Subcultures aren't dead
I disagree with David Chapman's MOP theory.
Neither are subcultures dead, nor is their lifecycle that simple.
The theory's xenophobia smells and is, in my experience, unjustified.
Who am I to disagree?
I've talked and listened to many people who run their own communities, large
and small, and learned from them. I've run some myself, some successfully, some
less so, and been everything from consumer, curator to creator and user,
moderator to admin. Many of my years online, I've been thinking about the
dynamics of "my" subcultures and communities, and testing theories created this
What I see happening instead
First: Subcultures aren't dead. Counterexample: Imageboards.
In the anglosphere, this means 4chan and a long tail of alternative boards.
They are the best example I've been a part of, but definitely not the only one.
A mature (well over ten years old now) and lively online subculture, they
exercise a lot of influence over Internet culture at large - on the day you're
reading this, you may have used slang that originated there.
Interestingly, they have their own variants of the MOP theory (one being
"wherever they go, the chads drive the betas out") and their constant bitching
and moaning about clueless newbies has given us the very word "newfag". But
fear not, they've been clamoring since their first days and are still around.
Second: Subcultures have generations, but not a one-shot lifecycle.
On imageboards, people join, sometimes become prolific members, and usually
leave after a few years. Maybe they've become bored, have "grown out of it",
burned out, or too many of their friends have left. Some stay for more than one
generation to become oldfags, the cultural backbone.
It's hard to follow the change of generations due to wide-spread anonymity, but
apart from simply knowing people, you can sort of watch the turnover from the
outside as well: Every now and then, Anonymous and/or parts of the wider
imageboard culture get into high-profile fights, the main ones being Chanology
(2008-2009), Anonops (end of 2010-2011), and arguably Gamergate (2014-2015). In
my experience, there is very little personal overlap between the communities
that organize here, the activists of the last cause are usually either set in
their ways or have become cynical about higher causes. Each cause uses mostly
fresh people while the culture that spawned them has prevailed. (Prediction:
around 2018-2020, we're going to see another of these kick off)
Subcultures have only one lifecycle? I doubt it.
Third: Tribal fears are a very subculture thing, but often unjustified.
The MOP theory feeds on these. The MOPs and sociopaths: outsiders who show up
to ruin a thing. The geeks: exploited natives. A compelling narrative, but I've
seen too many newcomer outsiders, even fishy/difficult ones, turn into
brilliant members to still believe it.
Why this disconnect?
To be honest - If I hadn't known Chapman, I would've taken it for the sort of
eloquent but misinformed parting post that people who have grown out of a
community often write. The kind that says "this community is dead" and that you
sometimes look back on with a smile four years later when that same community
is still going strong. I've kind of lost count - it's easy to declare the death
of something you're no longer part of, to confuse "the people that make this
culture good" with "the people who became my peer group when I joined".
But I believe Chapman is neither stupid nor badly informed, so why is there
such a large disconnect between our experiences? Are offline age subcultures
fundamentally different, have online ones maybe evolved healing mechanisms? Or
is he thinking about, say, Burning Man in particular and simply not
I myself have seen communities and their cultures ruined by large influxes of
clueless newbies. The pattern exists, yes, but is far from all-encompassing,
more a failure of integration than a biblical deluge to swallow those with the
hubris to become popular.
What to do about membership crises
Any community or subculture that wants to survive needs to acquire new members,
and those to be integrated by older members. Failure of the former leads to
stagnation and eventual heat death, failure of the latter leads to dilution. It
will alienate older members as, in absence of strong examples, the newer ones
redefine their culture.
The former is a death sentence. The latter can be mitigated.
Newbies are good for you - if you integrate them properly.
To counteract heat death, get new members and don't scare them off immediately.
To counteract dilution, teach your newbies. If there are too many, either limit
your intake or teach harder. Make yourself look "uncool", reward mentorship
with status, or tell people to "lurk more". If yours is a creative subculture,
culture size is very strongly correlated with the amount of creative output, at
least in my experience. This should usually be something you want?
If you're not in a position to enact global changes (not an admin? not an
influential writer?), try local ones: Create. Help others create. Be a good
example. People all eventually leave a subculture for one reason or another.
You'll find yourself without a peer group one day if you don't make new peers.
The absence of one's friends is what will make near any enthusiast leave, not
the "death of cool". So make new friends, and yes, it's hard sometimes.
 I am not an insider to this specific subculture and I will not declare its
death because that'd be presumptuous of me. But given its ongoing popularity,
growth, and the number of people I see complaining about rich libertarians
flooding/gentrifying the event, it's a likely and fitting example.
published: Sep 01 2016.
epistemic status: comment.