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What is Subculture?
Why subculture matters to the current political and philosophical zeitgeist
Often there is talk of “culture” in the political realm, referring to a people’s customs, institutions, manifestations, achievements, ideology, and biological interests. But what is never addressed is the interest and creation of sub-cultures.
When we refer to “subculture,” we are talking about the artificial culture that is under the authentic hegemony. The subculture (and subcultures) differentiates itself from the culture to which it belongs. The result is that it develops news norms and values that destroy and twist away from the cultural standard. The variance that is happening is a distraction from what the hegemony desires.
Subcultures are largely a development of modernity and the proliferation of free market capitalism invading culture. The subcultural division likely started around the late 1970s in high school, where previously white Americans in the 1950s were no longer judged as either with the mono group of boys or girls, but from the social status of being popular or being a loser. The subculture experiment crashed with the advent of the Columbine High School massacre, and yet, it continues under the decadence of America. Subculture still dictates politics without any awareness of it.
Hobbies and intellectual pursuits have also been categorized as ideological niches, and all niches are thus subcultures. Subculture is a custom, institute, manifestation, and ideology, just like its parent. So why is there a division between culture and subculture, and why is the latter not talked about?
Ever since the advocation of Leon Trotsky and Antonio Gramsci, Western societies became hyperfocused on the mainstream media and its psychological operations. So-called “media studies” started to originate from Marshall McLuhan, where skewed messages of liberal democratic order and “content” were being discussed in the mind of the American citizen. Liberalism requires every citizen to be his individual with a personality and all that can be reduced to an interest in “the superstructure,” where non-production became the key to culture. This also includes the influence of “ideology” as its main root and everything from art, family, culture, religion, philosophy, law, media, politics, science, education, and so on. If all these areas could be influenced by consumer choice, then a new subculture could be created to challenge the culture of the ruling class. …Or so they thought.
While counterculture relies on ideology as its main motive, subculture relies on materialism, acting through the influence of capitalism, consumerism, and the reality that is defined by fashion. It may be a manifestation of its host culture but deludes its ideology with shallow in-group preferences. When there is talk about “culture war,” the real intention is that it is a “subculture war” in the framework of a capitalist reality. Only subcultures can exist, and the culture makes them plausible.
The best study on subculture is Dick Hebdige’s 1979 work, “Subculture.” Hebidge acknowledges that subculture arises as a subversion of what is hegemonic. If one cultural tradition has been practiced for over a century, then it’s individuals who create variants of the tradition. Subcultures are inauthentic modes of existence, while culture is authentic because it has a biological basis. Subculture develops an unconscious criticism of culture and creates a new culture as a rebuttal, hence as a sub. This deracination from culture is seen as apparent through capitalism and its advocation of liberalism.
The first diagnostic report on subculture could be traced back to Émile Durkheim and his 1897 work, “Le Suicide: Étude de Sociologie.” Suicide rose in Europe only when capitalism was initiated as the dominant economic system. Subculture could be seen as a remedy against the cold individualism and reckless competition that capitalism brought as new cultural values. Subculture divides and creates new realities in a parent system that is creating national suicide. No longer did people find community in their biological brothers or sisters, but had to find a new identity through the social construction of the liberal imagination to achieve supposed greatness. If the dream failed, suicide was inevitable. Only a few can make their liberal dreams come true at the expense they throw everyone else to the side.
Not only is subculture a reflection of an isolated society of individualism but it also traps the person in a new semantic jail. New words, concepts, and thoughts are created within the subculture to attack both the culture and rival subcultures. Liberalism allows all opposing individuals to flourish at the expense that everyone is fighting for power. This is why there is Trotsky’s “Permanent revolution” and Gramsci’s “Cultural hegemony,” as both are obsessed with the unobtainable pursuit of etiquette perfection. Both become byproducts of subculture while retaining that they are fighting for a singular “culture.” Subculture, therefore, is more important than culture in the current zeitgeist of politics and philosophy because of the materialistic and semantic prison that subculture creates. Subculture relies on its fictional capital of power-knowledge, and works within a mirror capitalism without resistance. Such subcultures, like being “right-wing” or “left-wing,” require these capital cues and fashion statements rather than doing something in praxis. Subculture sedates the activist.
How much has subculture influenced the way we think about philosophy, politics, and the internet?
All of it.
Subculture is required to understand internet “cultures,” as they are nothing more than subcultures of parasocial relationships. The internet can create subcultures without having a reality to work with. A blogger can construct a personal subculture, an artist can visualize it, and an actor can portray it. It takes only a written manifesto, a few articles, several images, maybe music, a bunch of photos on Instagram, and some Journalist rag doing an “interview” to validate its artificial existence. What is “deviancy” is anything but that, as resistance against “norms” can only be a vessel to advocate liberalism and the American global empire. The “new normal” becomes “queer,” and everything can be queer. America celebrates subculture because it shows that an individual can live the life he can supposedly design against any authoritative control over him.
