subcultures toronto

Can subcultures survive in the internet age?

Can subcultures survive in the internet age?

In the TikTok era, implications on subcultures are substantial

Subcultures are typically understood as subdivisions of wider society that challenge the prevailing status quo. With digital platform domination, some wonder whether the future of these wave-making communities is in jeopardy.

In 2023, what is the state of subculture?

A shared set of values or belief system amongst participants is a defining characteristic of subcultures. While ideals differ from group to group, advocacy for some sort of political or social change is historically a cornerstone in most definitions.

Hippies touted free love, non-violence, and enlightenment through psychedelic drugs. New Romantics subverted traditional constructs of masculinity and femininity through their gender-bending attire. Mods promoted financial independence from their parents and rejection of the conventions of working-class life.

Do present-day parallels to these provocateurs exist?

One could point the finger at 'aesthetics' or the unrelenting slew of 'cores' emerging online in recent years––think Barbiecore, Balletcore, Fairycore––as modern-day equivalents to subcultures, although this comparison cannot be made without distinction.

What is a 'Core'?

A 'core' in the context of the internet is a combination of visual and verbal identifiers such as music, fashion, interior design and art that encompass a certain style or niche online. It's the overall mood or vibe something exudes.

Internet aesthetics began popping up on platforms like Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram in the 2010s. The first instance of 'core' referring to a style online occurred in 2013, with the genesis of 'normcore,' an aesthetic of casual, everyday fashion basics.

The suffix 'core' derives from the 'hardcore' music scene of the late 1970s and 1980s. Conversely, 'core' implies the prefix (ie. Barbie, ballet, fairy) is central to the movement. Names of existing 'cores' reference history, music, art movements, activities, geographic location, animals and even foods.

Obscure examples like 'traumacore' and 'prisoncore' have extensive descriptions on Aesthetic Wiki. In an ironic full circle moment, 'corecore' was dubbed as a pushback against oversaturation of microtrends via ‘cores’ in 2020.

subcultures toronto

Subcultures vs. Aesthetics

In the same vein as subcultures, some aesthetics or 'cores' do have common belief systems. 'Tomato Girls' are unified in their pursuit for the picture-perfect European summer. À la transcendentalism, 'Cottagecore' enthusiasts endorse escaping to the forest, living off the land, and finding fulfillment in domestic tasks. Thoreau would approve.

But do the philosophies of these movements have an impact offline?

For many aesthetics, it is too soon to tell. There has only been a two per cent increase in people moving from major cities to rural areas in the United States since the start of the pandemic, coinciding with heightened popularity of Cottagecore.

The jury is still out on whether these aesthetics will create any lasting change in real-life contexts. This juror remains unconvinced.

For one, an aesthetic is defined by appearances. What would a 'Clean Girl' be without her slick-back and little golden hoops? Or a 'VSCO Girl' without her scrunchie, Hydroflask, and immaculately curated feed? Visual cues and iconography are essential to the inauguration of an aesthetic.

This is not untrue of traditional subcultures. However in their case, style works in tandem with political messaging.

subcultures torontoThose aligned with the Punk movement in the 1970s sported crazy-coloured mohawks, badges with anti-establishment slogans, fetishwear, and safety pin studded embellishments to signify their anarchist beliefs and opposition to organized religion and monarchy. Unlike subcultures, the political ideology of an aesthetic is typically an afterthought.

Furthermore, aesthetics form on and die on the internet, until their subsequent revival. Practice typically does not extend beyond online participation and the confines of members' bedrooms. Few aesthetics venture beyond digital bounds into real-life territory.

This could explain their fleeting influence and disappearance into the abyss of 'cores' at the end of their short shelf life. The nature of social media trend cycles and algorithms ensure aesthetics become quickly oversaturated and wiped from explore pages in favor of the next trendy 'core' at rapid-fire rates.

This brief window of opportunity and endless string of competing 'cores' make it difficult for any individual aesthetic to make a genuine impact on society at large.

subcultures toronto


While aesthetics are subculture-adjacent, they cannot be lumped together with subcultures. The two are not interchangeable terms. Subcultures can be aesthetics, but aesthetics are not subcultures. Labeling an aesthetic as such feels like an insult to those involved in a genuine subculture.

Being alternative goes beyond wearing black nail polish. Punks and E-boys/girls are incomparable. One group upended societal norms in a history-altering manner. The other represents superficial rebellion––unless you consider filming thirst traps an act of resistance.

Donovan Barnett writes for High Snobiety, "Subcultures can and do exist without overt political identities. They don't need to stand for something or even stand against something. They just need to stand apart…That's why sneakerheads, for example, are just as much of a subculture as punks." 

Barnett's analogy here I feel is null—punk rockers and those that collect hyped sneakers are not one and the same. These groups can exist in different camps.

This is all not to say that subcultures are dead. There are plenty of traditional subcultures that are thriving in the digital age.

Skaters still run Washington Square Park in New York City. Northern Soul movements are being revived by youngsters in the U.K. Hardcore music scenes are alive and well in Toronto and a new generation of ravers are practicing P.L.U.R.

Notice how these modern-day instances of subcultures are all continuations of ones created before the advent of social media?

These anomalies could be the last of their kind. Newfound subcultures with the qualifiers specified in my definition: a social minority group with a shared set of values between members that bring about significant political or social change, may be a pipe dream in an increasingly digital world.

subcultures torontoWith shifts towards digital platforms, individuals have the option to subscribe to an identity and find a sense of belonging online without ever having to leave their homes. Does the context of the 21st century call for a reckoning in what constitutes a subculture? Is it time to get off the high horse of in-person participation?

With 79 per cent of young people aged 18-22 reporting feeling socially isolated in 2023, there is still a legitimate need for spaces where youth can find alternative communities and opportunities for meaningful human connection offline.

Redefining the notions of subculture has the harmful potential to exacerbate social isolation and feed into 'slacktivist' Internet Age tendencies.

There will always be a place for subculture. Subcultures, no matter what—will appear in nooks, crannies and crevices around the world—because this is what subcultures do and have always done best, survive underground.

Like flowers growing out of cracks in the pavement, I have faith that subcultures will prevail.

This article is from Youthquaker Magazine, a print arts & culture publication pushing youth-driven journalism on untapped multidisciplinary subject matter.

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