i refuse to need your approval

every underground cultural phenomenon has a backlash. mainstream stereotypes remain pretty much the same, and that's what most people strive to be and acquire. head of the class. most popular. best athelete. prettiest girl. top seller. meanwhile, most of the time, and in most of the world, the nerds, geeks, and dorks are just that.

for the second time in the recent history of american popular culture there has been a "revenge of the nerds." some of the outcasts and iconoclasts have grown up to be musicians, writers, and tastemakers, creating their own little world and having fun, getting attention and getting paid. at some point, what was formerly a loose collection of alternatives to established rules becomes a style with rules of its own. that's when they start to attract notice as a group.

the knee-jerk tendency of those outside any scene, once it's been defined, is to lump everyone together and call them out based on common surface aspects. this doesn't take into account who's just doing their own thing and ends up being part of something bigger, versus who's following a trend. or, more importantly, who's a decent person maybe a little too into scene details, and who's using those details to be an asshole.

hipster. indie rocker. goth. metalhead. punk. hippie. badges of pride to some, insults to others. all words loaded with their own set of subcultural signifiers that other people think they understand, thanks to the wrong kind of media attention. the inevitable "how to recognize a (fill in the blank)" list makes the group easy to ridicule as a whole. meanwhile, it's only certain people who deserve contempt: the snobs in that scene (who would be snobs in any scene), and the outsiders who attempt to define the scene by its most obvious external characteristics.

the thing is, scenes are also self-policed. messily perhaps, but people are always calling each other out anyway. comedians aziz ansari and andy blitz recently made the above short film about snobby indie record store clerks. kudos to other music for allowing them to shoot there (especially since the video has a few potentially damaging grains of truth). this kind of thing is why there's no need for an article explaining and/or mocking an insular subculture, because it's already been done much better from the inside. external articles always get everything wrong. even if the particulars are straight, they misunderstand the underlying motivations because what drives them is inherently different from what drives their subjects.

and now some people are getting irritated that interpol is constantly in every magazine, xiu xiu's toys-meet-noise angst is taken seriously, and death cab for cutie is selling out places that used to be reserved for "normal" popular music. well, tough. the last major explosion of underground culture (1991-92) brought some good music to light. unfortunately, as usual, the same gold rush resulted in corporate co-opting of the culture, and crap coming out under the same banner as brilliance. the marketplace was flooded and everybody got tired of it. which just goes to show, it's not minor stylistic hallmarks that distinguish music/art/fashion, but something underlying which can't be cloned. and still no one gets this, from the major labels who try to cash in, to the fakers infiltrating (rather than desiring to be a part of) scenes, to journalists thinking they're going to expose something and tell "the real story".

i recall one such article a few years back surmising that goateed, plaid-shirted alterna-kids represented such a formidable group that they outnumbered and intimidated the poor hulking football jersey and letterman sweater-wearing masses. i find that hard to believe. no matter how much pitchforkmedia and all the most-read blogs and zines may mean to certain people, it's no match for the combined might of mainstream mundanity represented by the likes of rolling stone and people. even if people are saying "pitchfork is the new rolling stone," that still gives rolling stone a compliment and leaves pitchfork second. that type of dynamic is played out everywhere.

the badge of the anti-hip is as riduculous as the badge of the hip. the proudly normal, unhip and mainstream don't need to create a counter-counterculture in reaction to feeling shut out of any burgeoning scenes; their culture already exists. all they have to do is turn on the tv or walk outside and everything is there for them. there's no excuse for snobbery from anyone. but you can't blame people for trying to keep a good thing to themselves, when history shows the inevitable trajectory of discovery and assimilation means the end of their world as they know it (and they don't feel fine).

eventually, of course, the mainstream attention wanes, and the scene is left to its own devices. either it burns out in the magnifying glass of attention or slowly fades away, perhaps to be reborn as another scene a decade or two later. then a writer will suddenly look around and feel surrounded by a sea of otherness they realize has sprung up without their approval.

the title of this post comes from the game by echo and the bunnymen.