…Unless that subculture in question is white nationalism or any form of anti-liberalism.
The division of subculture from culture is a dysfunction found in society. The lack of socialization came from accelerating technology and mass isolation. People no longer find a common connection with one another. If a subculture of white nationalism demands people should find a common tie being “white,” how then, can the culture be white if the subculture is trying to change it? While the subculture tries (in its naivety) to shape the culture to its liking, culture will always have the priority to shape and maintain the subculture it has produced. Materialism relies on the production basis and not a superficial theology of belief.
René Girard proposed a mimetic theory of desire that explains what subculture is about. Humans are a type of animal, even though we try to deny such a claim. As animals, and from these primitive instincts, we emulate what other humans do. We emulate because we have a desire, in which humans imitate other human models who endow objects with value. As that can suggest, we are not as liberal and independent as we think we are, and rely on subconscious envy, jealousy, and emulation found in our habits, liking, actions, and importantly, desires to be fulfilled. These desires are constructed by subcultures, and the act of having these said personal desires is to imitate the constructed desire we think we want. Subculture offers an alluring promise of belonging and identity that makes meaning out of chaos. Eventually, a rivalry will occur among competitors, and a “scapegoat” will emerge to blame their failure of desire attainment upon it. The subculture believes there are constant enemy forces against it, as well as outsiders that try and subvert its ways into their own. Subculture becomes self-destructive when it turns against the alien and tries to purify its existence against all outsider influences. It immediately enforces a closed-minded behavior that celebrates the fleeting existence of materialism.
For example, the goths might be against the outsiders because they just don’t listen to The Cure. A scapegoat is created. Yet the irony of it all is that the goths become the outsiders they hate by the act of outcasting all curious strangers. What makes the goths different from the jocks that like Lil Wayne?
The creation of the scapegoat relies on a set of rules to belong in-group against the outsider. For example, the paranoid subculture might rely on a cultish reality that they are a freemasonry trying to evade the secret police that is after them, and they must work within the supposed elite class to change minds and to “change the world,” but all at the irony the elite police state could be watching them as they do it. This falls in line with the George Soros conspiracy theories, where a powerful billionaire dictates the whims of the world, and if only they could become the new billionaire instead, they would do the same to the newly oppressed freemasonry. This recent invention that there's some kind of secret police after the public or that we have to be secret ourselves was made up by, in part, a fear of the Soviet Union or East Germany. Revolutions don't work by emulating the liberal Stonewall riots, as this is a retardation from Trotsky’s “permanent revolution.” A radical is a public figure, not a secret and crowd agent who fears individual death. Perhaps it is moral to be the Soros-funded police because keeping the current system in power is an ethical thing to do. Feeding into this Freemason syntax gives plausibility to an ethical opposition, which is ultimately the flaw of the subculture’s solipsism.
Subculture relies on materialistic objects and idolatry for it to function. It glitters itself up in symbols that the individual can’t make a defense of. The members worship TV shows, obnoxious music, colors, and celebrities that can speak for them. Idolatry is about worshipping a new golden calf over the free will of humanity. It relies on the animal instinct to follow the leader and to submit to power relations. When virtue ethics is preached, idolatry shoots it down with its perverted message of a fake god against intellectualism. The internet can only accelerate an avatar of expression without ever envisioning it in reality. Add that to isolated online comments and imagined communities, the scapegoating becomes a mandatory function of cultural suicide.
Subcultures are designed by their love of objects and idols. What are the objects that define their ideology, and their idols that define their arguments? Aesthetics defines what kind of beauty and artistic curation they are after, and that is manifested through their consumption and projection. We can assume that aesthetics can be judged on an objective basis rather than a subjective one because of the subcultural interest in consumption. What acts of consumption fare well over others? Is all consumption equal? Unlike counterculture which concentrates on attacking power, subculture sows division in a libertarian fashion. What are goths doing for hungry children in Africa? What are gamers doing about trans people? All subcultures can and will be subverted to the liberal elite’s will. Subcultures believe they are doing something right when they can only be atomized and helpless markets of niche interests. All niche categories will be subverted for the will of profit and liberal ethics.
Jean Genet carried a tube of Vaseline with him, implied by Spanish police that he was having gay sex, which made him embarrassed. However, the tube of Vaseline determined a new identity for him, in that it symbolizes he was an outsider who enjoys the passion of gay sex against the norm that hates him for it. The object in question creates the new subculture of the gay outlaw and thus becomes a cataclysm for queer culture. It is the base, the mode of production, that creates objects and gives meaning to subcultures.
