February 27, 2021

Sub-cultures are dead, as straight guys drop out and cocoon online after the Great Financial Crisis

What really stands out about the so-called sub-cultures today is the total absence of guys in general, and straight guys specifically. It's 99% girls, whether straight, bi, lesbian, or otherwise. There are a few token gay guys and trannies, but even those demos are mostly absent. Actual straight guys, though, have totally checked out of sub-cultural communities.

It's revealing that the labels for today's main sub-cultures contain the word "girls" -- e-girls and alt-girls. That's no accident -- there's no such thing as e-boys or alt-guys. Before, sub-cultures had gender-neutral names because their membership included both in roughly equal numbers -- scene, emo, goth, grunge, punk, rave, new wave, metal, disco, etc.

I live in thrift stores, and I've never seen a guy who was "an alt-girl, only the guy version". Never see them in used media stores, or any other stores, in parks, loitering in parking lots, waiting outside clubs or bars, or walking down the main drag on Saturday afternoon or night with the actually existing alt-girls. Finding alt-girls in those places is perfectly ordinary, and they often hang out in groups (same-sex, though).

Can you imagine going to a mall in the 2000s, and only seeing girls at the Hot Topic, with literally zero emo guys anywhere to be seen? Or a goth dance club in the '80s, and there's only goth girls, no goth guys at all? This may be unprecedented in sub-cultural history.

"Guys who have social links to alt-girls" does not constitute being a member of their sub-culture. The guys have to clearly identify their membership badges -- certain hairstyles, clothing, shoes, slang and shibboleths, haunts outside the home, and so on and so forth.

Just like with the emo guys from the 2000s -- same severe side part as the girls, with the bangs threatening to cover the eyes, same skinny jeans, same predominantly black and white color palette, same style of tattoos if old enough, same iPod playlists (My Chemical Romance, Paramore, etc.), same use of "sick" to mean cool, same hang-out spots (the mall, Hot Topic especially). When you saw a group of them, they were clearly members of the same sub-culture, just a male and a female version.

Why does it matter anyway? Because a sub-culture must foster further social-emotional development, the most universal kind being courtship, dating, mating, and perhaps family formation. People want to date others who are fairly similar to themselves culturally, rather than having to date outside their group. If the scene is large enough, and mixed-sex, then there's no problem dating your own kind. That's true for other kinds of sub-cultures like a religious sect.

That was still common with the emo/scene kids in the late 2000s -- check YouTube for "emo couple 2008" or whatever, and you'll see plenty of vignettes of emo bf + emo gf holding each other, looking into each other's eyes, and the usual mushy stuff. Only they were sporting his-and-hers severe side parts, his-and-hers skinny jeans, sharing a pair of earbuds to listen to Fall Out Boy, etc.

With today's single-gender sub-culture, the girls must necessarily look for potential crushes, bfs, and husbands outside of their cultural group. Only it's worse than it sounds -- it's not just that guys have abandoned a specific sub-culture, like the e-girl / alt-girl crowd. They've dropped out altogether. It's not as though there's some other sub-culture that does have guys, that the alt-girls can find boyfriends from.

Skater bros are not much of a sub-culture anymore, with a clearly identifiable look, slang, music and other cultural preferences, and so on, the way that punks or grunge guys or emos did in their heyday. Nor do stoners, which was never much of a sub-culture anyway, but they're even less distinct culturally these days.

So, the alt-girls would have to go outside of sub-cultures altogether, maybe to the jocks or preps or whatever else there is. Aside from that cultural divide being too wide for long-term relationships to last, those guys don't hang out in public either -- they too are busy staying home, plugging their brain into the digital matrix, and ignoring girls IRL (which they rationalize by not wanting to run afoul of the Horny Police).

This seismic change really struck me lately as I've been browsing Alt TikTok compilations on YouTube. There are no guys in them, and the few who do appear are mostly gays or trannies.

"Where are the e-boys who supposedly sport similar styles as the e-girls, but only in the guys' version?" "Where are the guys who are trying to one-up the other guys within their sub-culture, trying to lead by example, teaching their fellow guys where to go or how to behave in order to be cool, or whatever other role they're playing in the Alt community?"

The videos that YouTube's algorithm recommends after viewing Alt TikTok compilations do not feature straight guys either, but again gays and trannies.

It's not because the alt-girls are lesbians, and the would-be alt-guys feel they would not be welcome -- most are indeed straight, although with more bi and lesbian girls than the nation at large.

