The "subculture" is dead! Long live the new Tribalism!
Used to be, back in the day (1967/68) the Hippies tried to form something beyond the Establishment label of "counterculture", a label that was actually embraced by the nameless entity that the hippies were struggling to evolve into. The absurd amount of drugs, the chronic malnutrition occasioned by so-called "macrobiotic" diets, rampant apathy and the lack of wide bandwidth communication killed that idea in the womb.
The Hippies ended up as little more than some scattered communes and a marketing ploy aimed at the middle american teens who wanted a taste, the merest frisson of the Hippie lifestyle they had read about in Time magazine, Rolling Stone and had seen on TV and propaganda films screened by the Hygiene Squad at High School.
These were not pretty times, I know, I was there.
Today, we no longer have a single "counterculture" or even subcultures, we are seeing the rise of the New Tribalism.
New Age Hippies, Skaters (roller and board) urban bikers, hackers, the whole amorphous queer scene, hip-hop, 'zine creators, street gangs, goths, punks, goth punks, goth punk hackers, gay goth punk hackers. (This is getting confusing, innit?)
Myself, I'm part of several tribes, hacker (cDc), SF fan, SubGenius, slight goth leanings, although more because of my interest in H.P. Lovecraft than any desire to wear white pancake and smoke clove cigarettes.
The tribes I'm part of all have their own rituals and sub rosa language and customs, more to bind the tribe members together than to keep the outsiders at arms length.
What allows these New Tribes to develop and flourish is partly the breakdown of national societal norms, and the rise of wide bandwidth communications between tribalists. Yeah, the computer is part of it, as is the homemade 'zine and the DIY music cassette and CD. All of these have taken the place of the communal sweatlodge or the longhouse as a means for bonding the tribe members together.
Coupled with the easy access to world culture via cable TV, video and music, ethnicity is no longer a Big Deal. Who you ARE is the thing, not where your great grandparents came from or went to.
And like all primates and most higher mammals, we prefer to hang with those like us and look with some suspicion on those who are Not Like Us.
In fact, we like it so much, that households are often formed around a single aspect of our Tribes. Hackers, ham radio, punk music, crossdressing, heavy drug abuse, role playing games and anything else that interests people these days.
Some households actually occupy a real house, some don't even occupy the same continent, let alone the same city, yet a member of a household is welcomed into whatever structure another member is occupying at the time. Granted, you may have to doss down on a piece of foam rubber in a corner of a room, but hey, no problem, it is, after all, your house.
The Internet allows for households, or houses for short, to spring up and to allow far flung members of a house or tribe to keep in close touch with other members of his tribe. The same personal computer, balanced on a milk crate by the side of a cheap futon also churns out 'zines and is the MIDI driver for making music, and is the animation stand for making movies. Think of it as a multimedia Swiss Army Knife. Many of the New Tribes have an artistic bent, if not an overwhelming urge to create art, music, literature, something, anything to put a dent in the universe, to express themselves. The computer, the 'zine, the 4-track cassette deck, the camcorder, the potters wheel, the rubber stamp, the spray paint can, pirate radio, wall posters, all are part of the totem poles and cave paintings of the New Tribes.
To an extent, 'zines are also a way for keeping a tribe informed about tribal doings. (and I am NOT going to attempt to describe 'zines in this essay. Go read the books about 'zines published by RE/SEARCH and R. Seth Friedman. Or do an Alta Vista search. Eschew passivity, you lard-butted geek!) 'zines take the place of the tribal bards and lawkeepers, who once kept the traditions and customs of the tribe. Easy to do when your tribe is an extended family unit, occupying a finite chunk of earth and space. The New Tribe can transcend national and continental borders. Kind of hard for one individual to maintain the tribal cohesion.
Punk 'zines deal with the punk tribe, Grrrl 'zines deal with the Grrrl scene, and so on and so forth. Your tribal 'zines show up in your mailbox, and you spend hours reading them on the toilet and while chowing down on the cheap store brand Mac and Cheese. You get the latest dope on your tribe, the philosophy, the ideas, the culture that makes your Tribe, _Your Tribe_.
At least in America and Western Europe, there is a widespread rejection of so-called normal values. The normal values of making lots of money and accumulating meaningless material goods and status. Keeping up with the Joneses, as they used to say. More and more people have decided that this "normal" lifestyle is bunk and they want no part of it, regardless of the personal inconveniences. A satisfying job these days, one which enriches the jobholder spiritually or artistically, is preferable to large paycheck, earned via a job that stultifies.
