Most of us at one point or another have found ourselves in the throes of an identity crisis. Ideally, this is something we grow out of as soon as our bodies have passed the point of adolescence. We've all been there — dressed a certain way, adopting a particular mode of speech, even changing our mood to better fit the identity we're trying to assume. It’s a perfectly natural part of self-exploration to test and discard different personalities, interests, goals, and everything in between in the quest toward becoming who you really are.
Of course, there are several people who never ‘grow out’ of their favorite-band-t-shirt-sporting, pierced-nose-bearing, or bleached-hair-styling ways and no one’s saying that’s a bad thing. It lends richness to a community to notice individuals of a different style and mindset than our own and beats a world where we wouldn’t be able to tell each other apart. Yet, there’s a certain level of irony in the fact that people adopt a look and identity to be distinct and apart from the masses only to become a part of a bigger group of people doing the same thing. The erudites call this phenomenon ‘counterculture’.
Different from a subculture, which is part of a dominant culture (think stock brokers working in Wall Street), a counterculture goes against the norm. A sociologist’s definition of counterculture labels it as a type of subculture that deviates from some aspect of society, be it in personal values, lingo, or clothing styles. Hippies are a prime example of a counterculture, having manifested as a response to (or consequence of?) a new age of sexual, spiritual, and political revolution that prompted people to break the mould.
History teaches us that the emergence of a counterculture is a retaliation against the norm at a time when new discoveries and a greater emphasis on the individual is applied. Countercultures in many ways demonstrate the natural human impulse to display individuality while at the same time (and perhaps ironically) show the human need to be a part of a greater community of like-mindedness. Needless to say, the phenomenon of countercultures beckons a second thought into what individuality means in the first place since as individuals, we almost always carefully craft our identity to fit into certain expectations others have of us and form a particular impression of ourselves to others. Others thereby define our sense of individualism.
The increasingly capitalized society we live in makes even a counterculture something entirely marketable. So what happens when you commercialize individuality? Normally, it moves from the fringes and is subsumed into widespread culture; the digital age means that with an ever-increasing speed, counter-cultures have barely sprung up before they catch on and become mainstream. But what are the most entirely commercialized countercultures of our time? Which ones have you (literally) bought into?
Originally a derogatory term used for Italian-Americans, the term ‘guido’ has since been popularised by the infamous reality TV show stars of the Jersey Shore who self-identified as such. Characterized by gel-spiked hair, pinky rings, and bulging muscles in tight Ed Hardy t-shirts, guidos are anything but abashed and carry no shame in having owned a once insulting moniker. Despite having stirred controversy in 2009, ‘guido’ is now used in cities throughout the US. Women can be ‘guidettes’ and are characterized by bawdy, flashy attire, fake tan and big hair. The reality show caused several clothing lines to emerge and exploit the popular fashion style allowing many to adapt the style and mannerisms of their idolized guido TV stars.
The survivalist will survive the impending apocalypse. His Swiss army knife has a million and one functions and if need be, the survivalist won’t rule out drinking their own urine as a means to keep living. Fears of war, unstoppable diseases, climate change, natural disasters—you name it, the survivalist knows that’s how the world will end. Although the survivalist counterculture has existed since the 1960’s, it resurfaced after the tragic 9/11 attacks in New York City and is one deeply rooted in fear and paranoia. In order to be prepared for doomsday, the survivalists stock up on a number of products like camping gear and generators, that'll survive alongside with them.
The Oxford dictionary defines otaku as “a young person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills”. The word is reminiscent of the Japanese word or ‘home’ so it’s a little like calling someone a homebody. In America, it’s used to describe people with a strong obsession with anime. Clever marketing encourages the highly commercial otaku culture, with endless anime series to download and plenty of paraphernalia to purchase.
Merriam-webster defines ‘raver’ as “one that raves”… not the most explanatory definition but essentially it’s just that: a person who goes to raves a lot. The term first emerged in the 1960’s and was used to describe a lively and frequent party-goer, today it describes someone who flocks to raves and a popular stereotype is that they do way too many drugs. But what once was an underground scene (most raves happened in unpopulated regions and were uncontrolled) is now a highly commercialized and popularized experience—anyone can go to a rave and whole music venues and parks are transformed into playgrounds for the electro-dance crazed partier, for typically a pretty steep price. Rest assured you can get your very own raver-costume somewhere online too.
The gamer counterculture is relatively new despite the fact that video games have been around for decades. This could be owed to the fact that the technology of today’s video games makes playing them all the more interactive and addicting. Within the gamer culture there are terms to distinguish experience levels among gamers and even insults for inexperienced gamers. Despite the fact that many might argue that games are just that: games, to the gamer, playing video games is a way of life and requires energy and tenacity in order to become a ‘pro’, not to mention a lot of time. With all the accessories, new software, and obvious need to upgrade systems and purchase new games, it’s obvious that consumerist gamer culture racks up big bucks.
Mostly made up of mostly Millennials, the hipster culture is well known throughout the world. While it’s hard to define a culture that scoffs at definitions, hipsters fit into the demographic of upper and middle-class youths who have a penchant for all things vintage and unique. There are several stereotypes associated with hipsters; like the fact that they only drink Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, only live in gentrified neighborhoods, only eat organic foods — the list goes on. Since it is so popular a trend, it racks in quite a bit of revenue in terms of popular outlets and fashion lines that promote the characteristic fashion and lifestyle. Everyone's heard of hipster weddings too... Just another way to cash in on the fleeting trends of the decade.