Alternative culture is anything aside from the norm. It includes everything from vegetarianism to underground punk bands to independent films. Although many individuals partake in alternative lifestyles, the access to alternative culture has been limited in the past. If you were sick of the mainstream or popular culture you’d really have to dig deep to find alternatives.
In the present things have changed. In addition to living in an age of excess we live in an age of access. We can access anyone and anything by clicking a mouse, changing a channel, or dialing a number. Suddenly alternative culture is seconds away instead of buried beneath the ground or confined to a few clubs, a couple theaters, and selected literature.
Take The O.C. for example. Feel free to bash it. It doesn’t have the finest quality of acting and its storylines are tiresome, but on each episode it introduces millions of teenagers to a variety of new and unheard of bands. In addition, on many episodes upcoming alternative bands have performed live, including Rooney, Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse, and The Killers. There are and have been many other TV shows that have done the same for alternative music, such as Saturday Night Live, Dawson’s Creek, Scrubs, and Six Feet Under among others.
Next we have the Internet — the jackpot of information. You can google “vegetarian recipes” and come up with over 8 million hits. You can visit thousands of websites to read about or download new musicians. You can buy independent clothing labels on their websites. There’s also Peer–2–Peer file sharing. Instead of spending months searching through HMVs and Music Worlds everywhere for a random band’s first album, you can download it from any P2P program like Kazaa or Limewire. The Internet has proved itself as an incredibly helpful way of accessing alternative culture.
Movies are also included, both as a part of alternative culture as well as a vessel of alternative culture. For example, Garden State, a smaller–budget film, received increased advertisement compared to that of movies of its nature in the past. Additionally, its soundtrack included indie bands The Shins and Frou Frou among others. Independent films like Garden State are making their way into mainstream more than ever before and filmmakers are being given far more opportunities. For example, Project Greenlight, a contest headed by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, gives any screenplay writer the chance to submit their screenplay into a contest with the possibility, if they win, of making it into a film. Advertising and projects like that of Damon and Affleck have hugely increased the possibilities of independent filmmakers and given the public greater access to smaller budgeted or independent movies.
Literature isn’t completely nonexistent either. Magazines like Rolling Stone, Spin, and the lesser known Under the Radar often spotlight upcoming bands or bands with independent labels. Local newspapers such as Now in Toronto also draw attention to local bands and local clubs more often and keep readers posted with the places to be, the music to be listening to, and the movies to see, even if they aren’t being advertised in between segments of Survivor.
As you can clearly see, alternative culture is highly accessible today. Whether your medium of choice is Internet, TV, magazines, or movies, an escape from the norm is at your fingertips.
Suddenly it’s cooler to know a band nobody’s heard of than to know all the lyrics to Britney’s latest hit. Blame it on Seth Cohen, but the indie bug is spreading at a very fast pace. Alternative culture is above ground, alive, and well.
Looking for some alt–culture here in Kitchener–Waterloo?
- ECHO Weekly, the local alternative weekly. Found in newsboxes across from King St Residence and at University & Hazel.
- ctrpllr, a locally distributed zine. Found in independent shops all over Uptown Waterloo.
- Orange Monkey & Encore Records, the local independent music stores. Orange Monkey is located on Princess Street upstairs in the Jane Bond; Encore is in Kitchener, on Queen Street, easily accessible via GRT line 7.