Online Subcultures

Image Source: Lightgreyartlab

Cisnero and Nakayama’s article (2015) emphasizes on how social media and the ideologies of “new” and “old” racism influence public discourses of race.  If “old” racism stresses on the difference in biological and cultural essentialism, “new” or “color-blind” racism suggests indirect racial division by removing the significance of race.  New media culture has shifted the norms of intercultural communication and cultural logics of race into a classification and hierarchy based on subcultures.  Instead of analyzing the concepts of racism through the lens of mass media, this blog post will adopt the feature of tastes and aesthetics as a reflection of subculture divisions existed in digital environments.

Reflecting on Boyd’s approach of taste, it is denoted as a marker of distinction in identity, power, and fashion.  For instance, the choice of music or fashion can relatively represent an individual’s tastes, identity, and values.  In today “mainstream” media culture, these aesthetic appeals and personal tastes create a connection between individuals of similar tastes in daily values and language.  An example of how tastes portray individuals as identity markers is the zero-waste community on social media.  Although zero-waste is not a popular concept amongst social media users, it is clearly a distinct lifestyle that invites individuals to reveal their shared passion and identify themselves as environmental advocates.  Through the expression of tastes as identity markers, media users distinguish themselves from other accounts by creating and joining the subcultures where they feel connected.  By personalizing their online profiles, people shed light on the reminiscence of their virtual subcultures.  How individuals stay active on social media, such as the accounts they follow and the language they use in comment/caption sections, reflects their personal interests and tastes in the offline world. 

Figure 1 - Image Source: Trashisfortossers

Figure 2 - Image Source: Matt & Nat

In relation to emphasizing identity, tastes also unpack how group labels can turn into social categories among social media users, especially for micro-celebrity and media influencers.  Depending on the niche of an online account, its audience has a separated perception what is considered as “cool” in light of fashion, activities, consumption, and values.  For example, a group of zero-waste bloggers limits the amount of waste when dining out by requesting no straws for their drinks and bringing their reusable containers or jars for leftover food (Figure #1).  To accentuate the importance of being sustainable, individuals who join this zero-waste community refuse single-use items.  Their fashion tastes focus on thrift shopping or supporting ethical clothing brands, such as Reformation, and Matt & Nat (Figure #2).  

By simply establishing fashion tastes, individuals can make a statement about who they are and which subculture they belong to.  For instance, high fashion gurus often promote designer products and haute couture brands such as Hermes, Chanel, and Yves Saint Laurent (Figure #3).  Through language and fashion, tastes explicitly connect individuals to their performed identity and norms on the digital profiles.  At the same time, taste articulates cultural signals to the community in which individuals feel affiliated.  

Undoubtedly, all of these taste factors contribute to how individuals categorize their subcultures, backgrounds, and even social status through the engagement with social media.  While the rising of media subculture can promote an open space for creativity and growth, it also inquires more studies on how mainstream media affects intercultural communication; or more specifically how online subculture perpetuates a sense of class-based segregation within the digital world. 

Figure 3 - Image Source: @Iamchouquette

Reading materials:
Boyd, "White Flight In Network Publics? How Race and Class Shaped American Teen Engagement with Myspace and Facebook."

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