Philsopher Timothy Morton argued that these mundane objects take on a whole new level of becoming “hyperobjects,” or objects that no longer hold a singular existence, and exist in many forms beyond human comprehension. For example, the mass production of styrofoam takes on a new form than its singular existence and becomes an egalitarian form of consciousness that humans need. Subcultures need music, the hyperobject of aesthetics, to define their ideology. Hyperobjects can also take on new forms of existence, and like animals, should be respected as “non-humankind.” Subculture gives life to inanimate objects, and the object becomes alive like artificial intelligence. The Vaseline has power over Jean Genet, and rather, the Vaseline dictates the will of the subculture and the humans who worship the object. This realization gives life to the inanimate, and that all nonhuman objects have an equal life like animals, and should be respected. To Subculture, life is found in the hyperobject.
Imagine the 2001 video game Dōbutsu no Mori. It simulates a little society of a human leader (the player) and animal villagers (non-playable characters) where the human pays off the debt for his house, helps villagers in their local economy, and fills his house with objects as a rewarding process. What is interesting is that the game lets the players design and compose their own space, and how a living room, upstairs, and basement would look like. The “furniture” object can be anything from a bed, a lamp, a phone, a video game (in a video game), and so forth. Dōbutsu no Mori allows subculture to prosper through the collection and curation of objects and how it influences the player’s choices. The human can never assimilate into the culture of the animals and create his subculture as an expression in the game. What was supposed to be a video game based around the narrative of understanding virtue ethics and learning how to be a good Japanese neighbor, the player is rewarded instead with a new identity politics expressed through collecting and displaying objects. And like in Girard’s mimetic theory, the player can also go into other neighbor’s houses and imitate their object perferences. Dōbutsu no Mori is a game about the creation of subcultures and how hyberobjects form them. It would only be the cherry on top of the cake if the human player could then wed an animal villager, live in their house, have sex with the female animal, and produce human-animal hybrid babies, which would fulfill the family's desire for identity politics, creating culture out of subculture.
Subculture is also a sexual expression, and the object curation could be seen as a symbol of multiple desires. In the LGBTQ community, the “Handkerchief code” is a system that tells other gays what sexual preference they are into, and how to approach them. Handkerchiefs are used as the objects to express, without argument or logic, what arouses them, and who they want to be with.
The word “fetish” is used to explain a fixation on an object or type of person, and in the liberal understanding of the term, they argue that it is an “irrational” desire. Sigmund Freud was the first to understand what exactly “fixation” is, even coining the term in 1905. Freud did not see the fixation as irrational and saw the “fetish” as related to “object relations theory.” Object relations theory argues that objects have power over people, and the “attachment,” or relationship, with the object, determines the person’s psyche. If understood correctly, “fetishism” is the belief there is power in objects and that these powers are akin to the hyperobject.
The Handkerchiefs are not irrational, as there is a liberal choice in “preferences” that is manifested in the hyperobject. Ideology and idolatry naturally come from these power relationships between humans and objects, where the liberal feels that individualism is being criticized by this active nature, and thus concludes that someone is stupid for choosing an object over a personality. What has happened under liberal democratic capitalism is that individuals, or humans themselves, have become units of products, commodities, capital, and objects to be measured and ranked. Subculture frames their semantics as a pseudo-resistance against this paradigm.
Liberal society has always been prudish against it’s the sexual taboos it pretends to celebrate. Liberalism requires that individuals must “consent” in a transaction before anything extreme is done. Yet liberalism ridicules and mocks the intellect for having a sincere and honest sexuality that goes against the advocation of the liberal ideology because having a sincere conviction is inherently anti-liberal, as one individual’s power struggle is more important than the egalitarian agora liberalism tries to uphold. BDSM and “raceplay” are subcultures about sexual liberation, but liberalism ignores these groups because it fears that their conclusions counter the message of equality. Subcultures must compromise with the liberal democratic system, or else they are seen as anti-American subversion or some “fascism” brewing at home. Libertarianism may respect the right for the most radical anti-liberal system alive but refuses to acknowledge why the subculture has a right to destroy liberalism. As Karl Popper argued in the paradox of tolerance, one can only be tolerant enough to allow in the intolerant to kick the host out.
The absurdity of the claim that there is an “Asian fetish” subculture mocks desire as the enemy, where desire is the forefront agenda of communism and fascism. Sexual desire has the potential to start a cultural revolution, and the Marquis de Sade indeed believed that unrestrained desires against limitation would motivate a proletariat under pressure. If more pornography was shown in public, either you would get results of mass sedation, or a mass revolt to get what the public always desired, motivated by arousal. Pornography helps envision a society where desire is played out in reality. If nothing is true, anything is possible.
