OPINION: The burning underground

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Cameron Gorman headshot

Cameron Gorman

There’s something magical about liking something that’s not part of the “mainstream.” It’s a joke by this point — I liked this thing before it was cool. I wear 3D glasses with the lenses popped out. I’m fond of plaid scarves. You get the gist.

But really, it’s hard to deny you feel a little hot when you’re part of a group that flies below the radar. There’s nothing quite like a twinge of rebellion on a dark road.

But why is it that it feels so subversive to be part of a subculture? Why is it still fun to go to midnight showings of Rocky Horror, listen to music at a house party or watch an indie movie? It’s something I’ve been ruminating on for a while. I’m not sure I’ve found the answer.

Is it because, somehow, we feel like we’re in on a secret? If you say you like something that’s not too well-known, and one person at the whole party agrees — well, that’s a bonding point. It feels more intimate and sure than liking something we all agree on. Sharing your favorite album with someone isn’t the same as admitting you don’t mind The Eagles, after all.

But that can’t be the whole reason. It must be deeper than that. Where does the pride come from? That moment of letdown when you realize something you’ve been following for years suddenly blows up?

It must be the personal touch. This is a thing we carry close to us. We can see the value where other people can’t. Maybe they wrinkle their noses, but we get it, and we get each other.

Otherwise, why would it feel so good to wear black lipstick? Why would kids in the ‘90s tack Marilyn Manson posters to their walls, if only to make their mothers gasp? I think the pleasure of being part of something more underground goes beyond the bonding and the secret and the intimacy of that thing.

I think part of the fun, too, is that it’s pure. The book or the lifestyle or the song is yet untouched by the tainted hands of advertising and billboards. You can still feel close to it because no wall of glamour has separated you from it in your mind.

I suppose that creates a conundrum. Loving something, you want it to succeed. You want to show it to others, to hype it up, to convert the sacrilegious to its healing rays — and yet, you can only lift something high enough before you see it catch fire. Eventually, it will fly too close to the sun, byitch.

Perhaps this means no product of the indie — the subculture-ous, the underground, the secretive — is meant to last. Perhaps this is why there are waves in culture. Hippies died (when the first plastic Halloween peace sign necklace was forged) and punks were born. Things live and things die, the end comes for us all, etc. etc. Maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be — it makes room for new music, new culture, new art. After all, that is the nature of the underground, isn’t it? That new discovery. That odd lip color. That fresh, biting revolution.

Cameron Gorman is a columnist. Contact her at [email protected]