Alternative culture
Alternative culture is a type of culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

 that exists outside or on the fringes of mainstream or popular culture
Popular culture
Popular culture is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the...

, usually under the domain of one or more subculture
In sociology, anthropology and cultural studies, a subculture is a group of people with a culture which differentiates them from the larger culture to which they belong.- Definition :...

s. These subcultures may have little or nothing in common besides their relative obscurity, but cultural studies
Cultural studies
Cultural studies is an academic field grounded in critical theory and literary criticism. It generally concerns the political nature of contemporary culture, as well as its historical foundations, conflicts, and defining traits. It is, to this extent, largely distinguished from cultural...

 uses this common basis of obscurity to classify them as alternative cultures, or, taken as a whole, the alternative culture. Compare with the more politically charged term, counterculture
Counterculture is a sociological term used to describe the values and norms of behavior of a cultural group, or subculture, that run counter to those of the social mainstream of the day, the cultural equivalent of political opposition. Counterculture can also be described as a group whose behavior...


The concept of an alternative culture

See also: List of subcultures and History of subcultures in the 20th century
History of subcultures in the 20th century
The 20th century saw the rise and fall of many subcultures.-1900-World War I:In the early part of the 20th century, subcultures were mostly informal groupings of like-minded individuals. The Bloomsbury group in London was one example, providing a place where the diverse talents of people like...

The concept of alternative culture is rooted in the development of new views of adolescence
Adolescence is a transitional stage of physical and mental human development generally occurring between puberty and legal adulthood , but largely characterized as beginning and ending with the teenage stage...

 during the 1950s in Western Europe
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

 and North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

. This development, in conjunction with the emergence of the teddy boy and the release of the US films The Wild One
The Wild One
The Wild One is a 1953 outlaw biker film directed by László Benedek and produced by Stanley Kramer. It is famed for Marlon Brando's iconic portrayal of the gang leader Johnny Strabler.-Basis:...

(1953) and Rebel Without a Cause
Rebel Without a Cause
Rebel Without a Cause is a 1955 American drama film about emotionally confused suburban, middle-class teenagers. Directed by Nicholas Ray, it offered both social commentary and an alternative to previous films depicting delinquents in urban slum environments...

(1955), saw adolescents in North America and Western Europe collectively express a form of rebellion against the values of their parents and authority in general. The reasons for this rejection of traditional social codes and attitudes were usually personal, but were at the same time easier to define when asserted as part of a group.

The current understanding of alternative culture came about in the early 1990s, when strands of youth culture, counter culture
Counter Culture
Counter Culture is a 2005 compilation double album by English folk/rock singer-songwriter Roy Harper featuring 25 classic Roy Harper songs, cherry picked according to his mood in April 2005. This collection spans 35 years of song writing and is intended as an introduction for anyone who's not sure...

, and various subculture
In sociology, anthropology and cultural studies, a subculture is a group of people with a culture which differentiates them from the larger culture to which they belong.- Definition :...

s came together prompted by corporate influences. The high-profile exceptions to this have been hip hop culture and the Riot Grrrl
Riot grrrl
Riot grrrl was an underground feminist punk movement based in Washington, DC, Olympia, Washington, Portland, Oregon, and the greater Pacific Northwest which existed in the early to mid-1990s, and it is often associated with third-wave feminism...

 movement. The recreational use of time by both women and people of color has been reported upon, but usually with disdain .

The development and social dynamics of an alternative culture

A subculture is usually formed by young working class
Working class
Working class is a term used in the social sciences and in ordinary conversation to describe those employed in lower tier jobs , often extending to those in unemployment or otherwise possessing below-average incomes...

 people in a small region or a single city in response to a generally felt lack of proper fulfillment by the options available to that particular social group. This disenchantment is in reference to a wide range of things, from acceptable codes of public behaviour to the likelihood of decent long-term employment. The result is a rapid evolution of an externally displayed attitude and an accompanying visual style (regarding art, dress, et cetera) and soundtrack. The factors that necessitate the creation of a subculture often forge the elements that make it unique and give it some form of cultural legacy in retrospect. For example, the hippie
The hippie subculture was originally a youth movement that arose in the United States during the mid-1960s and spread to other countries around the world. The etymology of the term 'hippie' is from hipster, and was initially used to describe beatniks who had moved into San Francisco's...

 movement of the 1960s is remembered, although not exclusively, for its championing of the concept of "free love
Free love
The term free love has been used to describe a social movement that rejects marriage, which is seen as a form of social bondage. The Free Love movement’s initial goal was to separate the state from sexual matters such as marriage, birth control, and adultery...

", which was a fairly successful attempt to break away from the perceived social frigidity of the previous two decades. Hip hop culture allowed poor African-Americans to express themselves creatively when they had minimal access to musical instruments and very little chance of having their work displayed in art galleries. It meant that the turntable
Turntablism is the art of manipulating sounds and creating music using phonograph turntables and a DJ mixer.The word 'turntablist' was coined in 1995 by DJ Babu to describe the difference between a DJ who just plays records, and one who performs by touching and moving the records, stylus and mixer...

, normally only used to play music produced by others, was used as an "instrument" in its own right and that public areas became substitute canvasses for a style of art known as wild style
Wild Style
Wild Style is a 1983 hip hop film produced by Charlie Ahearn. Released theatrically in 1983 by First Run Features and later re-released for home video by Rhino Home Video, it is regarded as the first hip hop motion picture...


