The Fundamental Difference
Defining subculture is difficult, as it comes in many varieties. Having seen the homogenisation of alternative trends via the media and "money first responsibility later" style markets for all manner of alt-scene looking merchandise, ironically, the genres of style have diversified more than ever. As music labels define the alterations of sound in their new artists, so the scene defines itself around the music. As new media creates characters that have unique personalities, the alternative scene takes inspiration from these, and apt definitive names for the movement grow from there. Fashion takes its influence from a great deal of things, and as profits are made, the commercial aspect seeks to make it accessible to all, counter-acting the point of being alternative. A continual pushing and shoving of "in" and "last decade" keeps everyone on their toes, and ensures styles evolve at a pace that suits them.
An interesting take on the subculture comes from a quote by Albert Cohen, who writes in Delinquent Boys(1955) "Subcultures consisted of individuals collectively resolving societal status problems by developing new values which rendered status-worthy the characteristics they shared".
This stands valid from a psychological point of view for many individuals, in which the behaviour of a culture is as much as the definition as the clothes they wear, and particular fashion alternatives come with their "catch-phrase" behaviour characteristics. We look to the punk scene and we get a sense of dislike for the rules and reluctance to master anything to a high standard, then we look to the gothic scene and we see that depressive thoughts and morbid attitudes work well for them. Football hooligans love to fight, and in their eyes, it's not a bad thing to do. We can list many more flavours of society in this way, but it is best to not define a person by the clothing they wear. In the action of predicting how a person will behave according to their clothes, an act of discrimination is taking place.
This 'parent perspective' that often labels groups of adolescents by the way they are dressed, or the hobbies they share together, means that the problems and lifestyle of the majority become all inclusive for all who associate in that group. The media produce adverts and music that appeals to this mainstream personality type within the alternative culture and reinforces any notions society may have. The perspective of the person who is within the alternative culture, no-matter their age, will see the behaviours as emulations of their motivational heroes, and perhaps sometimes particular behaviour patterns can be likened to ritualistic, however the things people do in honour of their societal crowd are independently chosen by the individual. Peer pressure to carry out behaviours such as smoking, listening to certain types of music, and even wearing certain types of clothes can all take place, but it generally happens among the younger people. By the time we are adults, we're more able to make our own choices about what we wish to do.
Perhaps a more accurate definition of alternative culture can be seen in looking at what it is not. Popular culture is the main-stream trend that society in general will be following at the time. A person at random will be most likely to be content to self identify with things that are produced with the trend in mind. All forms of media and fashion are made according to trend, or sub-culture, and trends have a tendency to move quickly. What is in fashion and out of fashion is defined with each calendar season, and for those who keep up with it on this level, they will notice and try to have things to show their participation. Alternative trends are the opposite of this. The nuances of the fashion and media will change as the years roll past and new artists find their way into the market, but in general, the rules of play within the trend itself do not change. This is the a key difference, and a defining factor. So, where as current trends are dynamic and change with each calendar season, alternative culture remains true to its roots and cause, evolving only at the pace of the subtle differences brought in by new contributing artists.
As cinema and T.V. became a global phenomenon during the 20th century, societal norms had become amplified by the way characters on the screen were dressed. Everyone in the developed world was seeing the same iconic images at the same time, for the first time. In this way, the sense of the individual had been suppressed by the fact markets would synchronise with the styles being shown to their customer base. Because everyone was getting the same images, the styles became similar across the spectrum which allowed fashion to become globally predictable and malleable. This lack of choice, and sudden dilution of style and fashion across the world is perhaps what led to the popularity of alternative trends and cultures, as people needed something else in their life to show that they could make a statement of individuality, but also have the safety in numbers which gives psychological well-being.
This brings us to the beginning again, where we find that as society attempts to cater for the alternative scene, and homogenises the principles of it to meet a mass audience, new strands to the old ways are delivered by passionate artists who stick to their roots but find novel ways of expressing the feelings and thoughts shared by so many of the movement's membership.
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