Thursday, October 01, 2009

incorporation and commodification of subculture

As social media continues it's 'incorporation' into the mainstream I'm reminded of the 2 strategies commonly employed by the establishment (or petit-bourgeois, if you like – hence the nod to Barthes) in dealing with the 'other'.

The following has been largely influenced by sections of 'Subculture' by Dick Hebdige, a study of UK youth subcultures from the 50's to late 70's (a fantastic academic book. Fairly unique among academic writing in that it is actually readable for mere mortals)

First plan of the establishment is often to attempt to transform the 'other' into meaningless 'exotica'.
This is what Barthes describes as ‘pure object, spectacle, a clown’
Examples of this were the mainstream media outrage around 'facebook riots' (you know the drill, party invite goes up on facebook - 10,000 kids trash the house) add to that the, particularly bizzare, willing self-commodification by 'social media experts' trapped in some perpetual groundhog day of vacuous pontification about personal branding.

Or, secondly the ‘other’ is trivialised. What was 'otherness' is reduced to 'sameness'.
We can see this in the twitter-columns in the newspapers, who's main focus is highlighting what mainstream media celebrities are saying about each others divorces.
In effect a 'transmedia' amplification of the gossip magazines and daytime tv ;)

Advertising is of course now appearing to 'embrace' of social media (hey, it's all just 'media' now...) and the ultimate accolade for the first 'wave' of 'new media' celebrities is to be published in book form.

Note: I will undoubtably change my view on this the minute the phone rings or twitter tweets from a book publisher 'outreach'...

This incorporation minimises the ‘otherness’ and then ultimately defines the subculture in exactly the terms which it originally sought to resist in the first place. 'Punk' couture anyone? Acid house ad soundtracks? Phoney 'youtube' style tv ads?

So, as soon as the innovations that signified a subculture (web 2.0) are translated into commodities and become everyday they lose meaning, ie what were subcultural 'signs' become mass produced stuff.
What began by being symbolic as challenges (the 'other'), end up becoming the new conventions (#moonfruit anyone?).

'I believe in this, and it's been tested by research. He who f*cks nuns, will later join the church..'

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