Applying Subculture

Hello from Maui, folks! Wow, I actually felt a little jealous of myself just for typing that.

So I read a really fantastic book recently. Can you guess what it was called? (Hint: Look up)

Why do I bring up Ready Player One on this blog, though? It is neither 20th Century nor British, and for most academic folk it probably wouldn’t be categorized as literature–so there is literally nothing within the title of this class that this book should connect with.

Except, you know, for the fact that we just read Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Hebdige lays the groundwork for really quite a lot of the layout of and language used in regards to culture and subculture today, so we owe much to the guy. That said, in doing just some very idle research into some background for the text, there are quite a few critiques of the work–though, many of those critiques center on, basically, “I’m American and what is this?” That is, since America has different perceptions of class boundaries compared to Britain, the methods by which Hebdige classifies subcultures makes less sense across the Atlantic–and, boohoo, Hebdige, in talking about British youth cultures, makes British references that go over American heads.

These critiques don’t hold much weight when it comes to the content and context of our class, but it does make it rather more difficult to identify subcultural boundaries within American culture. However, I think Simon, in his response paper, has hit on a valuable point for any cultural identification of the sub-stuff: dread.

The concept of “dread as currency” is something both British and American cultures can identify with. Heck, America can definitely identify with it, given that half of all of our socio-political arguments ever seem to be “X behavior/Y social group/Z commercial trend is DESTROYING AMERICA.” This is where Ready Player One comes into the discussion.

If you haven’t read this book, you should. If you lived through/appreciate things from the 1980’s, it’s like a love letter (more like a marriage proposal) to everything that made up American nerd culture during that time period–and that brings me to my point/soapbox for the day. Ready Player One is all about “nerd” culture: all of the music, (board) games, clothing styles, (card) games, television shows, (video) games, and attitudes that made a person a nerd during the 1980s.

Here’s a short plot blurb before I make my point: the richest man in the world has died, and he has left his inheritance (a twelve-digit figure) to whomever can find the “Easter egg” within his crowning achievement: the OASIS, the virtual-reality simulation “game” that has now effectively replaced the Internet and become the central hub of, well, everything. Said richest man was absolutely, utterly obsessed with 1980s culture, and has left clues to finding the Easter egg in the form of riddles referencing such culture. Cue a culture boom, where everything from goofy hairstyles to 8-bit videogaming is back in vogue. The most dedicated of the searchers for the Easter egg come to be known as “gunters” (short for “egg hunters”) and searching for the egg is considered a full-time job–if most likely futile.

How does any of this apply to “dread,” or even “subculture?” Well, let’s look at gunters, and the classic 1980s nerds that they descend from. While the OASIS allows anyone to look like anything they want–it was originally a virtual-reality online game, after all–gunters are typically the only ones who take advantage of this fact. Most people will look like themselves–if rather more attractive than normal–but gunters could be elves, dwarves, ogres, demons, angels, tentacle-monsters, you name it. Add to this the basic requirement of being a “proper” gunter (encyclopedic knowledge of 1980s pop culture), and one can guess if someone is a gunter generally based on whether or not they look like a D&D character/sci-fi cosplayer. There’s the “style” part of this whole subculture thing; just like skinheads and punks and Teddy boys and all the ones Hebdige talks about, gunters are pretty easily identifiable by sight–and that sight is usually “pretty weird.” But beyond sight, what makes a gunter a gunter is what they do. They trawl around the OASIS, searching for something most people believe may not even exist. However, the fact that they continue to search, despite five years of failure at the start of the book, is onerous–to certain high-powered members of the central culture, at least. IOI, the company that controls basically everything, is also looking for the Easter egg (because guess what I forgot to mention? The Easter egg is the richest man in the world’s inheritance, which isn’t just his money; it’s the OASIS itself. Get the egg, get full control of the biggest data entity on the planet), and the fact that they have competition is aggravating at best, and terrifying at worst. All it takes is one gunter getting lucky, and the entirety of IOI’s carefully-built dominance over the American consciousness could be thrown out the window. If IOI can’t get a foothold on the OASIS, they might as well not exist.

The conflict between the gunters and IOI is actually remarkably symbolic of the conflict between culture and subculture. Culture fears subculture specifically because it does not follow the rules culture has laid out. Culture fears that if a subculture becomes too popular, those rules will be thrown to the wayside. Power and control are made by rules. Thus, if culture’s rules are not followed, culture has no power (no, we’re not getting into the whole “responding against rules gives those rules power in it own way” thing). British and American subcultures may be categorized by different qualifications, but both countries can agree on that basic point: culture holds power, and fears that subculture may subvert that power.

Basically, what this nearly-one-thousand-word ramble is getting down to is this: read Ready Player One.

Well, also I guess it could be getting down to “culture conflicts with subculture not because of style of dress, but because style of dress is one of several signifiers (and a very visual one) of a subculture’s popularity, and primary culture fears that a subculture could get so popular that it undermines the power primary culture holds,” but mainly I think everyone should read Ready Player One.



One thought on “Applying Subculture

  1. Eliot,

    As possibly the only other member of this class who has read Ready Player One, I felt honor-bound to read and comment on this post. Firstly, hello from Greeley.

    Secondly, Ready Player One is a great example to bring up for culture, because it is definitely a novel where geek subculture is the central component – nothing else has a purpose within the work without it. I also liked your pointing out of how arbitrary the shift back to the subculture was – the movement was created entirely because of the “easter Egg”.

    What impressed me (and what I wrote about in my blog post) is when I realized that the creation of subculture itself is (according to the literature I read as part of the annotated bibliography) created as the younger generation both implicitly rejects their parent culture and implicitly accepts the value systems and social tastes of the media. And the media exists (or is allowed to exist) by selling. News runs a promo about a great non-profit – what should we do? Give them money. The news runs a story about J Biebs street racing million dollar cars and ending up in jail – what should we do? Take away his money because we hate him and what he’s doing to culture, OR love that he’s shaking up the system, wish we were him, and give him our money as we buy his cd. Money is unpredictably yet kind of mindblowing-ly at the center. As I guess it always is, but I wish it would just chill the hell out! Or something. Such a high percentage of human interaction is one entity trying to give or get money from the other.

    Money is the genesis of Ready Player One as well. Sure, there’s prestige trying to get the award, and absolutely the argument is made that the main character of the novel is a “gunter” for more reasons than just to get rich. BUT the driving social factor, the way he heard about the Easter egg, the way the egg was able through repetition to become such a golden egg – all runs back to the way it was presented and harped upon by his popular culture. Money IS the reason he’s chasing it, even if he doesn’t fully comprehend it.

    Anywho, thanks for taking me down the lane of a book I once read.

    Best, Eric


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