And how could guys get the impression that alt-girls don't want male attention and interaction? They're leaving the home, not staying holed up. They're lounging around public spaces, not scurrying from one place to another all business-like. They could not be displaying themselves in a more attention-getting fashion, and in ways meant to show off their girly cuteness -- big hair, make-up, belly-baring crop tops, leg-revealing skirts, knee-high boots... it's obvious.

Yet, where are the guys who they're hoping to see in these places, styled in a similar way? They're AWOL, barricading themselves at home, cocooning in online activity, and even then in corners of online that are 99% girl-free (video games, porn streams, Twitch chats, weird Twitter circles, and the like).

This is unlike earlier times, when only nerds and drop-outs behaved that way. In the 2000s, there were still sub-cultures that thrived because enough straight guys did not burrow away in cyberspace. Now, even the would-be cool guys have totally given up and chosen digital opium dens and pod life generally.

These changes in male behavior must be affecting some related changes in female behavior, like the rise of bi-curiosity among girls, particularly over the past 10 or so years. It's not lesbianism, as though they were giving up on guys altogether. Lesbians are no more common than they were decades ago, but girls who say they're bi, or they've experimented now and again, or they think girls are really hot, etc., have become a substantial minority.

Female sexuality is more malleable than male sexuality, so perhaps the drying up of "guys who are willing to show up" has led a lot of girls to adapt their attraction to those who actually do show up, namely their fellow girls. You don't get rewarded for hiding yourself, ignoring the opposite sex, and taking zero risks, insulated by porn girls who trick you into thinking you've already got sexual options.

If it's their fellow girls who are willing to put themselves out there, take the risk of rejection, and show some attention to the other attendees of public spaces, then it's their fellow girls who will get rewarded.

There's plenty more to say on this topic, and I'll add more as it occurs to me in the comments. To conclude for now, though, how about placing a rough date on the death of new sub-cultures? I think 2010 is a round enough number -- the whole emo/scene thing was still going into the early 2010s, but it had been born earlier. And the skater bros were still their own scene that lasted into the early 2010s (with clearly identifiable markers like the Southwestern geometric tribal prints, flat-brim hats, and other staples of the Ridiculousness look), but they too were born before 2010.

I can't think of any new sub-cultures after the scene kids, who got started back in the late 2000s. So it's not some recent cause, but one that unfolded over the previous decade. It's hard not to notice the coincidence with the Awokening of the 2010s that is still ongoing. Rising levels of polarization means that no group can hold together -- obviously not the entire nation, but not even either of the major parties, both of which are fraught by internal factionalism like never before. And perhaps not even a smaller-scale group like a sub-culture.

Still, the fact that guys have totally dropped out of sub-cultures, when they have not dropped out of other areas of life (such as politics), requires a separate explanation. It's not the #MeToo panic, since that only took off in the late 2010s, and the "boo men" hysteria has been over for a year now anyway.

It's not the rise of streaming platforms, video games, etc. -- technology adapts to social changes, not the other way around. If guys had no interest in shutting themselves off from the real world, Twitch and gamer-girl streamers would never have taken off the ground.

A more likely culprit is the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis, which young people never recovered from materially, and which dashed their hopes of attaining a decent life for good. Maybe they waited to see if Obama's first few years would restore the youthful optimism and aspirational attitude of the '80s, '90s, and 2000s -- but by 2011 and Occupy Wall Street, they concluded that no, life is going to suck forever, so why fucking bother?

It's not so much the narrow superficial worries over "What if a girl I meet finds out I live at home at age 25?" Again, female sexuality is malleable, they'll adapt to that new reality -- especially since they themselves are living at home. It's the loss of a larger sense of purpose and meaning and direction and ambition -- might as well check out for good, then.

You might be chuckling at the thought that alt sub-cultures would be so affected by dashed career ambitions, as though their members could never become careerist as they matured. News flash: all the hippies sold out, all the punks became yuppies, and the scene kids wanted to eventually suck from the corporate teat in Silicon Valley or Hollywood. Belonging to a sub-culture when you're young is orthogonal to your material goals for later in life.

We would only expect to see sub-cultures escape unscathed from the ongoing crisis of circa 2010 if their members were mostly anti-materialist. They'd hardly welcome the news of "your job will suck forever, if you have one," but they'd get over it by escaping even further into their sub-culture, which does not require high income in order to take part.

But most people -- including would-be members of a sub-culture -- are materially minded, and get more than a little bummed out when material security is finished for the forseeable future. It takes such a gloom-and-doom toll on them that they don't even bother showing up for other social-cultural activities like forming and maintaining a cultural group -- whether that's mall goths, the local church, or their neighborhood civic associations.

