I was thinking today about the different sub-cultures that exist. Personally I am a part of many different sub-cultures, Steampunk, Gamers, Martial Artists, and some others. But why do we call them sub-cultures? I originally thought I had the answer, which seemed rather obvious when I used to ask myself this question. The answer I had was – they exist underneath the surface. Steampunk, for example, is by no means part of the mainstream. It’s becoming extremely popular, but the culture of Steampunk exists underneath the surface of society. The reason that I now question this understanding is asking myself the question what makes something culture and not sub-culture?
Studying Anthropology culture should be very easy for me to define. And, of course, I can give you an academic definition – a set of beliefs, symbols, and ideas which connect people and through which people come together. (This is my own definition, and I think many would agree on this definition). However, what makes something mainstream culture? If sub-cultures exist beneath the surface than non-sub-cultures should most assuredly exist at the surface, or more importantly they are the surface of society. But if this is the case then how do we define these things?
How do we create this dichotomy between culture and sub-culture? How large does a culture have to be for it to no longer be sub-culture?
I would argue that all culture is sub-culture because it encompasses only a subset of the overall human population. Using America as an example, American culture cannot be defined in any single way. There is a culture of the South, East, West, and North and there are overlapping areas of this four circle Venn Diagram. These cultures are made distinct through their geographical location. But then, which one of these is America Culture? What about political culture. We have liberals and conservatives in America. We also have Republicans and Democrats. By no means are these cultures overlapped as there are liberal Republicans, conservative Democrats, as well as conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. So which one encompasses America and which one is the true culture of America?
I could go on and on about this but my answer has now shifted to why we use the term sub-culture. I now answer saying that sub-culture only encompasses a subset of all people. But this describes all culture. Even something as gigantic as the culture which surrounds Justin Beiber, as mainstream and widespread as it is, is only a subset of people. Beatlemania was even merely a subset of all people living in America. San Diego Comic-Con has over 100,000 attendees every year. That is gigantic, and many people still wanted to attend who didn’t get a chance. Does that make it large enough to go from sub-culture to regular culture?
I think we should understand that while we use the term sub-culture for culture which lays underneath the surface of “mainstream” culture, no culture actually lays beneath the surface. The surface itself is not comprised of any single culture that all people are a part of, but that the surface itself is a mosaic of brightly colored cultural pieces that people use to connect to other people through. It’s just that some pieces are more brightly colored and larger than others.