Think of any decade in the past century and before long, a myriad of images will flood into your mind of said period’s accompanying subcultures. A Google Image search of the 80s will bombard your retinas with images of Mohicans and studded leather. If you ask Alexa about the 1950s she will describe the intricate curl of a Teddy Boy’s hair. But when thinking of our current decade, it’s harder to pinpoint the subcultures that define us. And perhaps that’s because they no longer exist.
This demise of these once-pioneering fashion movements stands out as an anomaly particularly in a time in which we proudly claim to be more accepting than ever before. We are continually told how diverse our society is so surely, daring trends should be flourishing more than ever. So, why is this not the case?
It is undeniable that there is a correlation between the disappearance of subcultures and technological advances. In today’s society, young peoples’ identities are carefully curated online rather than through becoming part of a movement. The importance of one’s online identity now often surpasses their perception in the real world, a concept known as the sharded self, which reduces the amount of time spent cultivating one’s real life persona through a social tribe. Alongside the growth of technology also came the ability to download and stream music with ease. Historically, underground movements were inextricably linked with music, however with the ever-increasing simplicity for young people to freely listen to music they are exploring genres more widely than in previous generations. As a result, many young people feel less of an affinity to one musical style and are therefore not as committed to submersing themselves in its accompanying community.
One notable example however is, the recent rise (and rise) of Grime music. Which is one of the closest movements in recent years to resemble a subculture. However, it also acts as a very clear example of how technology has put an end to the grass-roots origins of subcultures of old. Like many beginnings of underground cultures in the Internet Age, Grime was too easily discovered, commercialised and marketed to the masses, quickly becoming too mainstream to ever be viewed as a subculture again.
This issue of commercialisation preventing subculture development also highlights how the evolution of the fashion industry changed the subculture landscape. The birth of fast fashion in 2007 saw the pressure to produce garments at a rapid rate increase so greatly that trend cycles sped up to an unprecedented rate. As this happened, clothes began to be sold for cheaper and cheaper prices, enabling more people to buy more items, more often. As a result, people no longer found themselves tied to one style due to financial investment. Whereas in the past a punk’s affiliation to their tribe was intensified due to the £60 they forked out on platform boots, people nowadays are now able to alternate their style frequently at little expense. So called subcultures in 2017 encompass this ever-increasing desire for more and the fluidity between trends. ‘Haul Girls’ of Youtube’s entire existence is based around buying as much as possible and posting it in a video for people to admire. Their success in influencing the young and their behaviour is undeniably indicative of a youth culture movement. However, none of the classic unifying elements of subcultures such as music, political views and style are well defined by fickle tribes such as this.
In the early noughties, although underground movements were already beginning to dwindle, we did witness the rise of one social tribe during the years of the Internet’s infancy. The emo tribe became a target for a great deal of animosity and even hate crime, despite already considering our society to be more tolerant by this time. It was only 10 years ago that Sophie Lancaster was attacked with her boyfriend Robert Maltby for being dressed as Goths. She died as a result of her injuries. Although a rare occurrence, atrocities such as this are a shocking reminder of how intolerant and unaccepting of difference our so called progressive society can be. The targeting of Goths and Emos gives a stark illustration of extreme reactions that stepping outside of fashion norms can generate, helping to explain the the current dominance of homogeneity.
The Emo subculture was not even a new one; their emergence actually began in the 1980s, but it was just after the millennium when the movement witnessed wider popularity. The rise of the Emo tribe in the noughties was an example of how ‘retromania’ emerged in conjunction with the growth of the internet. Young people were able to look back on previous generations in more detail than ever before. But perhaps so much referencing the past has hindered the evolution of genuinely new subcultures. Are we are too busy admiring the icons of the past who dared to be different to be breaking our own new ground now?
We are a society obsessed with diversity but in truth, the continuing rise of the middle-class has led to an unavoidable homogenisation of people and the failure of sub-cultures to launch. Perhaps our defining sub-cultures are the ‘Haul Girls’ of Youtube or the beanie-clad Hipsters or the LADs who drink protein shakes during the week and jager bombs at the weekend. But can these groups really be considered a sub-culture? Do they stand for anything or for that matter against anything? In the past politics has played a part in uniting and strengthening sub-cultures. But maybe pressure on young people today is so great that there is not the time or inclination to take the risks that formed essential parts of sub-cultures of the past. A skinhead may be too high risk for a rise up the career ladder, and already burdened with student debt and soaring house prices, young people today simply have too much to lose. Continually plummeting statistics of teen pregnancy, alcohol and drug use are evidence of the increasing sensibleness inflicted on the young generation today, and speak of a generation too scared to become part of something other than what they have been told is acceptable. The internet should be a place for sub-cultures to flourish; for similar niche interests to connect globally. However, whilst pressures on young people are so intense perhaps we are stuck with the continued rise of the accepted middle ground of fashion.