Girls, however, are not so fixated on being a material breadwinner for their sense of purpose and self-worth. So despite also recognizing how screwed over they and their male counterparts are always going to be, it doesn't weigh them down to the same degree. They still have enough energy to direct toward social bonds, including sub-cultures.

What remains to be seen is how they'll adapt to the awareness that sub-cultures going forward are going to be almost exclusively female. Will they accept it as better than nothing, maybe become bi-curious according to the trend, or will they figure it's not worth the hassle if it's going to be such a hen party all the time? Certainly for now the doomer Zoomers are going with the former response, but that won't necessarily continue with future generations of girls. We'll have to wait and see.


  1. How do college students compare to non-students? Since they have brighter futures, are college men interacting with women more than non-college men?

    Or is everyone suffering?

  2. How would a guy look like one of those subcultures without looking like a girl?

  3. College doesn't give you a brighter future anymore, so there's no big diff between college guys and non-college guys as far as getting girls and taking part in a sub-culture are concerned.

    "College grads earn X amount over non-college grads, over their lifetimes" is wrong because it necessarily uses data from people old enough to have completed most of their lives, i.e. Boomers. Yes, for them going to college was a gigantic boost to their lifelong living standards.

    Projecting that onto the X-ers, Millennials, and Zoomers is complete BS. It's not a static fact of the world, like "attractive people are more likely to get hired". The higher ed bubble has been ballooning for decades now, meanwhile the spots for college grads in the economy is the same or shrinking. Too many grads, not enough good jobs for them.

    Over-production of elites, a cyclical pattern that goes back millennia. See Turchin & Nefedov's Secular Cycles.

    Today's college grads are not like yesterday's college grads, so whatever applied to the Boomer college grads will not apply to Zoomer college grads -- maybe even the opposite, like you end up working a series of shitty McJobs (barista, etc.), while being saddled with tens of thousands of non-dischargeable student loan debt. If so, going to college *reduces* your lifelong living standard.

  4. By not wearing dresses or crop tops, duh. Just like any of the other zillions of sub-cultures that came in a male and female variation on a single underlying theme.

    How would a guy look like one of those subcultures without looking like a girl?

    E.g. the severe side part and bangs-in-the-eyes hairdo for both emo guys and girls, skinny vs. baggy jeans for both, black-and-white color palette (or bright colors for scene kids).

    For the current alt / e-girl look, how hard would it be for guys to wear black Doc Martens boots? That's a staple for the alt-girl look, and yet I've literally only seen one guy wearing black Doc boots in years of going to thrift stores (they're iconic and easy to spot).

    If anything, those boots look more masculine, not dainty, so it should be easier for guys to wear them, and more daring and gender-bending for girls to -- like it was back in the '90s during the grunge and industrial heyday. "Wow, that chick must be badass, she's wearing Doc Martens boots to school..."

    Black-and-white palette, easy to do for guys. White collared shirt with a black jacket or vest, easy. Wear a black tie with it -- a staple of the edgy rocker look of the 2000s. Dye your hair. Mix in plaids with your black-and-white palette. Wear a t-shirt over a long-sleeved shirt that's striped, checkered, or other high-contrast pattern.

  5. BTW, non-white guys have also dropped out of sub-cultures. It's not just white sub-cultures that are no longer spawning new forms.

    "Alt" black culture used to have (wannabe) gangsters, thugs, ballers, and general hood identity, in various incarnations. The music derived from rap, especially after gangsta rap in the '90s cemented the link between music and broader cultural identity signals.

    When was the last black alt identity formed? Again the 2000s, with the last of the thug / baller variations. More on the aspirational, hustling side, not a celebration of ghetto backgrounds or living in the projects. Their hang-outs were the strip club, where they tried to pick up girls who were into thugs and ballers, as well as other clubs with VIP sections, ordering bottle service, etc. T-Pain, Lil Wayne, Akon, and so on.

    It was an entire scene or lifestyle, not just a certain way of dressing. It was all IRL, socially interactive, including both guys and girls. The girls followed the same basic norms as the guys -- not celebrating a ghetto background or living in the projects, but glamming up their clothes, getting their hair done nice, taking over the club on girls' night out, dancing to thug rappers who were singing about them.

    The type of girl they're singing about in "Low," which goes into detail about what the specific look required -- apple-bottom jeans, boots with the fur, baggy sweatpants, Reeboks with the straps. Where they hang out, what their activities are (club, dancing).

