Alt Culture Antibodies

Photo by Hunter Freeman.

I’ll try to keep this short; it’s late and there’s not much time left. Please forgive me if you’ve heard parts of this story before.

For me, it started with an old box of science fiction. I tore through Samuel R. Delany, Joanna Russ, Gene Wolfe, and others, reliving stories old by the time I cracked the pages. I didn’t care.

To my mind, the New Wave had it: the future was something to play in. This status quo was the most transient of things, its passing viewed with a sense of infinite possibility. If there were other cultures out in space, forward in time, why not here? Why not now?

Photo by Mike Brodie.

I lived in one of those amazing, barely-clinging corners of the country too many ignore when they talk about culture of any variety. No metropoli there, just a scattering of people trying their desperate best. By the time I busted open the box full of old books, I had already faced a fair amount of poverty, hardship, and even death.

90s Cyberpunk portraiture by Steve Pyke.

But here, as the years wore on and I read my way through an uneasy adolescence, was something else: here was hope, in the most dangerous fashion. Somewhere out there, people changed their personalities, moved in unison, turned boundaries into blurs transitory as old blood on a highway.

By that point I did not care about ridicule, and laughed when someone threatened me, but this I was terrified of, sure that the half-described scenes — goths, ravers, activists, and more —  faced possibility with a courage I felt I’d never know.

“Mohawk, Hollywood Blvd” by Ann Summa, early 80s.

I was young, and can be forgiven a few interesting illusions about how the world works.

In coming years, I would find the reality far more mundane (and interesting). Suffice to say I was never an easy fit in any culture, and doubt I ever will be. It still strikes me as one of the world’s sly jabs that I ended up contributing to “a love letter to alternative culture,” much less finding an amazing bunch of people that have helped me more than I can ever put into words.

Shien Lee and Wren Britton at the Coilhouse Black & White & Red All Over fundraising ball. Photo by Steve Prue.

What drew me here to Coilhouse was that abiding fascination with something I’d never really felt in synch with, along with our founders’ follow-up “…written in an era where alt culture no longer exists,” a provocation I’ve turned over in my mind many, many times since first reading it.

I’ve never forgotten the moment of personal terror that followed my initial exposure to culture’s sheer possibility. You know revelation the second true fear hits you:  it took me years to comprehend the lesson every alt culture kept teaching.

Portrait of Nyx by Nadya Lev.

These were the world’s antibodies. Time after time, everything around them kept trying to place their lives into roles they did not want. Time after time, someone came forward to defy it and make their own. Society was perpetually getting too oppressive, but humanity created its own cure.

The cultures spawned in the thaw of the ’60s often envisioned a great wave of energy sweeping away the old. In reality, it is more the steady erosion of a very ponderous weight. In my grandparent’s generation, roles were more akin to a strict oligarchy: if you weren’t a white male Christian (probably Protestant) adhering to a very specific set of rules, you were some variety of lesser. Today, that mutual prison keeps crumbing. Bit by bit.

The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, photographed by Ari Seth Cohen for Advanced Style.

If alternative culture seems dead, then, it is a consequence of victory. The very concept of “mainstream” is increasingly fragile, “culture” more a collection of interlocking tribes than ever before. The gripes I’ve often had with particular alt cultures remain true, but the instinct they represent survives the crash of every scene, every burnout, egotist, and bit of stupid drama.

Jewelry from Ortiz’ Rain Collection

Crack down on youth? The next generation will open abandoned warehouses and dance in them by the hundreds.

Impose taboos? Someone will break them. Loudly.

“Music is the weapon of the future.” (via)

Outcasts will turn insults into badges of pride. People continuously find ways to think, make, create, no matter what. That relentless determination to live is the closest thing I have ever witnessed to a miracle. It won’t die, not ever, because in the end there is too much to us to ever fit in a single pattern.


3 Responses to “Alt Culture Antibodies”

  1. rickie Says:

    “Outcasts will turn insults into badges of pride.” absolutely true. being outcasts forces us to develop personalities, integrity, and character faster than the others. and coilhouse is one of those things that has helped me immensely in feeling a lot less alone.

  2. G Says:

    Finally had a chance to read this. Well done, David! Beautiful.

  3. jadson jr Says:

    “To my mind, the New Wave had it: the future was something to play in… …If there were other cultures out in space, forward in time, why not here? Why not now?” – I loved this… that’s exactely what I thouight, but couldn’t put it into words.