Alternative represented the hipster ethos of being different for difference’s sake. It’s why every indie quarter boasts signs like, “Keep Portland Weird” and “Keep Austin Weird”, not to mention “Keep Berkeley Weird”. But how do you stay weird when everyone is trying to be weird at the same time? What does weirdness even mean when everyone is weird and doing their best to get a condo in weirdsville, only to move out in protest because weirdsville isn’t weird enough anymore?
In a rebellious culture, rebellion is meaningless. It has no form and shape, no substance and no direction. All that’s left is the trendy steeplechase of fashion, doing things until other people begin doing them and then quickly moving on to doing something else. And that search for alternative purity becomes eminently mockable for its transparent shallowness.
The very effort to preserve edifices of radical history like the Village Voice runs counter to the alternative instinct to escape the past, denounce it in a Tumblr post that will be reblogged by all the right people, and then move on to doing something that hasn’t been ruined yet by the unspeakable appetites of the bourgeoisie. The death of the Village Voice serves only as an occasion for denouncing the soulless mercenary capitalists who bought up the alternative media, even if the soulless mercenary capitalists are actually their own more successful comrades who wanted to make the Village Voice into a viable concern.
The death of the Village Voice only matters to those for whom exclusive radicalism was an identity and for those who are concerned by the sight of the entire press turning into the Village Voice and the entire country turning into the East Village, concerned only with staying weird. A decade ago, Lady Gaga would have been a warm-up act in the Village before a transvestite beauty pageant to raise money for a documentary about Nestle’s depredations in the rainforest. Now that forced preening weirdness-for-the-sake-of-weirdness is being marketed to everyone.
Alternativism used to be for the people who felt ill at ease, who weren’t comfortable anywhere and made a fetish of their discomfort, transforming that awkward disconnection from the larger world into art and poetry. And now everyone feels disconnected or wants to feel disconnected. Weirdness is fashion in a time when no one fits anymore because there is nothing to fit into anymore.
The molds have been broken, the expectations are gone and there is nothing to adjust to except the weird culture of trying to be weirder than everyone else for weirdness’ sake. Everyone is searching for meaning outside traditional religion. Everyone doesn’t feel like the country is headed down the right road. Everyone lacks confidence in the future. Everyone hates corporations, including corporations. Everyone dives into the gutter, defies whatever norms are left and cultivates the ironic detachment that allows them to distance themselves from their own words. Everyone is weird and everyone is alone.
The alternative media which once chronicled weirdness, has nothing left to chronicle. There are no longer any extremes to escape to, no refuges on the far coast of transcendence, only the grim reality that everyone is desperately unhappily different at the same time. In these United States, where a radical community organizer sits in the White House, Fifty Shades of Grey sits on top of the bestseller list and plastic bags are being banned around the country– we all live in the Village.
If mainstream has gone alternative, then the new alternative is the mainstream. The new wild ones, the rebels, the ones who don’t fit into Weird America are the squares, the Romneys and Ryans, the Palins and Santorums, the ones who smile patiently and explain that they believe in family values and norms. In the kingdom of the weird, the weirdest of them all are the ones who aren’t weird and aren’t trying to be. The unselfconsciously normal people strike a culture that has torn open its own head to see the technicolor stars as stranger than anything in their visions could be.
As weirdness has become the norm, the norm is the alternative to weirdness. But it is also what gives weirdness substance and rebellion meaning. Only by restoring a meaningful norm will there be anything requiring an alternative, and the defeat of weird culture is also the only hope for weird culture to thrive outside the weird-eat-weird steeplechase of hipster fashion.