Rebels: A Journey Underground is an excellent Canadian documentary history of “the counterculture” produced for television in the late 1990s and narrated by Kiefer Sutherland. It’s the work of writer/director Kevin Alexander, who did a great job with it. More people should see it. I’m happy to see that the series has been posted in full on YouTube.
The six-part series covers a wide swath of historical countercultures moving from William Blake and 1830s Parisian bohemians to mostly 20th century movements like hippie, Jazz, Beatniks, punk, and what was at the time the series was produced, the brave new world of cyberspace.
In the final episode, “Welcome to Cyberia,” I tell the story on camera of the now notorious corporate fuck-up that resulted in Disinformation receiving well over a million dollars in funding from John Malone’s TCI. This sum included $300,000 worth of marketing money—spent by yours truly in late 1996—that saw it featured on the Netscape homepage for five MONTHS. (If you’re too young to know what Netscape refers to, it was a 90s predecessor of the browser that you are using right now, so that was a very big deal. It was kind of like being on the homepage of virtually everyone who wasn’t logging on using AOL or Compuserve).
When Malone (an extreme conservative dubbed “Darth Vader” by Al Gore) saw Disinformation for the first time, his reaction, I was told by two people actually in the room, was “We paid for this anarchist bullshit? Get rid of it!”
Talking heads include Robert Anton Wilson, William Gibson, Douglas Rushkoff, Genesis P-Orridge, John Lydon, Jello Biafra, Captain Sensible, Richard Hell, Malcolm McLaren, Don Letts, Glen Matlock, Jon Savage, Caroline Coon, Paul Simonon, John Doe, Poly Styrene, Rosemary Leary, Ken Kesey, Paul Krassner, Ray Manzarek, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, RU Sirius, Mark Pesce, John Perry Barlow, Rudy Rucker and many others.
Part 1: Society’s Shadow
From Bohemia and 19th century European romanticism, this film looks back through history to uncover the beginning of “new vision” thinking in Western civilization and its links to what is now called counterculture. From 1830s Paris to New York City’s Greenwich Village at the turn of the 20th century, it follows the paths which brought Europe’s most rebellious voices to America. Includes profiles of William Blake, Victor Hugo, Theophile Gauthier, Charles Baudelaire, John Reed and Woody Guthrie.
Part 2: A New Kind of Bohemian
Following World War II, a new period of post-war social complexity overtook America. It was during this turbulent, often repressive Cold War time that Jack Kerouac coined the phrase, “beat” and gave birth to a new literary movement. This film follows the activities of this new breed of writer: Kerouac, Cassady, Ginsburg and a handful of outsiders who became known as the “Beat Generation.”
Part 3: Turn On The Revolution
In 1959 a twenty-six year old creative writing student named Ken Kesey became a guinea pig for LSD experiments conducted by the CIA and later used this experience to write “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.” Timothy Leary, a Harvard research psychologist turned rebel guru, told people to “Turn on, tune in, drop out!” while an anti-war activist named Abbie Hoffman led a peace demonstration at the 1968 Chicago democratic convention. This film delves into the world of hippies and yippies; young people who put themselves at risk in pursuit of “perception” and democratic freedom.
Part 4: A Riot Of My Own
With the worlds “I am an anarchist” Londoner Johnny Rotten began a full-blown counterculture of protest and self-expression; a cry against crushing youth unemployment and a voice for the disenfranchised. This film examines a new kind of music, a new social critique and a new form of free speech. Featured are the bands, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and the Damned who turned the rebellious tension of rock and roll back on itself—and blew it up.
Part 5: Earth Trauma
Born from the political activist movement of the 1960’s groups like Greenpeace and EarthFirst scoffed at the mainstream tactics of institutionalized environmentalism and instead took direct action to protect Mother Earth. Witness the story of grass-roots rebellion with an ecological cause. Follow Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul Watson as he crashes the bow of his ship into a pirate whaling vessel and watch as Greenpeace takes on the French Navy during atmospheric nuclear tests in the South Pacific
Part 6: Welcome to Cyberspace
The counterculture of the present and the forseeable future exists in cyberspace. The rebels who inhabit this “New Edge” of the human landscape are virtual reality experimenters, cyberpunks and underground computer hackers. This film zooms in on the pioneers of the newly created counterculture, rebels who question obsolete systems of thought and just may be at the forefront of a significant new social movement.