Monday, April 2, 2007
Alternative Cultures & Design
Priz and Stan, Graffiti Artists, New York City
Alternative culture is a type of culture which exists outside or on the fringes of mainstream or popular culture, usually under the domain of one or more subcultures. These subcultures may have little or nothing in common besides the relative obscurity of their culture, but cultural studies uses this common basis of obscurity to classify them as alternative cultures, or, taken as a whole, the alternative culture. Compare with the more politically charged term, counterculture.
The concept of alternative culture is rooted in the development of new views of adolescence during the 1950s in Western Europe and North America. This development, in conjunction with the emergence of the teddy boy and the release of the US films The Wild One (1953) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955), saw adolescents in North America and Western Europe collectively express a form of rebellion against the values of their parents and authority in general. The reasons for this rejection of traditional social codes and attitudes were usually personal, but were at the same time easier to define when asserted as part of a group.
The current understanding of alternative culture came about in the early 1990s, when strands of youth culture, counter culture, and various aspects of underground culture came together.
The development and social dynamics of an alternative culture
Despite all their cultural differences, all alternative cultures follow a similar process of origination, development, and decline. Alternative cultures also share several common values.
A subculture is usually formed by young working class people in a small region or a single city in response to a generally felt lack of proper fulfillment by the options available to that particular social group. This disenchantment is in reference to a wide range of things, from acceptable codes of public behaviour to the likelihood of decent long-term employment. The result is a rapid evolution of an externally displayed attitude and an accompanying visual style (regarding art, dress, et cetera) and soundtrack. The factors that necessitate the creation of a subculture often forge the elements that make it unique and give it some form of cultural legacy in retrospect. For example, the hippie movement of the 1960s is remembered, although not exclusively, for its championing of the concept of "free love", which was a fairly successful attempt to break away from the perceived social frigidity of the previous two decades. Hip hop culture allowed poor African-Americans to express themselves creatively when they had minimal access to musical instruments and very little chance of having their work displayed in art galleries. It meant that the turntable, normally only used to play music produced by others, was used as an "instrument" in its own right and that public areas became substitute canvasses for a style of art known as wild style.
During the point that these subcultures enjoy their "peak", they are simultaneously the subject of much negative attention from the media. This is often due to objections to the subcultures' disregard for the legality of their activities, the physical appearance of their members, their anti-establishment and/or anti-consumerist values and their frequent indulgences in sex and drug use. (Not all these points apply to all subcultures, a good example being the fact that members of the "straight edge" hardcore punk scene were completely teetotalers). However, it is this publicity which often drew more young people into each subculture, usually, but not always, because they were attracted by its apparent dissident nature.
There is often a period that is considered to be "pure" in terms of what defined each subculture in various ways. This is the point between the complete development of its unique characteristics - where it has an ideology, a style of dress, a new genre of music to call its own, et cetera - and the point where publicity has caused a large influx of new members into the community and various business interests have begun to co-opt its unique aspects. The grunge subculture (although according to its original member, it was not a culture as such, but rather a fan base for alternative rock) is a particularly interesting case, as its conception was to some extent deliberately self-conscious of the factors that could skew its original intents. Grunge was a regional off-shoot of DIY culture, which focused more on its members being cynical "slackers": an outlook publicly exemplified best by the band Dinosaur Jr - and, as the popular phrase was at the time, over-educated and under-paid. (A phrase which was, incidentally, lifted from Douglas Coupland’s novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture ). Although these were all myths that originated from the media, of which participants in the grunge scene treated with some suspicion. Still, in the wake of the massive success of the album Nevermind (also 1991) by Nirvana, the media and the marketing industry popularised and mass-marketed "grunge" clothes, music and such. However, the nature of the culture meant it resisted glamorization and it was soon abandoned by the media, leaving the scene to wither as a result.
The current state of alternative culture
Alternative culture has stalled somewhat since the mid 1990s. The major factors behind this can be largely attributed to the prevalence of homogenised "top-down" culture, which is where young people tend to have taken to consumerism as a source of identity and recreational facilities. This runs counter to alternative cultures' tradition of innovation, geographical diversity and communal self-sufficiency. It has become regular practise to attribute this to the members of Generation Y - (people born roughly between the mid 1980s and late 1990s) - having grown up with different values than those before them. For rather than a subculture being perceived as something that could be contributed to, it has become accepted by people of this generation that being part of an "alternative culture" is something which requires little beyond personal styling. On the other hand, people of this generation have, in some ways, broader tastes than their elders and thus they incorporate various elements that they like from a range of subcultures, while never claiming to be a member of any, or if they do, then they often lack the occasional narrow-minded preferences of the group's original members.
Due to subcultures of this nature being in a constant change, they often splinter off into niche groups. They often develop an "old skool" crowd who tend to resist "polluting" elements and carry on as before until inevitably evolving themselves. Take the UK's rave scene, which suffered very badly from tough legislation aimed at it in the mid 1990s, leading to its discrete continuance on a smaller scale, before manifesting itself again on the large scale in the form of the teknival, which retains many of the principles of the original acid house culture.
Anti-establishment values; poorly-photocopied collages, deconstructed typefaces, Courier, layered graphics, rough-hewn textures. Closely related to postmodern design
Design Project - Get Grunge, by Jeremy Wright. Click here to see a tutorial on creating the grunge style.
Value: Part of your Participation Mark
Deadline: Wednesday, April 4
Research the following alternative cultures. Write one or two paragraphs on the key points about the alternative culture, and find an image which best represents the subculture and its style.
Upload to your blog journal.
Bailey Julie A. (Julie) Riot Grrlz
Bevans Allen L. (Allen) B-boys
Bolso Gregory B. (Greg) BDSM subculture
Charumbira Job Biker gangs Hell's Angels
Choi Eric J. (Eric) Blingers
Coffey Brendan M. (Brendan) Body modification and tattoo subcultures
Craft Tamara D. (Tamara) Bohemianism
Dekens Wagenaar Nathaniel R. Cannabis culture
Friesen Katherine A. Conspiracy theorists
Gerhart David A. (Dave) Cybers
Haftani Farzaneh () Disco
Herauf Christopher C. (Cody) Emo
Hitchens Niyanna M. Folkies
Jamieson Nickolas Gangstas
Kovacs Scott A. (Scott) Gamer
Li Zhongxu (Zhongxu) Geek
Lunde Clinton W. (Clint) Goth subculture
McCord Luff Connor O. Grungers
Oborne Justin L. (Justin) Hip hop culture
Palmer Todd A. (Todd) Hippies
Paul Josh C. (Josh) Hipsters
Pecora Christopher M. (Chris) Leather subculture
Pope Jessica T. (Tiffany) Metalheads
Regnier Alec P. (Alec) Mods
Reimer Jordan L. (Jordan) Nerd
Sitter Jarett L. (Jarett) New Romantics