Subcultures and main stream

Imagine a bearded guy wearing skinny jeans, a sweater with a random pattern, a pair of Nike Air Max, a textile bag with a witty slogan printed on it and, naturally, Ray Ban glasses. Do you recognize him? Do you know him? Have you seen him? If you know the stereotype, you might recognize a subculture. What about a guy sporting a mohawk, a leather jacket, ripped jeans and combat boots? Can you picture him instantly? Those are just two random examples of “uniforms” worn by members of  the so-called subcultures.

You might associate their behaviour with their stereotypical looks. You might picture the first one sitting with his Macbook in a café talking about art and picture the latter sitting on the street holding a can of beer. You might also know about the music they are listening to, the topics they are interested in, what they enjoy doing and what political views they have. By wearing certain clothes you transport a message. Not every stereotype might fit but unfortunately we tend to label everybody we see. The one with the mohawk instantly becomes a “punk”, the one with the beard at starbucks a “hipster”. You might think you know them, but you don’t.

Mostly it is teenagers who follow subcultures as an attempt to seperate themselves from the looks of their parents. They follow idols and friends, copying their style nevertheless trying to be different from the rest. But what is with the rest of us? We are not able to express ourselves that way.

What about all those people following the “rules” of fashion? It is most of all unifying. Designers and shops are dictating our style and how we are supposed to look when we want to be fashionable. Mainstream is ruled by a big industry always forcing us to buy huge amounts of clothes because the old ones are “last season”. It is being dictated what we are supposed to wear when we want to go into a work-place. There is a certain dress-code that we have to obey to.

We dress “to impress” as it is not always accepted at a workplace to show up in anything but suits and ties. When we dress “appropiate” we are being considered as “professionals” and the other way round. Dress for the job you want to have instead of the one you have. It is all about the looks.

Only a few industries allow it so far to dress like an individual apart from mainstream (mostly creative industries). It seems like if you turn older you have to look more uniform, more mainstream. But even though younger people want to distinguish themselves by looking different, by seperating themselves from mainstream society, they ironically become stereotypes, too. The more people join the subcultures the more mainstream they become. It is quite ironical that in their everlasting attempt to be unique they somehow turn out to be just another one of an army, all dressed the same.

It seems to be in human nature to try to belong to groups. Either you are young enough to show openly that you belong to subculture or you are too old and belong to maintream. It seems as there are only a few options for everybody left which ultimately leads us into looking the same within our social group. Looking different makes you an outcast.

“Helau” and “Alaaf” – Carnival in Rhineland

Last week “Fasnacht” in Berne took place. At first I thought it resembled Carnival and prepared myself for the worst, but it was different. But instead, it was more joyful and quieter than I would have ever imagined. You might wonder why the image in my mind was that negative. It’s because I saw Carnival in Rhineland and was quite shocked by human behaviour.

When I entered the city at the very first day of Düsseldorf Street-Carnival last year it looked like hell had been set loose. Drunk people in messed-up costumes staggering around the old town, empty bottles as well as passed out drunkards lying on the floor. In short: noise and chaos everywhere. The atmosphere was neither festive nor relaxed, but had a sense of alcohol induced tension. Honestly speaking, I was shocked and disappointed at the same time. Since I am not originally from that part of Germany I only knew this Carnival by hearsay. Thus, I imagined Carnival in Rhineland as being a nice celebration with many people participating in it who dress up in homemade costumes. And I only imagined a few people getting dead drunk. But instead I just witnessed the complete opposite. It looked as if the whole city decided to get together at broad daylight in order to compare who can drink the most (dressed in random skimpy costumes).

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via Flickr

You have to know that Carnival in Rhineland is quite as popular in Germany as the Oktoberfest in Munich. It is a tradition in which locals are taking a pride in. It originally was supposed to be a celebration mainly linked to religious beliefs. People would revel a few weeks before the fasting period which was meant to be a quieter time that went along with a reduction of certain food and a focus on religion itself.

But why do I tell you this? Because unfortunately, the old tradition of Carnival is nowadays linked to this extreme consumption of alcohol. Don’t get me wrong: I am not religious and I don’t want to forbid anybody to celebrate (because I do it myself). I just think that Carnival went from a celebration with a certain background to an opportunity to consume a legal drug in massive amounts because it is being accepted in our society. Everybody is just drinking to get drunk. During the festive days of Carnival it seems like Rhineland stopped working. At “Weiberfastnacht” nearly all shops and offices are closing early because the employees celebrate (many even start drinking at work).

In Carnival you can observe all stages of intoxication on all age groups and there are always some people getting violent or destructive. In order to lower the human and material damage there is an increased number of ambulances and doctors positioned in the city to treat people with alcohol-poisoning or injuries. There is also an increased number of policemen around who take care of disputes. There is also a ban of glass bottles in the old town. You can tell by this arrangements that the city is aware of the problem but is not able to control it (or maybe doesn’t want to do).

Especially when I compared the the festivities in Berne to those in Düsseldorf I realized how different Carnival can turn out to be. I was quite surprised to see almost nobody drunk during Fasnacht (since I only know it that way). They can celebrate sober, so why is it not possible for Germans to control themselves a little in terms of alcohol? I think it is linked deep within society that people conceive it as a necessity to drink huge amounts of alcohol to have a “good” celebration. It is sad to admit that it seems like every celebration is turning into a huge drinking-game (regardless of its background and original meaning).

I am aware of the fact that Fasnacht in Berne originated in the 80s whereas the Rhinelandic tradition traces back hundrets of years but nevertheless this does not change my view on it. Even invented festivities could lead up to massive intoxications but it didn’t. Why is it even tradition to drink?