I was at the beach with a friend of mine the other night, and I heard a woman say, “Fuck no! I don’t want to be one of these mindless sheep,”. My friend and I, as well as a horde of others, were at the beach playing Pokémon Go because this particular pier is just teaming with pokémon and pokéstops. The woman in question was sitting on a bench with her friend, possibly boyfriend, and he suggested that she start playing Pokémon Go because he thought she’d, “actually enjoy it and have fun.”
This interaction made me feel three things: 1. I am not a fucking sheep, thank you very much! 2. I’m sad for this person because she is missing out on something she might enjoy and for what? Because lots of other people enjoy it too? That’s silly! and 3. I should write a post about this…because this is my life now.
We live in a society where individuals are concerned with setting themselves apart, focusing on things that make them unique, and almost fear being part of the crowd because that will make it harder for them to get ahead or get noticed. However, we also live in a culture driven by trends and a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality, but with a fun twist where it’s pretty much social suicide to look like a follower. Now, add to that the fact that we are, by nature, social creatures who require a sense of community, belonging, and connection to live happy, healthy lives. Seriously, what the hell?
You need to own the latest smart phone, but have a case no one else has. Wear the styles that are in this season, but still stay true to your own unique style (as long as it’s not TOO unique). You should also do the things you’re passionate about/make you happy, but only if everybody and their distant relatives aren’t also doing that thing.
As you can see, being part of society and its dominate culture is fun. And by fun I mean hard and kind of terrible. Some of us decide that we don’t really want to go along with the dominate culture, but we can’t exactly run off into the wild and live completely on our own. You might be thinking, “But that sounds like a fantastic idea!”
No. It’s not. I’m an introvert and truly enjoy solitude, but even I have my limits and find myself in need of human interaction. With out a group of people to talk to, who share common interests, and make you feel like you’re part of something and belong somewhere, you would literally go crazy. Your physical health would also start to decline, your immune system would weaken, and your life span would shorten.
“Then what do I do? I have nothing in common with most of the people I interact with. I feel lost (and a little angry) when my co-workers talk about the latest celebrity news, or swap their favorite organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, locally sourced, free-range, protein powder and grass smoothie recipes. WHERE DO I GO?”
Subcultures and online communities HO!
Problem solved! Just find a smaller group of people who share your quirky, weird, off-color, or otherwise ‘different’ interests. Surely you won’t run into any of the issues that make belonging to the dominate culture frustrating…right? I mean, these are groups of people who don’t conform, they embrace alternate ways of thinking, and look at/interact with the world differently…they won’t have rigid membership rules!
Sadly, joining (and feeling truly accepted in) a subculture is, in many ways, MORE difficult than just trying to assimilate into the mainstream culture. Which is saying a lot because…I belong in the mainstream like a cat belongs at the dog beach. I love the geek, goth, and various fandom subcultures I call home, but there are some days where I feel like it would be easier to just go to the stupid beach and pretend to be a weird looking small dog. The thing is, we get a membership card (so to speak) for the dominate, mainstream culture by simply being born into it. You don’t have to do anything else to get in; you just have to accept the rules and regulations, and go with the flow.
With subcultures there’s like a whole vetting process…sometimes there are elaborate initiation rituals involving blood oaths and human sacrifices…My point is, that it can be an ordeal. This attitude of exclusivity surrounding many subcultures can be very off putting, and leave a lot of people feeling like they’re living in a sort of limbo – they don’t feel at home in the mainstream, but they aren’t being accepted by the people they feel a connection/bond with. If you ask me, that’s a super shitty place to be.
That being said, I understand why subcultures are so guarded and protective. Subcultures are generally made up of people who, for one reason or another, have been made to feel like ‘the other’ by the dominant culture. These subcultures were started so that these ‘others’ would have a place to go for acceptance and sanctuary. So, a certain level of hesitation in accepting new ‘members’ (especially when parts of a subculture get appropriated by the dominate culture) is understandable.
Example: I have loved The Nightmare Before Christmas since it came out (when I was 5). I loved the story. I loved the characters. I wanted to live in Halloween Town! However, I remember my mom hating the movie and expressing how creepy she thought it was. Other kids my age were scared by the monsters in the movie and didn’t like it. I was labeled a ‘dark child’ by my family, and ‘weird’ by my peer group. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, when Disney started doing re-releases of the film, it started gaining popularity. I was initially ok with this because it meant merchandise was easier to find. Then Disney started re-decorating the Haunted Mansion in a Nightmare Before Christmas theme and marketing the shit out of it.
That was too much for me. So many new people were running around wearing Jack Skellington shirts and saying how much the LOVED the movie. Some who, just a year or two before, had called me names and treated me like an outcast for loving this same thing. I felt threatened and, weirdly, like a part of my identity had been stolen. I knew people who stopped liking The Nightmare Before Christmas because it became ‘too popular’. For awhile, I distanced myself from it and refused to buy any of the (awesome) new merchandise that Disney was coming out with. I even found myself scoffing at, and judging, people sporting Nightmare Before Christmas paraphernalia, and making comments like, “I liked it before it was cool,” and “I bet they only like it because it’s ‘cool’ now,”.
Oh, younger me…you were so naive, and kind of an elitist dick.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered new interests and fandoms; I’ve also watched more of my cult-status favorites gain popularity. The latter is now something that I embrace, and am totally stoked about, because it means cool new merch that is more easily accessible. I don’t have to go into the bowels of obscure online retailers to find like one item. Instead, I can now go on Amazon and find Labyrinth POPS that kick all of the ass! I’ve also realized that, just because someone wasn’t a fan of something from the beginning, doesn’t mean they are somehow less of a fan. Also, just because someone finds, or feels a calling to, a subculture a little later in their life doesn’t mean they are somehow less worthy of being a part of it. Any culture needs new members or it dies.
Every single one of us in an existing subculture, or fandom, knows what it’s like to feel like we don’t belong and to feel like ‘the other’. So, dear gods why do we turn around and do it to other people when they look for acceptance among us? Are there people who like things about certain subcultures because it’s considered trendy by the mainstream? Sure, but that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate in their own way and that we should shun them because their reasons for liking it are different than ours (and no, “but they shunned us first!” nonsense). That’s silly.
We all have a need to belong and bond with other humans. So, like the things you like, and do the things you want to do, regardless of its popularity (or lack there of). It’s actually super awesome that so many things that used to be stigmatized for being part of a subculture are gaining popularity and acceptance outside of their subculture. I think it’s a really good thing because it’s giving very different people something to come together over.
Besides, if we really want to be separate from the mainstream culture many of us dislike, (for one reason or another) we should just start accepting people. Period. No judging. No knowledge or time requirements. Just, “Hey, I like this thing!” “Rad! We all love this thing, too. Come sit with us and we will teach you our ways.”
Morals of the story:
1. New people are good, they help keep the things we love alive.
2. Things we love gaining popularity is good, it means more (and often better) things to wear, read, look at, and decorate our houses with.
3. We all need a place to belong so…
4. Don’t be a dick.
As always, geek on and be excellent to each other.