The evolution of a youth counterculture

Robert Showah

Opinion Editor

Over the past five years, a new subculture has taken over America and its youth. Since the beginning of the new millennium, youth culture has been turned on its head. Where the wealthy, popular and beautiful once reigned, the Internet boom over the past decade has leveled the playing field, allowing different and unconventional backgrounds and lifestyles to enter the mainstream, making it the trend of the decade.

There is no clear definition of what this subculture is, but everyone has seen it evolve over the past five years. Smaller examples include less people shopping at Abercrombie and associating themselves less with the store’s themes, and more people flocking to Urban Outfitters and American Apparel. Larger instances include the technology floodgates that have opened up the music industry to everyone who can spread their sound, allowing no-label and independent label bands to be more competitive. Other characteristics include everything from and in between the popularity of beards, vinyl records, and anti-religion, communist sympathizing, and a rather annoying obsession to revive all things from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

But how did we go from a youth subculture that was more conservative (by today’s standards) 10 years ago to one that became so progressive in its culture, fashion and ideas? The Internet and telecommunications boom is the primary cause. File-sharing, cell phones and smartphones and social-networking have allowed people to embrace the unconventional and exciting. File-sharing and YouTube have allowed anyone to access and spread any music.

But what about the people who had already adapted to this subculture before it became the current mainstream? This ultimately leads to the potential problems this subculture faces, one built on irony and unconventionalism. Because it is now the mainstream to be ironic (which has become unironic within itself), hipsters or anyone else who claim to have embraced this subculture before it became the mainstream are now attempting to differentiate themselves from the commercialized version of their culture.

The greatest problem with this subculture is that it is entirely built on irony in a world where everyone is wired. This is along with the Internet, which has turned television’s 15 minutes of fame into 15 seconds. Everything from songs to obscure Internet memes explode in popularity one day and within a week are old news. There is a problem with disposing of anything because it has gained popularity; it is what happened to Girl Talk and is what will happen to Antoine Dodson, probably by the time you finish reading this column.

Take what this subculture has done to music. The Internet came along and gave more music to more people in legal and illegal ways. But today, it seems like music divides people more than it unites them. Independent bands that emit the slightest stench of mainstream success are branded either “sell-outs,” or are quietly removed from people’s interests as though they never had listened to them. Too many people argue over branding musicians by genres, subgenres and sub-subgenres. There is too much of stereotyping people with particular types of music and sneering when someone cops out to liking The Fray. The energy those deeply engaged in this subculture spends on attempting to rekindle everything from the past generations is not challenging this generation to be more creative. Let us accept the challenge of creating original music for people living in 2030, 2040 and 2050 to listen.

The evolution of this youth subculture is a topic that will be revisited. It is interesting to imagine how different everyone would be today had this subculture not swept us off our Chuck Taylors. While it can now be overlooked as a fad with its days numbered, this has been a subculture that has helped define the beginning of the new millennium, but more so the digital age, making it one of the most influential countercultures that have hit America’s youth in a long time.

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