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What Ever Happened to "Alternative" Culture?


At Real Life, Gavin Mueller, who was a teenager in the 1990s, wonders why that era’s “alternative” culture—from the DIY internet to activist “culture jamming”—failed to make a lasting impact, and what has become of the whole notion of “alternative” practices today. He concludes that “alt” culture was more of a mildly rebellious consumer preference than an actual politics, and that its tactics of cultural intervention have been appropriated and refined by the alt-right. Here’s an excerpt:

Of course, the pre-corporate web is gone, enclosed into a handful of proprietary platforms where our digital activity can be rationalized and monetized. Our free-ranging through shabby websites have been replaced by algorithmically curated feeds of standardized posts. But my point is less to mourn the death of the open web than to confront how the political valence of the normative ideals it embodied — an independent, homemade, anti-commercial “alternative” culture with a flippant orientation toward established media — have shifted. As the web was emerging from its adolescence, these ideals seemed inherently “progressive,” to use a shopworn term, but they have quickly deteriorated. Now they are suspect. What changed?..

In this truly topsy-turvy world, “alternative” has been truncated and appended to “right,” where irreverent appropriation is thriving. The style guide for “alt”-Nazi outlet the Daily Stormer boils down culture-jamming techniques to their essence. Rather than write news stories, Stormer specializes in reappropriation and recontextualization, deliberately modeled on snarky liberal sites like Gawker, with the goal to “hijack culture” and “co-opt the perceived authority of the mainstream media.” Rather than weighty sturm und drang, these fascists strive for a light and irreverent tone: “we rely on lulz.” The Stormer’s founder, Andrew Anglin, hails from the same Ohio suburb as I do. I might have run into him in the halls of my high school, but he attended the alternative program.

Image: A culture-jammed billboard. Via


With the economic center of gravity moving back from where it came from, and expected to stabilize itself inbetween China and India, the whole West might be viewed as becoming an alternative. The West is now broadly on the right, with alt-right on the right end of the spectrum, a few decades ago it might have been transitorily broadly on the left, with alternatives on the left end of the spectrum.