Liberals may say that men have a preference towards Asian women, but the preference was created by the heavy influence of anime, video games, global trade, media, and the decline of domestic beauty. As beauty is no longer subjective, beauty is an object reality that can be measured on merits, and if Asian societies have better art, music, society, and women, the other inferior societies would vanish into obscurity. It is not about whether someone owns this society as a right for private property, because this delusional ownership falls under subculture, not biological culture anymore. Desire determines identity, the subculture, and the objects at play. Nothing is irrational when someone is rational about what they want to achieve with people like themselves. Sexuality becomes an identity politics because two people want the same desire and future outcome. Therefore, subculture practices the expression of an open sexuality. The issue is how can it become more than a consumer club, and become an active identity politic.
The advantage of liberalism is that anti-liberals can create their crafty and individual subcultures through rhizome play and eclecticism. The question should be addressed if aesthetics are ideological categories. If one is a goth, would that mean they hate Christians? Or, if one is into rap music, can they be white? If aesthetics are not ideologies, what is the subjective or objective standard of the expression in question? This means that subculture creation is an artistic expression and not an intellectual pursuit, as judgment is based on preferences and hobbies. If the rhizomes allow contradiction, then it has to be respected without concern for ideology. When ideology becomes the priority, then it’s no longer about art direction or taste.
It’s quite evident that in game design, the school of Narratology relies on ideology over game design because it has an irrational obsession with aesthetics then design or play, and that it confuses ideology and aesthetics as one. If aesthetics vanish from a game, the Narratologist would cry that it’s somehow not “fun,” or they can’t understand a form of play (or competition) outside that meaning. Designer subcultures are like Narratolgists in many ways, and they constantly mistake aesthetics for ideology. Art just is. Art can’t tell you why the quadratic formula works or why the sky is blue. Expression cries in its selfishness when it doesn’t understand the objective nature of logic (or math).
With this in mind, subculture creation can be liberated, as long it hurts liberalism and its purpose to contain and isolate people into niche markets. These isolated markets, or subcultures, make sure their members don’t become literate or intellectual. The focus always is on ethical consumption, social justice, and inclusion. What is an example of a hostile subculture?
Take for example the hatred of Eurasian men, birthed by white males and Asian females. This is a racial supremacist myth to attack dysgenics and to advocate the eugenics of biologically similar people. The dysgenic offspring is a mutant and is evil by birth from the supposed “fetish” of white males having children with Asian females. If Eurasian children start to appear, that means there is an irrational fetish going on in society, and the only way to cure it is to return to racial nationalism. Where do the Eurasian children stand? This means that both the Eurasian guy and gal are punk rockers because society hates them for being Eurasian by birth, and they embrace themselves as a projected “monster” to fight back against liberalism because it ignores this reality. This is how black people adopted “nigga” from the N-word. What was once damaging becomes liberating as the punk rocker who wants to stir trouble against the establishment, thus creating a new punk subculture (call it the “AxA” scene). This is the only time when subculture is justified, as the subculture is a reaction and criticism against a state that hates true “queer” identities.
This means you can have rhizomic and contradicting subcultures, like homonationalism, where non-reproductive gay people associate with white nationalism. Or you can have a “Korean-Jewish Biker squad,” looking out for Zionism and the interest of the South Korean state. How can these things coexist with one another? They can because of the internet, and the creation of curated desires. This is what a subculture is, as it takes whatever form the artist (or intellectual) can create out of it.
It has to be acknowledged that subculture is the main axiom and motive of philosophy, politics, and American middle-class undergraduates and optimistic graduates. When there is talk of an impending “culture war,” it does not exist within the framework of a liberal democratic capitalist syntax. Ideology is a product, and individuals are consumers, not intellects. With that being noted, the structural and critical analysis of subcultures can be shaped through dialectic materialism. We can create our subcultures in the present, even though they may end up oppressing us. As long as we understand the ethics behind subculture and its influence can we move forward to a greater critical analysis of the system and our liberal opponents.
The person under subculture would rather live the rule of being placed in a liberal society than do anything to change it because subculture is rather a manifestation of a psychological need than an act of revolutionary change, as the latter becomes a passive thought or a simulacrum experience the person yearns for as that fashion statement to be accepted by the group.
The real argument is about design, and how design is also critical. By understanding critical design, we can unlock the potential of anti-liberalism and new forms of art against any opposition. We must take a hint from Don Norman’s “The Design of Everyday Things” and understand the communication between objects and humans, and how much of that is a veneer for social control and manipulation.