Being Poor Is Expensive
Free Body Culture, Aka "So, So Many Naked Germans"
The Freikoerperkultur (FKK), or Free Body Culture, is the German idea that naked is quite simply the way to be, and it dates all the way back to the late-19th century. As the wheels of industrialization plowed across Europe and freaked everyone out by replacing forests with pollution, many reformers in Germany responded to the increased urbanization with a marked decrease in clothing. Germany shared its nudist movement with the world in 1925 with the release of Ein Film Uber Modern Korperkultur (A Film On Modern Physical Culture), which achieved great international success, maaaaybe thanks to all the naked dancers.
Then again, maybe not.
Germany continued to rock out with their cocks out right up until the Nazis pooped the party with all their strict laws on morality. Much to the Nazis chagrin, however, stuffing already nudity-obsessed people into stiff, uncomfortable uniforms only makes them want to take it all off. After the war, the German nudist movement came back with a vengeance, and today the country has some of the most relaxed nudity laws in existence. In Germany, a nude beach is just a beach. Public parks in Munich and Berlin have dedicated nudist areas. So many people hike the Alps au naturale that in 2009 Switzerland passed a law to staunch the considerable flow of naked Germans crossing their border. Which, honestly, would concern just about anybody.
The Stilyagi: History's Most Stylish Soviets
In 1950s Soviet Russia, young folks were disenchanted by their fathers' baggy trousers and potato lines and yearned to ape the culture of America. Problem was, Soviet censorship being just shy of a George Orwell novel, they weren't always entirely certain what the hell said culture was.
And yet they somehow managed to anachronistically mimic '80s American culture.
The result was a bizarre mishmash of Americana: tight, short pants and Hawaiian ties under zoot suit jackets, accented by James Dean sunglasses and greasy Tarzan hair. Derogatorily referred to as the Stilyagi, or Style Hunters, they rebelled in the precise way that would best piss off their Stalin-era parents: They didn't work, they danced to jazz, they bet on billiards, and they called themselves "Bob" and "Peter."
The girls were "Cindy" and "Jan."
It happened again when America collectively got naked and chased pretty colors during the Summer of Love in the late '60s. That's right: The USSR had its very own hippies. Like the Stilyagi before them, Russian hippies existed to tell The Man where to stick it. Their slogan -- "Better to work tomorrow than to work today" -- was a direct inversion of communist propaganda.
"From each according to his LSD, to each according to his weed."
Sadly, no amount of weed could cloud the fact that they were living under an oppressive communist regime. On June 1 of each year, former Moscow hippies gather at Moscow's Tsaritsyno Park to commemorate the day in 1971 when KGB agents gathered up their long-haired ranks and shipped them off to serve in the Soviet army, tossed them in jail cells, or locked them in mental wards. On the bright side, should you ever find yourself in Moscow on the first of June, you now know where to score.
What do Chuck Norris, Liam Neeson in Taken, and the Dos Equis guy have in common? They're all losers compared to some of the actual badasses from history whom you know nothing about. Come out to the UCB Sunset for another LIVE podcast, April 9 at 7:00 p.m., where Jack O'Brien, Michael Swaim, and more will get together for an epic competition to find out who was the most hardcore tough guy or tough gal unfairly relegated to the footnotes of history. Get your tickets here!
For more bizarre groups of people you never heard of, check out 25 Insane Subcultures You Won't Believe Actually Exist and 5 Insane Subcultures That Might Become The Next Hipster.
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