Whenever one dares to venture into the realms of social media, you’re inundated with videos of people travelling to the Far East, or creating exotic vegan recipes that you never dreamed would be possible – generally living a life more authentic than yours. How and when did this lifestyle become the norm?
As long as the arts have existed, there have been individuals as well as collectives who were ahead of their time (or, at the very least, thought outside the box) – better known as the avant-garde. These were the people who set trends in some form or another , propelling advances in philosophy and arts, standing side by side with revolutionaries and protesters.
We’re all familiar with the fight-for-peace-and-love hippies of the sixties, the values of whom are still being fought for by (quote/unquote) alternatives. As education improves around the globe, primordial human rights are being conquered little by little by different political and activist groups. And what exactly happened to the alternative lifestyle?
This decade has seen rather drastic changes to almost every subculture, and there’s no denying the impact of social media in regards to this. Anything of vague interest to an outside audience can easily be turned into an object of desire, suitable for mainstream consumption (albeit a diluted, more palatable version). Hipsters and craft beers; sneakerheads and Jordans; (vegans and soy beans?) – what once held value within a specific subculture has been watered down for the masses to appreciate in easy-to-swallow #goals sized chunks.
It’s more important now to belong to a group swimming in social media praises than being an honest part of a movement with its own values to treasure and fight for. Nonetheless members of these subcultures fight for political values, but those in question are, by and large, educated young people drawn in to the idea of such a society, rather than those who have lived experience of such ideals.
Those who consume such an imitation of certain subcultures are contributing more and more to the empty social values and constructs now present. They’re far more preoccupied with the next BAPE drop, and, of course, how much they can flip for it. Sure, they don’t completely follow a set of traditional values, so I guess we can refer to them as alternatives. They may very well be aware of the inherited values and struggles of the community they have chosen to immerse themselves in – although perhaps are guilty on focussing on the immediate future, rather than acknowledging and respecting previous histories. Everyone wants to feel included, and being part of a subculture is a great tool towards self-validation.
We don’t hold any grudges against young (or middle-aged, or old) people who are eager to learn more and genuinely commit to a new way of living. What we find somewhat questionable comes from the behaviour of those who not only wish to make a profit from the culture itself, but to also monetise on the insecurities and anxieties of people relevant to the cause. As a result – and from the outset – the perceived authenticity of such societies becomes blurred. How could something so well known have once been alternative? Do the original alternatives even exist?
Some hold no qualms in seamlessly mixing subcultures. OG Portland hipsters were adorned with Jordans overnight (although perhaps it was, like, totally post ironic). Of course, some may have just liked them, but some might have been keen to avoid any exclusion from certain circles. A similar pattern arose with the sneakerheads, who are now happily queueing at the doors to vintage stores in order to flex in old designer clothing.
We recognise the benefits of mixing subcultures. In some cases, it’s a hugely positive scenario – groups of people who presumed they had nothing in common with one another are now addressing the issues affecting their communities and discussing what drives them. However, it can’t be denied that large swathes of the original subcultures have now lost their identity – at least in part. An example is in the current NA hip hop scene – golden age artists such as NWA and Wu-Tang Clan spoke out about actual issues (police brutality, disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans, racism as an entity in itself). What was once an outspoken and beautiful subculture has now turned into a grotesque distortion of itself, known more commonly as mumble rap. Gucci gangs and their kin seem to have forgotten who’s watching and aspiring to be like them, and who gave them this platform to let their voice be heard. The young kids from the bad part of town are seriously lacking in an idol to look up to (unless it’s green and features a picture of George Washington).
The drive to be famous is what inspired these groups tomix and, ultimately, compete with one another. Rather than a culture embracing a non-traditional outlook, such groups have now been absorbed by the Instagram sludge-monster, desperate for followers and likes, relentless tagging and multiple pages to promote themselves and their individual agendas. What Facebook wants us to believe are friends only serve the purpose of collabing, attempting to make our peers envious. The once proud groups of alternate-minded individuals that fought for standards outside of the pre-established – humans holding actual values for future generations instead of the broken ideals driving economic gain for big fat corporations – are now doing exactly what’s written on their T-shirts. Obey.
Alejandro Sánchez is a boy from Nicaragua who fell in love with the world and people. He wants to share it with whoever wants to hear about it, especially if there’s coffee involved.