    They're celebrating a sub-culture, not just "black culture" in some timeless generic sense. It's that specific sub-culture of the 2000s.

    These days, you don't see black guys dressed and styled in an identifiably sub-cultural way, listening to the same music as each other, hanging out in the same public places, including girls with the same tastes, and so on. Contrast that with any music video showing the gangsta rap scene of the '90s (probably a house party, a la "Gin and Juice"), or the thug / baller scene of the 2000s (in an exclusive dance / strip club, a la "Lollipop" or "Smack That").

    I don't even recall black sub-cultures of the 2010s -- entire scenes with guys and girls, not just "here's how a handful of gay weirdos are dressing themselves in the hopes of appearing in a street fashion candid shoot for some digital fashion website".

    Black girls still make an attempt to do alt or sub-cultural signaling. Some of it is shared with white girls' alt looks, like wearing pastel pink wigs (just spotted one the other day in a thrift store).

    So the reasons must be similar -- the end of any material dream after the Great Recession, which black guys never recovered from, just like white guys. And therefore feeling like the drop-out choice is better than trying. Video games, watching streamers, porn, and the rest of pod life.

  6. "I can't think of any new sub-cultures after the scene kids, who got started back in the late 2000s. "

    When Americans finally warmed up to EDM in the early 2010s, there was the new generation of ravers which was aesthetically distinct from the 90s ravers (with the baggy clothes) - these wore more neon clothes, tanktops, workout shorts, Camelback bags, etc. Possibly enough to be its own distinct rave style.

  7. Breakdancing sub-culture has died off, too, despite the revival of dance fever as of 2020. Why no breakdancing trends on TikTok?

    In the late 2000s, that was no more niche than skateboarding used to be. There was a dedicated breakdancing room in one of the clubs I used to hang out at. Most of the breakdancers themselves were guys, though there was at least one girl. But the spectators were mixed-sex. They had their own look, their own music, and their own paraphernalia (like carrying around a boombox -- at least an mp3 player built like one).

    That covered all races at the time. I think white guys, and other non-black guys, got into breakdancing in the early 2000s.

    Another sub-cultural note -- in "Lollipop" Lil Wayne mentions that his girl has "swag like mine" and wears her hair down her back "like mine". They're both part of the same sub-culture, wearing the same distinctive clothes, and unusually for blacks, wearing really long hair.

  8. When was the last time juggalos were spotted in the wild? Speaking of college vs. non-college guys, juggalos were one of the most working-class sub-cultures. And 99% of those guys were straight.

    Of course there were juggalettes as well, since any thriving sub-culture has both sexes mixing it up with each other.

    On the Alt TikTok compilations, I see girls who are spiritual descendants of juggalettes. But (straight) guys who paint their faces to look spooky? Nowhere to be seen.

    It's not just juggalos, though -- goths used to do black-and-white face paint, as did other sub-cultures (followers of KISS and King Diamond among metalheads).

    Damon Zex, the local legend cable-access performance artist in Columbus, Ohio during the '90s, wore black-and-white face paint.

    It used to be one of the go-to styles for alt guys. Who's doing it now?

    No one, and nothing has replaced it. It's not as though the same type of guys are doing the same type of thing, only it's red-and-black instead of white-and-black. Or they shade the borders between color spaces, instead of them being in stark contrast. Not even single-color make-up around the eyes, a la Alice Cooper.

    The whole "alt guys painting their faces" thing is dead.

  9. The gays on alt tiktok are not even alt -- they're just gay. That's the sole criterion for including one of them in the compilations, as though any kind of degenerate, abnormal, etc., trait qualifies you as alt, no matter how normie you are otherwise.

    Wow, he's got an undercut like every other gay has had for the past 10 years (but that no normal straight guy wears) -- so pay no attention to the fact he's wearing an olive-green polo shirt and a windbreaker like his normie dad probably wears. He's gay, and ranting about being gay / homophobia / etc., so ipso facto, he's going into an alt tiktok compilation!

    The trannies do at least make an effort to look alt, but then their whole deal is just copying girls, so no surprise there. They aren't included just because they're not heterosexual.

    Still, that just emphasizes how absent the "cis male" demo is from sub-cultures. It's bizarre.

  10. You were saying that we would enter a rising crime cycle in 2021. Would this new post imply that the cocooning cycle will continue indefinitely for another generation?

  11. I didn't say that. I said circa 2018, based on the last falling-crime period lasting 25 years (peak in '33, trough in '58). Most recent peak was '92, so trough in 2017, then rising after that.

