Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G

Subculture Shock

My buddy, mornblade , recently posted a strip from PvP, Scott Kurtz's online comic strip.  In it, a guy seeking to rescue pandas realizes the current panda, the one from the strip's running gags, is actually vicious.  Instead of liberating it, he decides to kill it because, if word got out that what he was saving wasn't cute and cuddly and done for the right reasons, his show and funding would be over.  Mornblade summed up that the guy's last line in that strip, "All life is precious and I'll kill any son of a bitch who tries to stop me from protecting it," sums up the mentality of pro-life abortion groups and PETA members.

What was going to be my simple pontification on that point, complete with a couple of paragraphs typed out in response, quickly escalated.  The way that I write is pretty much the way I talk.  That is, I don't simply speak.  While speaking, I am constantly figuring out what to say and how to say it at that particular moment, sort of like a stream of consciousness going through a checkpoint (or, for the computer literal, an app constantly updating the output stream).  It wasn't long before I started weighing ideas and what all comes together, and I realized I had something that wouldn't fit as a simple reply.  Hence, me putting this here.

This is something that I have spent a bit of time thinking about over the years, and it concerns subcultures.  Now, I know most people are wondering what connection there is between people who kill abortion doctors or animal rights hypocrites and, say, your average cosplayer at a convention.  In point of fact, all those groups are subcultures, and all of them are cut from the same cloth.  A subculture is simply a collective of people united by something not shared by the dominant culture of society and, rather than having it snuffed out, it bands together to survive.  So any group is a subculture, since there is nothing that has enough support to constitute the majority of the population.  Political parties?  With a two-party system, there is always one group that is dominant.  The other doesn't just disappear in defeat, it sticks around, still trying to accomplish its goals, whatever they are, and provide networking and connections and social environments for its bretheren.  That, my friends, is a textbook definition of a subculture.

Now, as pretty much anything can be considered a subculture, the question stops becomes, "What is it in this subculture that makes people behave the way they do?"  As my Stress Puppy strip above illustrates, lots of subcultures not only are cut from the same cloth, but they wind up turning into the same thing -- an insular little community with its own hierarchy.  This isn't exactly surprising, as the subculture is formed around an appreciation of something, and it won't take long before, competitive natures being what they are, members start trying to demonstrate how authentic they are.  In doing so, they don't affirm the concept that is the subculture's common bond, but their place in the pecking order.  And this "I'm more real than you are!" is what causes all the problems.

Let's consider two groups of people in the science subculture.  Science subcultures are full of people who are smart and find the way the gears of the universe mesh to be fascinating and cool.  I'm thinking of a scientist I truly admire, Richard Feynman.  Feynman was one of the smartest guys to ever walk the face of the planet.  And yet, this guy never made you feel small.  He was funny and charming and social.  Science was an adventure, and if you weren't smart enough to understand what made it so cool, he would teach you what you needed to know to understand what made it so awesome. His first instinct, when confronted with someone at a lower level than him, was to build them up and make them his equal, even if it was only for the moment of the discussion.  Same thing with Adam and Jamie on Mythbusters.  They could easily have demonstrated mathematically you can't drop a car from a mile up and race another along the ground to a target.  But what's the fun in that?  They take complex scientific concepts and present them in a way that people can understand and appreciate.  They give it relevance.  Simply put, these people popularize things the subcultures celebrate.  They may be authorities, but what brings the subculture together is still the important thing, not how cool they are.  They are trying to create more winners in their subculture, not making themselves the winners and making others losers (these goals are mutually inclusive but are far different in application, which I will get to anon).

I have been a part of many subcultures myself.  Curiously, all the ones I was initially a part of have fallen away (basketball, anime, etc.  The only subculture I'm still in from my early days is the Dr. Demento one), and the only one I have joined relatively recently is more about what I can contribute and learn from than creating some sort of status for myself (Free Open Source Software).  I'm very hesitant to join subcultures nowadays, because I don't see subcultures as a club celebrating something bigger than themselves but reaffirming that the participants are smarter and cleverer than not only the world at large, but also other fans.

Let's use my latest jump, the anime subculture.  Originally, I became a part of it because anime was fascinating and fun.  But over the years, the subculture has shifted.  I've heard the otaku described as "The only subculture that eats their own."  Instead of people waiting in anticipation for what works of art will make it to the US next, it has become a celebration of certain fans who have achieved some measure of celebrity among the other fans.  From artists who work in SHINY DESU to people who think anime fans should only consume instead of trying their hand at creating something like it to artists who Walmart their prints at cons to "amatuer" cosplayers who have their stuff professionally made but organizers won't ban them for fear that they will turn the fans into a personal's not about what you think is cool and/or fair, but what certain people think is cool and/or fair, and if you cannot relate to that in their own terms, then you are an outcast.  An outcast from outcasts.  Ain't that a bitch?  Not only are they winners, but you're a loser who will never be a winner like they are.  And since the debate is framed by these people who benefit from controling the terms of what constitutes a true fan (i.e. them) and what constitutes a loser (i.e. you), the labels are thrown around even though logic says it is a false argument.