During the point that these subcultures enjoy their "peak", they are simultaneously the subject of much negative attention from the media. This is often due to objections to the subcultures' disregard for the legality of their activities, the physical appearance of their members, their anti-establishment and/or anti-consumerist values and their frequent indulgences in sex and drug use. (Not all these points apply to all subcultures, a good example being the fact that members of the "straight edge
Straight edge
Straight edge is a subculture of hardcore punk whose adherents refrain from using alcohol, tobacco, and other recreational drugs. It was a direct reaction to the sexual revolution, hedonism, and excess associated with punk rock. For some, this extends to not engaging in promiscuous sex, following a...

" hardcore punk
Hardcore punk
Hardcore punk is an underground music genre that originated in the late 1970s, following the mainstream success of punk rock. Hardcore is generally faster, thicker, and heavier than earlier punk rock. The origin of the term "hardcore punk" is uncertain. The Vancouver-based band D.O.A...

 scene were completely teetotal). However, it is this publicity which often drew more young people into each subculture, usually, but not always, because they were attracted by its apparent dissident nature.

There is often a period that is considered to be "pure" in terms of what defined each subculture in various ways. This is the point between the complete development of its unique characteristics - where it has an ideology, a style of dress, a new genre of music to call its own, et cetera - and the point where publicity has caused a large influx of new members into the community and various business interests have begun to co-opt its unique aspects. The grunge
Grunge is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged during the mid-1980s in the American state of Washington, particularly in the Seattle area. Inspired by hardcore punk, heavy metal, and indie rock, grunge is generally characterized by heavily distorted electric guitars, contrasting song...

 subculture (although according to its original members, it was not a culture as such, but rather a fan base for alternative rock
Alternative rock
Alternative rock is a genre of rock music and a term used to describe a diverse musical movement that emerged from the independent music underground of the 1980s and became widely popular by the 1990s...

) is a particularly interesting case, as its conception was to some extent deliberately self-conscious of the factors that could skew its original intents. Grunge was a regional off-shoot of DIY culture, which focused more on its members being cynical "slacker
The term "slacker" is used to refer to a person who habitually avoids work. Slackers may be regarded as belonging to an antimaterialistic counterculture, though in some cases their behavior may be due to other causes ....

s": an outlook publicly exemplified best by the band Dinosaur Jr
Dinosaur Jr
Dinosaur Jr. is an American alternative rock band formed in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1984. Originally called Dinosaur, prior to legal issues that forced the group to change their name, the band disbanded in 1997 until reuniting in 2005...

 - and, as the popular phrase was at the time, over-educated and under-paid. (A phrase which was lifted from Douglas Coupland
Douglas Coupland
Douglas Coupland is a Canadian novelist. His fiction is complemented by recognized works in design and visual art arising from his early formal training. His first novel, the 1991 international bestseller Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, popularized terms such as McJob and...

’s novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, published by St. Martin's Press in 1991, is the first novel by Douglas Coupland. The novel popularized the term Generation X, which refers to Americans and Canadians who reached adulthood in the late 1980s...

(1991)). Although these were all myths that originated from the media, of which participants in the grunge scene treated with some suspicion. Still, in the wake of the massive success of the album Nevermind
Nevermind is the second studio album by the American rock band Nirvana, released on September 24, 1991. Produced by Butch Vig, Nevermind was the group's first release on DGC Records...

(also 1991) by Nirvana
Nirvana (band)
Nirvana was an American rock band that was formed by singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic in Aberdeen, Washington in 1987...

, the media and the marketing industry popularised and mass-marketed "grunge" clothes, music and such. However, the nature of the culture meant it resisted glamorisation and it was soon abandoned by the media in favor of Rap, leaving the grunge scene to wither as a result.

The current state of alternative culture

Due to subcultures of this nature being in a constant change, they often splinter off into niche groups. They often develop an "old school" crowd who tend to resist "polluting" elements and carry on as before until inevitably evolving themselves. An example is the UK's rave scene, which suffered very badly from tough legislation aimed at it in the mid 1990s (Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It introduced a number of changes to the existing law, most notably in the restriction and reduction of existing rights and in greater penalties for certain "anti-social" behaviours...

), leading to its discreet continuance on a smaller scale, before manifesting itself again on the large scale in the form of the teknival
Teknivals are large free parties which take place worldwide. They take place most often in Europe and are often illegal under various national or regional laws. They vary in size from dozens to thousands of people, depending on factors such as accessibility, reputation, weather, and law enforcement...

, which retains many of the principles of the original acid house culture.


South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 has a long tradition of alternative culture. From the Creole
Creole peoples
The term Creole and its cognates in other languages — such as crioulo, criollo, créole, kriolu, criol, kreyol, kreol, kriulo, kriol, krio, etc. — have been applied to people in different countries and epochs, with rather different meanings...

 fusion experience of the 17th and 18th centuries, to recent experiments in alternative living. A cross-over fusion between white punks and black ethnics in the eighties produced an innovative local culture articulated by magazines such as Vula, music such as eVoid and Via Afrika, and clubs such as The Indaba Project and The Base. Alternative "Afrikaners" existed in juxtaposition to the dominant mainstream polices of racial oppression, alongside anti-apartheid resistance to war by students and groups such as the End Conscription Campaign
End Conscription Campaign
The End Conscription Campaign was an anti-apartheid organisation allied to the United Democratic Front and composed of conscientious objectors and their supporters in South Africa...

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