Does the Digital Era Mark the End of Subcultures?
© Illustration by Alicia Lupieri
Subcultures can be defined as individuals bound by niche interests that divert from mainstream values. The rise of social media has redefined subcultures but is this to say they don't exist?
Subcultures have existed alongside mainstream society for the entirety of anthropological history. Defined by the subversion of mainstream norms, subcultures have long provided a sense of tribal identity for groups tied together by a common interest or belief. In the modern-day, the fragmented nature of the digital realm has meant that what was once the iconography of subcultures has changed, and the definition of subcultures has become less conspicuous - yet this is not to say they don’t still exist.
The History of Subcultures
Hippies, goths, rappers, ravers - the 20th century was dominated by subcultures. Fashion choices and style encompassed subcultures and the world was full of these tribes, geographically placed together, harnessing a bold presence, and defining moments within history. A lot of subcultures have maintained a presence within society such as goths and rappers. Yet, there is scepticism about whether the original notion of these iconic subcultures remain, and this is largely due to the emergence of social media and the internet.
© Image from @throwback_buzz
Alternative styles dominate TikTok, and in many ways, the platform paves the way for trending fashion. A lot of Gen Z fashion is recycled from previous decades and often from subcultures. In many ways, TikTok shapes the new ways in which subcultures transpire as the app provides an outlet for self-expression. Cottagecore, Punk, even ‘Witchtok’ are subcultures that exist on the app yet there is a consensus sometimes that these ‘subcultures’ are largely aesthetic and appearance-based ,as opposed to the diehard beliefs which used to be at the main forefront of subcultures in previous decades. This is not to say this is the case for every online subculture, however, this is just the way the motifs of subcultures have translated into the 21st century.
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Many subcultures in the 80’s and 90’s were dedicated to types of music or even individual artists. During the mid 20th century, ‘Mods’ stemmed from an affluent post-war Britain bonded by a love for modern jazz music. The subculture developed and saw the birth of other sub communities such as ‘Skinheads’ who could be musically defined with a love for soul, ska and R&B. The original ‘Rude Boys’ subculture stemmed from Jamaica in the 1960’s and were significant to the establishing of the dancehall and Soundsystem music scene, inspiring subcultures such as ‘Skinheads’ as well as Mods. Traditionally, Subcultures were defined by two characteristics: music and style. At the core of their identities were these two elements, and due to the overall lack of longevity to music in the present day this isn’t the same for ‘modern’ subcultures. Accessing music online with a few clicks is significantly more elementary than following, engaging and ultimately being a part of a musician’s journey. In this sense, subcultures which were once defined by music taste have become outmoded by the quick and easy access to modern-day music.
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Inevitably, subcultures have emerged from the internet. 2011 saw the commencement of the Seapunk subculture, which started as a joke on a twitter online exchange ,which eventually snowballed into the mainstream domain. Artists such as Rhianna, Lady Gaga and Azealia Banks imitated the Seapunk aesthetic with bold, aquatic fashion choices and bouncy electronic beats. Seapunk is a perfect example of how subcultures have developed and evolved within the digital realm, paving way for the next generation of subcultures.
Have Subcultures died?
Ultimately, no. Previous definitions of subcultures have changed, but have they really died or are they just different? Many authentic subcultures have remained prominent in society. Subcultures no longer have to be geographically linked thanks to social media and Gen Z are redefining subcultures. Entire countries’ cultures and worldwide sub-communities can be accessed with just a few clicks. Online subcultures emerge, previous subcultures are nostalgically redefined. Notably, just as subcultures exist online there will also always be an ‘underground’ grouping of subcultures that exist outside of the digital. Subcultures still provide outlets for youths who feel they differ from the ‘norm’ and in a world where everybody strives to be different, society and subcultures will always coexist. Cosplay is a subculture, music and TV ‘stans’ are subcultures. Online communities are subcultures. Subcultures aren’t ending, they are just adapting to our digital society.