Coupland's book, Generation X, is a pretty decent representation of the attitude exemplified by a lot of the New Tribes. Interpersonal relationships, 'friendships' as it were, are more important than the latest luxury car or the biggest screen TV on the block.
Some tribes, like the Skinheads, have multiple cultures. On one side, there are the anti-racist skinheads, who embrace all cultures and races. On the other, we see the racist skins, who despise any race and culture that doesn't conform to their tribal norms.
To the outsider, a skin is a skin is a skin, lumping straightedge and doper, SHARPs and bootboy nazis all under the classification of "Skinhead".
Then we have the groups that try too hard to be a tribe. One well-known pseudotribe is the "Rainbow Family". Frankly, their wholesale plundering of Indian customs and traditions with no regard or understanding of the cultural backgrounds involved, irritates the hell out of me. "Indians are cool, man, they like, 'embraced' the Earth and were all peaceful and everything." Yeah, right. Study some North American anthropological sources about the intertribal relationships of say, the Navajo and the Hopi or the Abenaki and everyone else in northeastern North America.
Their yearly Rainbow gatherings are well known in the rural areas like Vermont, California and other places with large enough state or national parks to support a few thousand people for a couple of weeks of New Age crapola and the possibility of salmonella and dysentery.
While they claim to welcome and embrace all, in reality, if one prefers beer to pot, you are segregated to a specific campsite for your tent. Not one of the hallmarks of a real tribe, in my opinion. But then, modern pseudohippies are notorious for their self-rightious hypocrisy.
Similarly, the Ku Klux Klan is a pseudotribe, in that members of one faction of the Klan are often not welcomed by other factions, harking back to the skinheads. At least those Klan factions that aren't mainly FBI fronts to sucker redneck yahoos into providing information on the Klan, Nazis and such like groups.
Speaking of Nazis, this is a tribe that seeks out anyone who can be influenced by their peculiar philosophies. For the most part, anyone who swallows the Nazi party line is pretty damn stupid, and would fall for someones party line, as long as it told him that he was better than anyone else. If not the Nazis, then the Socialists, the Democrats, the Republicans or the Church. But then, this is beginning to encroach into the concept of cults, where damnfools check in, but they don't check out. (See Scientology, The Moonies, et al ad nauseum)
For the most part, the New Tribes are voluntary associations, newly evolved and haltingly developing traditions and customs. In this instance, the "Modern Primitives", Goths and Science Fiction Fans are way ahead of the hackers and GenX 'slackers".
Generally speaking, our first exposure to tribalism is in school. The jocks, the geeks, the nerds, the bookworms, &ct. Depending on what tribe we are accepted/forced into, school is hell on earth, or just merely tedious. And what tribe you were in, or forced into by the school social hierarchy, oftens influences the social groups you associate with in college. Even to the extent of what frat or sorority one is inclined to join. And that tribe can follow and influence you for the rest of your life.
These tribes often have a long history and specific tribal customs, particularly when it comes to inducting new members. This can be anything from ritual embarrassment to locking the prospective member in a car trunk with a quart of gin and a live cat.
As society becomes more and more fragmented and dysfunctional, these New Tribes will gradually take the place of "Society" as the arbiter of the "normal" way of life for many people. This "customization" of society(s) by the tribe members will result in more and more enclaves in the major cities of the world, as well as rural enclaves, a phenomenon that's already occurring in parts of New England with members of the gay and lesbian Tribe. This voluntary ghettoization of the tribes, rather than an enforced dictate of the State, is becoming an attractive alternative to many people who are fed up with the B.S. and hassles of living in a "normal" society. And thanks to cheap computers and cheap Internet access, tribal communities will more and more cross national and continental boundaries, as well as eschewing the need for "cities", thumbing the collective nose at the local mores and society.
About bloody time!
Some will embrace this new freedom and run with it, some will act like psychotic monkeys on speed and tequila, and some will just carry on as if nothing is happening, living the "American" (or German, French, Japanese, Chinese, &ct) Dream while things get REALLY odd outside their front door.
And then, one day, they will realize that the World has gotten SO DAMN WEIRD, they flip out and start blaming things like music, movies, TV, drugs, the Internet, liberals, conservatives, Freemasons, Catholics, Jews, Moslems, Protestants, Atheists, homosexuals &ct, everything but their nice normal dysfunctional 'Society' for the change.
Meanwhile, their children are engaging in their own particular/peculiar Tribal rituals, activities and "society", oblivious to their parent's rants and raves and letters to the editor about "kids these days, and how they have no respect for tradition and family values!"
Well, they are respecting traditions, their own tribal traditions. They don't care for what their parents respect, and with good reason!