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Part II: Evolution of cultural trends in society--subcultures


Members of the Debbie Allen Dance Company at Houston's Theater DistrictPhoto by Joseph Earnest


by Joseph Earnest March 28, 2015


Newscast Media HOUSTON—Last week we presented an article on the evolution of cultural trends and their influence on society.  The article received a tremendous positive response from the readers.  This week we bring you the final installment of the two-part series, since one cannot talk about a culture without talking about subcultures.


A subculture is typically a group within a major culture that breaks away from the norm to create a reality its members can easily relate to and implement in their lives to achieve a desired effect or goal.


The previous article dealt primarily with mainstream cultures and how they continue to affect society.  Yet beneath the surface, there always is a subculture that may be dissatisfied with the way the  mainstream culture is evolving into, and wanting to create its own unique and independent experience, will go underground where it can escape the exposure of the mainstream culture, so as to reinvent itself for the benefit of its members.


Because subcultures begin with underground movements, their effect on society has always been known to be life-changing, due to the fact that they tend to birth revolutions.


In the spotlight, it is almost impossible to start a revolution because members of these sub-groups can be easily infiltrated or sabotaged in order to keep whatever momentum that has been gained in check.


If we turn back to Europe in the Dark Ages, we can clearly see a civilization of savagery and barbaric acts that were acceptable during that time, like  burning people at the stake for heresy or espousing concepts that went against the grain.


Yet people were slowly becoming enlightened and a subculture, essentially whose aim was to use the visual arts to enlighten the Dark Age period was born—it would be referred to as a "rebirth of knowledge" or the Renaissance. That subculture of painters, poets, architects and musicians caught the interest of popes, kings, princes and dukes, who would become its eventual patrons.


However, as the Renaissance continued to spread, there was another subculture led by Martin Luther, called the Reformation which was a Protestant movement that had broken away from Catholicism. These two subcultures co-existed in the 15th and 16th centuries.  


As the Renaissance reached a crescendo to give way to the High Renaissance, there arose a group of artists, poets, architects and composers who studied classical antiquity all the way to the Renaissance and absorbed everything—the only difference is that they wanted to use their art to create emotional dynamism and work that seemed to defy the laws of nature. That period was called the Counter-Reformation or the Baroque period. It was that particular period from which the Age of Reason emanated, which in turn gave the world some of the greatest minds to date. All of this happened because subcultures within the larger cultural groups dared to go against the status quo.


Which brings us to brings us to the relevance of subcultures.  Most professions do eventually produce subcultures that adopt different ways of thinking and implementing their ideas.


During the Civil Rights Movement from the mid-50s to the late 1960s, the US government realized that just killing off leaders of the mainstream movements would not be enough to keep them in check and prevent the movements from transforming society. The government decided it would use plants (agents planted within the movement) as informants and also saboteurs, to extract intelligence for it. The information would then be used to stunt progress of the movements in every possible way, such that members would disband on their own and return to life as usual.


Some of the players within the movements were paid off to prevent the determined Black crowds from exercising their freedom of assembly. When assembly was done, it was always peaceful, as if when the Frankish tribes and the Goths sacked Rome and brought the mighty empire to its knees in 410 A.D. and then again 55 years later by the Vandals, they did so through peaceful assemblies.


A subculture was created during the same period the Civil Rights Movement was taking place. This underground movement called itself the Black Panthers. The "Panthers" as they called themselves created their movement to counter the radicalized White youths who were armed and organized in militia-like groups such as the Neo-Nazis, the KKK and the Aryan Brotherhood—a notorious prison gang. All these groups were easily infiltrated by the FBI and neutralized by discrediting, disrupting, spreading disinformation or even jailing legitimate dissidents and shutting down their political organizations.  The action the federal government took and the lengths they went through in an attempt to extinguish these groups shows how powerful subcultures are, when the members have a common goal.


In Hollywood, as mainstream studios rejected works of unknown writers and actors in favor of household names, a string of independent movies was created, that were showcased at independent film festivals around America, bypassing Hollywood and the large studios. Some of the popular independent film festivals are the Sundance Film Festival, and the oldest independent film and video festival in the worldthe Word-Fest Houston International Film and Video festival that happens right here in the great city of Houston-Texas. (pop-up)


The festival, as you see, is a subculture of a mainstream film industry, whose only difference is that you don't have to have a movie agent or a studio executive behind your workeven a videographer can shoot and edit a video and be able to showcase it at the independent film festival.


Just like the film industry has a subculture, the music industry does too, and the genre of such music is categorized as "indie" which is short for independent from the mainstream. There are several indie subcultures, like indie films, indie music, indie art or literature, that signify something done on a small budget representing a larger concept.


Journalism too has its mainstream culture often refered to as the corporate or mainstream media. These are multimillion dollar studios, all of which are publicly traded companies, that can afford to create big-budget productions. Having absorbed everything I could while working at the local CBS affiliate, I started Newcast Media that would eventually become part of a subculture in the news business.  This media subculture is called the Alternative Media.


