Current state of subcultures

July 31, 2008

art / church / culture / music

Since the latter part of the 20th century, one of the things that has been common in all developed countries and the vast majority of developing countries is the presence of an underground culture, or subculture. This has manifested itself in any number of forms, from the hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s to the punk and Goth movements of the 1970s and 1980s to the metalheads of the 1980s and 1990s, and various others that began to develop in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Many people agree with me that these subcultures marked the beginnings of postmodernism outside of universities and other academic settings, so the significance of these movements is easily missed, even aside from the fact that they provided a unifying vein of culture from San Francisco to Warsaw. In any case, cultural changes always start on the margins of a society, and then they move toward the center. Postmodernism, or whatever term you prefer (post-postmodernism, emerging culture, postcolonialism, The Age of Interconnectivity, etc.) has proven to work the same way.

Where are they now?

You may ask what is happening to these subcultures, now that culture is transitioning. I am indebted to my friend Peter Wohler, as well as numerous conversations and observances, for the idea that they are transitioning as well.

Consider the Gothic subculture (as it really is, not as it has occasionally been portrayed). I have been, to varying degrees, part of this subculture since I was a freshman in high school, and have a great affection for it. I resonate with the music, the art, the fashion, and the thought patterns and worldview much more than any other subculture.

However, it finds itself a bit less defined than it was in the 1990s. There is significantly more crossover with other genres, and the clubs and festivals and concerts and music stores and catalogs have fewer “purist” Goths and Goth bands. As I said, I love Goth culture, but I in the last few years I have tended to find a lot more metal that I enjoy, because of the shifts that have occurred in Goth music.

Other subcultures, from punk to metal to the various reincarnations of the hippie movement, have fared similarly, blending with various other subcultures and reshaping themselves in recent years.

What about the rest of the culture?

In addition to this internal reshaping, as the culture as a whole has transitioned, it finds itself having more and more in common with subcultures. Everyone feels like they are marginalized, lonely, and misunderstood.

This transition manifests itself across culture, from art and music to business and technology. Those of us who are trying to be a part of the reshaping of the church, in its language and its theology and its culture, can see this clearly in the growth of the emerging church movement, the new monastic movement, the house church movement, and any number of other developing and converging streams.

As I’ve said before, many of these movements have their beginnings in the thoughts and dreams of the past few decades of introducing Jesus to people on the fringes of society. These thoughts and dreams are moving inward, and they are reshaping the church.

The power of this reshaping lies in the fact that the church can finally hope to detach itself from the miserable facade that is Christendom, and really be faithful to the radical nature of Jesus. It is this that makes now an exciting time to be alive, and to be a part of this transition.