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Navigating Post-Modernity: Cultures Main, Counter, and Sub

September 16, 2012

I feel like I’ve stumbled upon something that I find extremely troubling.

To get there, I guess, I need to begin where I started…

I recently began watching the British television show The Inbetweeners. It’s a single-camera sitcom based around four guys in England who attend high school/college (I think they’re sitting for their A-Levels? I’m not entirely sure), and the hijinks that ensue as they try to navigate their adolescent existence. The title of the show seems to derive from their position in the social hierarchy, these are not characters that are the cool kids, but they’re also far removed from the social outcasts and misfits. This show is not Saved By the Bell and nor is it Daria, though the characters are a step closer to loser than they are normal. Still, they’re the types of guys who will be at a lame party where everyone is sort of hoping the “cool crowd,” will show up.

The show is brilliant, and cleverly written. The dialogue is perfectly timed, and the actors have a really great chemistry. I highly suggest it. Especially watch it is this description makes any sense to you: It is like if Seinfeld fucked the baby produced by My So Called Life and Freaks and Geeks, and the child born out of that union decided to write about adolescence with Rob Grant, and Doug Naylor.

It is also going to be the next British teen-oriented show that will be adapted for US audiences by MTV.

Following in the footsteps of Skins‘ cancellation I can’t really say it’s an idea I’m pleased by or interested in. When MTV announced they were adapting Skins, I was excited as I felt it had a unique format to bring to ensemble dramedies. Then I realized that by “adaptation,” they meant, “shot for shot remake.” It was disappointing to watch, and the only original character in the show had so much American angst poured into them that it started to become improbable.*

Frankly, I can’t say I have high hopes for a direct adaptation of The Inbetweeners either.

I just don’t get why they’d go out of their way to do these adaptations. At first, I started to ponder if the youth voice has just disappeared from MTV. Yet, then I remember that they have had shows recently that have won quite some acclaim. The Hard Times of RJ Berger was canceled just as it was gaining steam, and the amazing Awkard is pushing forward for another season. They even have the lesser acclaimed but still worth watching Teen Wolf.

MTV does have more than reality shows out there, and I’m just sort of at a loss for why they don’t try to push for more original, American-oriented, programming. Throughout the past decade they ground out a lot of interesting programs, both animated and live action, but all of this original programming lost ground to the prominence of reality television. Now though, if you’re going to go two or three years with trying to pound British adaptations into our faces, I’m just left to wonder, what really has happened to the voice of the youth in America?

When I posed this question to a friend, he suggested that I look toward the internet if I want to understand where various voices are coming from. Long have I read interesting youth-oriented stuff on the internet, most of it of course sputters out due to creators having other obligations (obligations that pay them actual money), but there’s always newer and cooler stuff cropping up. Not only does the internet have those voices, but some of them (such as Homestuck) are beginning to gain some form of critical attention (at least from the rest of the Internet).

Yet, when I refer to the “Internet,” in this sense, I don’t mean the information super-highway where people spend time playing Farmville on Facebook and watching horrendously fucked up porn. I mean the same world in which the phrase, “Me Gusta,” accompanied by a certain weird drawing of a face is going to make sense. I’m referring to the Internet as a nerdy subculture unto itself. The kind of people that will cream their pants (or get a nose bleed if they’re more inclined to the East than West) if they met the creator of Hark, A Vagrant! Not the people who use and interact with the internet to watch things on Netflix and talk about said Netflix-watching on Facebook or Twitter.

As I began to think about this idea that people experience very different Internets from each other, I began to think about the way we all experience different mediums and cultures in general. For example, when I speak of “comics,” I mean “things printed by DC, Marvel, Image, and Dark Horse, generally involving superpowers.” Others when they say the word, “comics,” they mean Hark, A Vagrant!, Dr. McNinja, or Penny Arcade. And I’m sure there are some that think, “comics,” might be a reference to stand-up comedians, or the short strips that appear in the paper to (generally) offer us a quick chuckle.

All of this made me start to reflect on the nature of the counter-culture. Did the counter-culture disappear at some point? I think the answer is yes, because I feel like the people who might have once made up some sort of counter-culture have been able to focus in upon their own niche experiences and others that appreciate those niche experiences. The counter-culture is no longer a monolith in and of itself, but a loose coalition of sub-cultures that seem to float in and out of each other, overlapping as may be requested of them. Individuals navigate these groups, forming a collection of memes that help them frame their existence in the world, and their own perception of the world.

I think very few of these people would describe themselves as part of some sort of “counter culture,” or “sub-culture,” because these groups now have the ability to insulate themselves by catering to their own tastes, and can eliminate the influence of the main stream. These cultures create their own art, their own celebrities, their own music, their own events, and so on. They are truly cultures in and of themselves with distinct rules, and beliefs.

As I began to think about that, I started to wonder if perhaps I was wrong in questioning what had happened to the counter-culture, and I should begin to ask what exactly had happened to the main stream culture?

Could I describe something that was decidedly main stream?

At first I struggled, having difficulty thinking of something I would consider as a thing that everybody would know regardless of their interaction with it. A part of me wanted to leap to World Of Warcraft, whose marketing campaigns I recently questioned the need of. The leading MMORPG, with 10 Million registered players, World of Warcraft has a population that rivals that of New York City’s Five Boroughs. Yet, there are still many people that don’t even have the barest impression of what World of Warcraft even is. Some of them might not even recognize the name. Does that make them culturally illiterate? Can someone be culturally illiterate in this post-modern wasteland we call a culture?

Then of course, names started creeping into my mind; Snooki, The Situation, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, The Kardashians. Television shows surfaced in my thoughts like How I Met Your Mother or Game of Thrones surfaced in my thoughts. The things fill up the streams of information on my social media websites.

The problem that I began to encounter is that the things that seemed familiar became immediately suspect in my mind. Is Game of Thrones popular or do I just have a lot of nerdy friends? Even though they might not know that Superman’s powers were once defined as tactile telekinesis, might they be nerdy enough to tolerate a show with dragons? For there are some people that as soon as dragons get mentioned, it’s nerdy fantasy shit and they want no part.

On the other hand the things that I recognized as main stream but don’t have personal experience with, I view as belonging to some other culture, some wider, more mainstream culture that struck me as alien. While I know who the Kardashians are, and I’m fairly certain I would recognize Kim Kardashian, I still get mystified as to what she’s like or what is entertaining about her. If someone were to ask me to explain something about the Kardashians and their various television programs I would be at a loss. I feel the same about other things that I at least perceive as part of the main stream, like some network television shows or bands.

All of this came up and I had to suddenly ask myself if I was culturally illiterate?

An anthropologist, illiterate of his own culture?

I’m sure it’s happened before, it just struck me as strange.

Yet, I can’t be culturally illiterate. I own some Lady Gaga albums, I (for some reason) know that Taylor Swift is dating a Kennedy, and I’ve seen How I Met Your Mother. Still, is that mainstream culture, or is that just a wider niche?

Have we, in fact, achieved the post-modernist dreamscape of a world where there is no direct polestar guiding our mainstream culture? Or am I merely hyper-aware of all the little nooks and crannies that make up this melting pot that we call Modern America? Am I just a part of this loosely joined bubbling stew that stands in for a unified counter-culture?


I don’t know.



*: She was a Jewish-Italian Lesbian Cheerleader from a huge family, whose father had clear mob connections, and whose grandmother had survived the Holocaust (which she was sent to not only for being a Jew but also for being a homosexual…). Basically, the type of character who might appear in a really bad Young Adult novel.

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