Alternative is a broad cultural and aesthetic philosophy that encompasses the various media genres, themes and motifs that are the most valuable those who enjoy independent or underground subcultures – regardless of generation, nationality or personal background. Alternative as a term exists in contrast to the mainstream and was birthed out of the eighties and nineties. Though it originally was strongly associated with alternative rock, it has come to encompass independent culture, media, lifestyles and beliefs as a whole. As you might expect, alternative can mean different things to different people, but as a general rule, alternative people are often quite eclectic or experimental – often transgressing perceived norms with the things they invest their time into.
Alternative people, in contrast to normies, are very passionate about the niche interests they devote themselves to, and are more likely to be engaged with creative pursuits themselves. Moreover, alternative subcultures strongly encourage people to express their creativity – often outside of the inaccessible standards of what is deemed professional or legitimate by the mainstream. Alternative, as a cultural label, exists both as a category for all the distinct independent subcultures that exist, but also as an inclusive identity for those people who, like me, enjoy a wide array of alternative subcultures, lifestyles and beliefs. It is for those people especially that this page exists. With these ideas in mind, I think it is useful to define eclectic virtues as guidelines for its cultivation – particularly in contrast to the nascent exploration of dabblers and the hollow approach of dilettantes. The following is what I believe to be the core pillars of alternative.
The Alternative Ogdoad
At the core of alternative is the virtue of independence. The most clear and enduring legacy of alternative philosophy is that of personal freedom – not as a means to rebel against perceived authority or societal pressure – though it can help to express those feelings, but as a means to genuinely define one’s own style and ethos. Expressing independence as an alternative is a way to express gratefulness for the freedom that allows us to meaningfully and respectfully express our desires – something that can take many years and a lot of personal growth for alternatives to define.
As an extension of independence, personal authenticity is a vitally important virtue of alternative philosophy. Being free and independent is fundamental, but independence should come from a genuine, heartfelt place – not performance or pretention, and never at the expense of dignity or propriety. Moreover, it is essential for alternatives to thoroughly and patiently engage with the cultures, themes and aesthetics they are incorporating – both to foster deep respect for various types of source material, social communities and oneself.
All alternatives should be willing to form meaningful, complex and nuanced opinions about a variety of subjects, concepts, cultures and communities in all the ways they find intrinsic value. There is no such thing as an alternative that loves every alternative thing – nor should they want to. Alternative philosophy is most enriched by a spectrum of genuine, passionate opinions – including positivity, neutrality and outright negativity towards particular ideas or forms of aesthetic media. It is okay to dabble – especially when you are young, but a genuine, mature alternative is passionate at their core.
As alternatives share and create media, they should always be mindful of the quality and consistency of the things they explore. This is especially the case when combining ideas together, developing a blended artistic work, or creating a unique personal style. It is important to remember that just because you can transgress, doesn’t mean you should. Even if things can be challenged, it can often require a lot of effort to create something truly worthwhile, and not everyone will agree about the final result.
In many alternative subcultures, great importance is placed on personal autonomy. For alternatives, this is absolutely fundamental. A DIY approach to culture, history and aesthetics strengthens and enriches the elements that can be meaningfully incorporated. In contrast to alternatives, normies will always take the path of least resistance. They will only explore ideas or themes they either deem to be culturally notable or useful in enhancing their social reputation. Alternatives are willing to put in the work to find and cultivate their genuine interests – no matter how obscure.
At its core, alternative culture greatly values experimentation. Alternative is born out bold style fusions from within the creative milieu of the places that alternative people live. At their best, alternatives can vanguard new and exciting creative horizons. Though new alternative styles are not always well-received, the impulse to experiment and explore new territory will always supersede bad faith criticism. Alternatives should always be careful to experiment in a manner that invites people to share in their experiences – not as a means to elevate themselves above others.
For all the diversity of ideas and themes in alternative media and the people who create it, genuinely alternative pursuits are always created in an environment that fosters deep appreciation for the unique nature of creative inspiration and a fundamental respect for the source material that inspires new creation in the first place. Young, inexperienced dabblers may accidentally be disrespectful, but willful disrespect and cynical media is the work of normies – not alternatives.
Alternative culture is the most fulfilling when it is shaped by careful, considerate, humble and holistic life experiences. Any person who claims to align themselves to alternative culture but believes that their philosophy is superior to singular, traditional approaches is not alternative. Elitist and condescending people who superficially and amateurishly incorporate elements from many sources are normies – not real alternatives. Humility should always be emphasized and the pretentious, dilettantish attitudes of normies should be clearly, dutifully and respectfully challenged.