Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Longing for Fringe culture

And wondering what people have against it.

Fringe culture and marginal culture are terms used to describe the complex of conspiracy theories, occult beliefs, things relating to UFOs, other paranormal things as well as other New Age beliefs, extreme culture---from extreme libertarianism all the way to extreme authoritarianism, generally obscure culture/cult culture in terms of movies and music, subcultures on the fringes of society including some aspects of punk culture, things that are really obscene, and really, really, irreverant, drug culture, some aspects of computer culture, basically the entire Loompanics Unlimited catalog.

Although not everyone who isn't invested in the system is a devotee of fringe culture most of the people who are don't have a lot invested in the system. They don't usually encounter social snobbery which would look down, say, on a belief in UFOs, something that is pretty damn mainstream by now but definitely not approved of by elite culture.

Not to get off track but that particular issue has always puzzled me: what the hell difference does it make if someone believes in UFOs? What tangible difference in work of social interaction or personal life would belief in UFOs cause? None. Just another way to sort the social wheat from the chaff. If you're allied to the institutions of power in American society you look down on people who believe those things as either being stupid or downright insane, and non-belief in them, and interest in other things, is another part of knowing how to act at a cocktail party, so to speak, or how to eat wine and cheese and appreciate it.

It serves a sociological purpose, in other words, for people to look down on those who believe in fringe culture. What do people believe in instead? Why, the dominant elite view of things; whatever happens to be fashionable. If you keep up with the New York Times magazine you're accepted as one of the elite, if you believe in conspiracies you're beyond the pale, if you keep up with the New York Times magazine and believe in conspiracies you're dangerous. You aren't supposed to exist.

If I like, read, and talk about Cormac McCarthy I'm sophisticated, especially since he's an author that only people 'in the know', the right people in the know, are aware of. If I like, read, and talk about William S. Burroughs and am outside of the range of college/adolescence, I'm now immature. Because Burroughs is considered at best an adolescent pop phenomenon.

And so it goes. Thumbs up or thumbs down based on social preferences that have nothing to do with either you as a person or, in many cases, the relative merits of what you believe in.

It's a hell of a lot more popular to be a fan of CSICOP, the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and to laugh at people who think are ignorant enough to believe in this stuff, and not only be a fan but to show other people you're a fan, than it is to say you like Whitley Strieber and think he has some interesting ideas; he's the guy who wrote Communion and is the original butt of the countless jokes about anal probes.

In fact Strieber has probably the best summation, by way of reacting to how people have treated him since he published Communion, of why Fringe culture as a whole is unpopular with elites: it raises the possibility that although they're perched on top of the intellectual pecking order they might not be correct in their knowledge; there might be some things that people not only not of the elite but pretty damn far down the pecking order have right that they don't have.

This, by the way, has been exploited by right wing politicians, who are aware of the class divisions between elite intellectuals and most regular people. But that doesn't make the original idea any less true.

Fringe culture is threatening because it challenges the dominant paradigm.

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