Note: In case anyone missed it, 8Ball’s first trend report Gonzo Culture Part 1 launched Monday. The following is a preview of the paid portion, Part 2. It’s available now for Founding Members. We’ll be back to regular programming next Friday with a newsletter on the generation following the Zoomers :^)
Cosplay is the code of contemporary subculture. For some, this manifests as it has for decades. You dress up like an elf or a Pokémon or your favorite superhero. But for most, it just means subculture is increasingly thought of as costume. The state of exception people previously found at comic book conventions—here you could let your geek flag fly—now can be found virtually everywhere.
The 80s were the last great age of tribes. The 00s were the last great age of scenes. The 20s are poised to be another great age of subcultures. But this era will be fundamentally different. Gone are the days when being part of a tribe or scene involved hard and fast boundaries between one group and another. Things are far too fluid for that.
Everyday young people wake up and ask ourselves: what face do I want to show the world? Will I be an approachable softboy and throw on a distressed rugby shirt? Or will I dig out some black Dickies, a Harley Davidson shirt thrifted on Depop and present as an e-boy? Odd as it may sound, we now think the most authentic version of ourselves may be a fictionalized version.
We are all writing speculative autobiographies now…
In the past, the organizing principle of subcultures was music—you were a punk if you listened to punk music, grunge if you listened to grunge music, new wave if you listened to new wave, a raver if you listened to techno. In the 20th century, music happened IRL. You went to shows. Group dynamics demanded an alignment between what you listened to, what you wore, and what your values were.
In the 2020s, music happens on your phone, where genre-agnostic playlists define user experience. Listening to Taylor Swift and Oneohtrix Point Never in the same afternoon isn’t cringe—it’s Tuesday.
But if music no longer serves this purpose, what defines the trends that drive subcultural aesthetics? How do we know that a girl wearing big white sneakers with camo pants is a baddie, but another wearing Birkenstocks is a VSCO girl?
The answer lies in the source code of gonzo culture: personality.