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The Real Alternative

Veena Thomas

It’s become increasingly hard for a teenager to rebel against the mainstream. Dying hair punk colors has become passÉ. Goths with white face powder, dark lipstick, and lots of eyeliner no longer attract even a second glance. Everyone listens to “alternative” music, and it’s cool to own the latest Limp Bizkit CD. In an era where alternative has become mainstream, and becoming mainstream is the only way to rebel, what’s an angst-ridden teenager to do?

The 1960s saw the hippie era, as young adults rebelled by protesting against injustice, the Vietnam War, and the restrictions of society. LSD, marijuana, and free love reigned. Flash forward to the 1980s, when the punk movement came into existence with new wave music. Kurt Cobain in the early 1990s became the rallying cry for a new generation of teenagers disillusioned with the confines of society. But what about now?

Teenagers struggling to be different find themselves with a dearth of choices. Wannabe bands like Third Eye Blind and Creed swamp the alternative music scene. While “alternative” actually meant something in the early 1990s, now it has become more of an all-encompassing genre meaning “whatever music teenagers listen to these days.” Most of it sounds the same. Perhaps this is why BMG Music Service wisely abandoned the “alternative” music preference category, realizing it has become meaningless. Young adults who once embraced the term “alternative” now frown with disgust and flock to punk music or the new heavy metal/rap hybrid.

What should a young punk wear? Previously, rebellious teenagers had to resort to shopping in thrift stores or making their own clothes to attain their desired fashion statement. Luckily (or unluckily) for them, society now makes it easy to dress like an individual. Companies make jeans that already have holes in them so you don’t have to wait around to get that punk look. Want to look different? Try Urban Outfitters, the trendy chain store for people fed up with trendy chain stores, where you can look “unique” just like everyone else who shops there.

Not into that kind of thing? You can shop at Hot Topic, the store for alternative music lovers, specializing in music T-shirts, spiked necklaces, and the like. Don’t look for a grungy little shop in a back alley somewhere though: Hot Topic is another chain store conveniently located in the suburban mall nearest you, right next to Macy’s and Lord and Taylor.

Has most of young society rebelled? How else to explain this sudden flock towards alternative culture? Society now caters to the pseudo-alternative crowd, as evidenced by the conversion of MTV from real music television to a mishmash of sound-alike music popular among the 13-21 set.

With this watering-down of alternative culture, it has become harder and harder to shock anyone or gain any notorious press. Marilyn Manson, the press’s former whipping boy and scapegoat for music as a cause of violence in society (witness the aftermath of the Columbine shootings), has faded from the public’s view. After donning breasts on his videos, concerts, and CD cover to attract attention, Manson realized that breasts were nothing new to half of society and removed them.

Now Manson announces that, surprisingly, he’d like George W. Bush to become our next president. Why, you ask? “I think that art, and especially music, thrives under conservative rule,” Manson said to MTV’s Kurt Loder. “I think that Bill Clinton’s attempt to be friends with younger people, to come on MTV -- it did something to the rebellion barometer. I don’t really support Bush, but I hope we get some good, right-wing, Manson-hating people in office so that I can piss them off like I’m supposed to.”

Indeed, now that Manson has lost his shock value, it takes someone as extreme as Eminem to raise hell in America. Eminem has gathered more than enough press for his songs about killing his wife and other controversial topics. Even his own mother is suing him for defamation of character.

Eminem has become a strange symbol for the increasingly difficult quest to be different from everyone else, to shock society into paying attention.

Perhaps being truly alternative now means thinking for yourself. Be yourself, no matter what that might be. Dress as punk or as preppy as you like. Don’t let society’s version of “alternative” control your actions.

Listening to alternative music does not automatically make you cool. The truly cool can think for themselves.