As a result, I tend to examine subcultures before I participate in them.  To my mind, you can see what direction the subculture is heading in based on the mentality of the vocal members, since they will be setting the tone (people who don't like them will simply leave to start their own subculture, one true to their vision of what a true fan should be).  They will invariably evolve along these lines.  Although I am not part of the subcultures, I like Rennies and Lord Of The Rings fans.  The first group seems to have a sense of humor and perspective about everything and it's all fun for them -- some take it too far and are overly critical, but they seem to be simply a very vocal very minority.  The second group...based on my experience, LotR fans are probably the most mellow subculture you will ever meet.  They have all the smarts of Mensa without the "...wat?" behavior (which makes Holly in Stress Puppy a potential error, since she is anything but mellow, but I digress).  They are celebrating these concepts, not themselves.  And those that are celebrating themselves are still doing it within the context of the concept and sharing the fun they are having, not saying "Worship me!" (Dead Bob, The Swordsmen, etc. are all having fun making shows that others might not be able to do, and inviting you to have fun with them).  The cultures that I have bailed from are a celebration of the people themselves.

And then there are cultures that I look at and wouldn't want anything to do with.  The Rails community is a good example.  Their attitude (if you make suggestions about ways to improve Ruby code, they will tell you to do it yourself and submit it to the stream "to participate and give something back to the community", as if every person playing with Ruby On Rails is a Linus Torvalds-level coder), and belief that being confrontational equates to being edgy and true to yourself (the recent Rails conference featured a PowerPoint presentation comparing Rails to porn stars and sex workers, for going all night long, being desirable, and so on), is self-delusional and has made lots of valued members head for saner, more polite subcultures like Python.

This also includes subcultures that I'm not sure I want to participate in.  At this point, I would like to shout out to Rocket Raccoon, who reads my ramblings through a syndication server.  Rocket is a furry.  He's cool and a lot of fun (and he's got mad C++ skillz).  He's noticed my enjoyment of anthropomorphic characters, as well as the creation of my comic strip Stress Puppy.  And the few times I've chatted with furries have usually been decent (no one asked out of the blue if they could yiff me or anything like that -- hell, even the hate mail I get for Stress Puppy is more about how I'm doing it wrong instead of telling me to fuck off and die).  He's wondered why I don't align myself with the furry subculture.  When I look at furries, I see a subculture at war with itself.  There are several factions trying to define what the subculture is, from the yiffers to the yerfers to the suiters to the Furluminati to those like me who are anthropomophic fans to cubs and babyfurs to those along the lines of Steve Gallacci's definition.  And they all seem to hate each other, referring to each other as "self-hating furries", to the forums at Crush Yiff Destroy, to one introductory faq where the writer taking the time to opine that he doesn't like it when people ignore the sexual aspect of furry...basically, I'll wait until the subculture settles down.  Then, I'll see what it is and decide if I want to be a participant in it then.  Sorry, Rocket.

Which all ties in with my point -- a lot of these groups like the pro-lifers and PETA and them are simply the logical conclusion of the mentalities that form them.  Pro-lifers believe that unborn lives are sacred.  It then becomes a matter of proving which of them is the most hardcore, the most dedicated to their ideals.  The last step in that case is actually taking a human life, because most people simply cannot do it.  You do it?  You have forever separated yourself from the general crowd.  Most people are more interested in the shorthand bio of themselves their involvement provides.  Hiedi, the bubblehead from The Hills, says she is a good Christian girl.  Uh-huh.  She's posed for Playboy and acts like an entitled ass.  She even said putting RFID chips inside people was wrong because your body belongs to God and you shouldn't alter it, but she herself has breast implants.  Once again, these groups and subcultures exist to define the person and their status in relation to everyone else, not because there is a commonality.  The individual puts themselves first against the collective concept.  They want the crowd to hear them, not the band.

So, through all that rambling, my point eventually becomes that the PvP strip is not just a sumnation of pro-lifers and PETA members.  It's a sumnation of every subculture when the focus switches to the participants.  And the sad thing is, not only can you see it coming, but nobody seems to want to stop it.
Tags: art, comics, haven't we suffered enough, hypocrisy, important life lessons, infernal gall, let's talk about sex bay-bee!, original comic art, politics, religion, science in action, self reflection, technology is a beautiful thing
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