There once was a time when almost everybody got their news from the mainstream media, but as information technology continues to evolve, the subculture of independent media practitioners is slowly eclipsing the mainstream, and most end-users now say they trust the alternative media more than the mainstream media.


As a practitioner who started in the mainstream media, I was mainly interested in investigative and photojournalism, and I was fortunate to have been honored by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for my contribution as a multimedia journalist to my profession in 2010, as shown below:



Many have asked about the correct spelling of my name, whether it is Earnest or Ernest. The spelling depends on the cultural region one is in. In America the name is spelled Earnest; in England it is spelled Ernest; in Germanic countries (Austria, Switzerland or Germany) it is spelled Ernst and in Spanish cultures the name is Ernesto. All the above spellings depend on the region of the beholder.



What triggered the growth of the alternative news was, corporate sponsors had a great effect on how news was being disseminated. If for example, a corporate sponsor of a particular broadcast network is a pharmaceutical company and one of the investigative journalists wanted to investigate drug-related issues, it is likely that such a story would never be broadcast  for the sake of not offending the corporate client.  


Likewise, if a media practitioner wanted to investigate a powerful politician who may be on good terms with the studio executives of a particular news network, an incriminating story has a high possibility of being killed right in the newsroom. Journalists, knowing how effective the alternative media is, have since created a subculture that has no strings attached, where they can broadcast or print news as independent media practitioners. I believe the godfather of the alternative news is Matt Drudge of the Drudge Reporta man whom politicians love to hate.


Other white collar professionals like lawyers have their own subcultures too. The subculture is called "activism" where an attorney undertakes a special cause that pertains to a group's interest, in order to effect change. Some are consumer advocates, others human rights advocates while some may tackle environmental or immigration-related issues and so forth. These lawyers have their day jobs, but when they step away from their law firms, they join subgroups upon which they impart legal advice on a pro bono basis, make phone calls to lawmakers and may even arrange and participate in demonstrations, just to get their points across, or seize the attention of the media.


As for the  medical field, the subculture that comes to mind is alternative medicine. While traditional medication and surgical procedures are effective, there are doctors who specialized particularly in ethnomedicine, which is the treatment of a person using herbal supplements, based on that person's ethnic background. A psychologist might prescribe anti-depressants for a patient, while a practitioner of alternative medicine could prescribe the herb St. John's Wort for the same ailment. A traditional doctor may prescribe antibiotics for the flu or diseases like syphilis, gonorrhea or tuberculosis, while an expert in herbal remedies could prescribe a combination of the herbs Echinacea, Goldenseal, and Garlic capsules.


The most prominent doctors who practice alternative medicine are Dr. Michael Savage and Dr. LLaila Afrika, both of whom are extremely controversial. Dr. Afrika is probably the greatest authority in North America when it comes to ethnomedicine.


In regard to the performing arts, we know that there are funny comedians who may never get sitcoms but have their own subculture in which they have built large followings. Even big names like Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, Jay Leno and so forth first had to be a part of a subculture doing comedy circuits until they were discovered by the mainstream media and given exposure.


As for dance, that field is indefatigable. In the 90s there arose a tap dancer by the name of Michael Flatley who put together a dance musical performance called Riverdance that was a global sensation. It was thereafter followed by Lord of The Dance. These two hit musicals thrust Flatley into the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest tap dancer in the world. Flatley had the support of large studios and a budget that could accommodate dozens of dancers, including paying their hotel bills, providing insurance and also food.


Meanwhile, there had been an underground subculture of tap dancers that dated back to the 50s, of Blacks who were immensely talented. When Michael Flatley's musicals came out, Arsenio Hall had an evening talk show, and he, having been aware of the tap subculture of Black kids on the street, gave one of the best he knew exposure by inviting him as a guest on the Arsenio Hall show. The dancer is called Savion Glover, a protegè of Gregory Hines, who after appearing on the show expanded his audience. A few years later, Glover came out with a Broadway show called Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk, that garnered him a Tony award for his choreography. Watch:


Savion Glover in white shorts with his team of tap dancers. Tap dance has its roots in East Africa.  


Hip-hop also has a large movement that is underground, including dancers who do not care for the limelight or pagan rituals, but are more interested in sharing their craft with like minds. In addition, there is a subculture of street dancers who are bringing back the 80s phenomenon of dancing in the streets. Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Dallas have collaborations of some of their talented street dancers coming together just to have fun in form of dance.


Politics in our generation has not escaped subcultures. Barack Obama emerged from a subculture no one had ever heard of that he referred to as "community organizers." Ron Paul emanated from a subculture of Libertarians, while Sarah Palin, Rand Paul and even Ted Cruz, have been embraced by the Tea Party subculture of the Republicans.


The bottom line is that as long as you have mainstream cultures, there will also exist different subcultures within the same group, and it is these subterranean subcultures, that are creating ripples to produce the desired domino effect they are seeking.  



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fashionPart I: The evolution of cultural trends and their impact on society














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