    Obviously I didn't mean that right down to the year, but it looks to be pretty close -- if the stats about the homicide rate surge in 2020 are broadly about the nation (not just select cities), and continue through the coming years.

    The rising-crime periods are about 35 years -- the peak in '33 began rising at least by 1900, perhaps a few years before then. And the next wave began in '59 and lasted through '92.

    So I was fairly confident about the falling-crime periods also being a similar length across waves (about 25 years).

    Only difference is the rising-crime period lasts longer than the falling-crime period. Harder to stop a crime wave than to start one up.

  12. As for cocooning and crime, rising-crime means outgoing mood, falling-crime means cocooning mood.

    Indeed, it's the social mood that determines the crime pattern. When people are outgoing, trusting of others in public spaces, letting their guard down in order to have fun and enjoy life and generally be carefree -- it opens them up to predators who take advantage of that guard-down situation. That sends the crime rate up.

    When crime rates get so high, it makes people question the worth of letting their guard down and trusting others in public spaces. So as crime soars high and long, people start cocooning in order to protect themselves from predators. That social mood works, and it sends the crime rate falling.

    But after crime rates have been falling for so long, people start to question the worth of keeping their guard up all the time everywhere around everyone. What could go wrong being more outgoing, letting your guard down, etc. -- it's not like we're plagued by criminals or anything?

    Then when people become more outgoing, they open the door to another crime wave, completing the cycle.

    In my model, the social mood changes before the crime rate does. Not by a decade or anything, but maybe 1 year to a few years.

    I'd thought I'd seen that initial change to the outgoing mood during 2019, especially the latter half. No phones, no screens, young people catcalling me from their car, brushing against me in public, all sorts of things that hadn't happened for years.

    Partly it was the shift in the excitement cycle (a separate cycle from crime and cocooning). From the refractory phase to the restless warm-up phase.

    But it also felt like people hanging out more, saying hi, and being more free-wheeling. I saw that more and more during 2020, despite the pandemic and lockdowns. Teenagers hanging outside a grocery store at the picnic table, at night... something that seemed more out of the '60s, '70s, or '80s.

    We'll see how that continues through 2021. I have noticed the bizarre and sudden return of staring down at screens in public. It was right after Biden's inauguration, whatever the link is. Hopefully temporary, then back to the outgoing trend (and rising-crime).

  13. I've previously referenced studies showing that popular music has gotten less complex. I just came across something (although it's from 2018) attempting to measure the musical diversity of all the Billboard hits and tracking how they have changed over time, starting from 1958. The eight dimensions their AI came up with are "acousticness, danceability, energy, instrumentalness, liveness, loudness, speechiness, valence". They concluded hit songs have indeed been getting more similar, and attribute that to songs having more credited writers (averaging out idiosyncracy) and super-producers having a larger share of hits to their name each year.

    1. This has less data but might be more up agnostic's alley. It's about the decline in eroticism in film since the 80s, even as fit bodies have become ever more fetishized:
      She includes a mention of 9/11 as having a cultural impact, but unlike agnostic doesn't argue it was a short-lived reversion to the 80s. Matthew Yglesias argues that this is the result of tv changing so that adults can watch more adult material at home, resulting in the demographic of theater-attendees skewing downward to teenagers.

    2. That's right in line with the cocooning trend - people become more OCD about their bodies and hygiene, but less actual sex.

    3. Look up the Song Girls Want to be with the Girls by The Talking Heads.

  14. “Gamer” is the only identity from recent years where the guys are around, but it doesn’t really fit the bill as a subculture. There’s no distinctive look or musical tastes that go with that. There’s a social scene and some shared lingo, but it’s too broad and varied - it’s like calling “TV watcher” a subculture.

    The death of subcultures from 2010 onward seems to coincide with the time employers began to scrutinize social media profiles and the pasts and private lives of prospective employees. You’ve already covered the job insecurity angle; this only compounds that. Every teenager who posted anything edgy or out of the ordinary on Facebook had parents breathing down their necks and yelling at them about how employers would see that and they’d never be able to get a job. Not that most of them listened right away, but I think some of level of fear over that did manage to sink in.

    The general mood of the 2010s was also very spiteful and cynical. Nails that stuck out tended to get hammered down. Emos, hipsters, and anyone else who had a weird look that stuck out got relentlessly made fun of - guys a lot more so than girls. Gays and trannies got a pass to be weird once it became de facto illegal to make fun of them, no such luck for straight dudes though.


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