Steve Fenton

Alternative culture and respecting people

People like to associate with other groups of people. Very nearly everyone does this and it is a normal thing to do. Often these groups associate with each other through music and style.

So I was sat in a coffee shop recently and a couple of people came in sporting amazing red hair and wearing shiny PVC. They ordered coffee, sat at a table and talked. On the one hand they did look quite different to the other punters, but actually they are into the same thing – coffee. I was surprised at how the other coffee-drinkers reacted. Some were uncomfortable and other were having a bit of a laugh about it. What is it that makes people so uncomfortable when people around them haven’t read the dress-code memo?

It wasn’t even as if people kept their reactions private. They wanted the “outsiders” to know that they weren’t welcome – but not directly. Their conversations were a bit too loud and the subjects of their conversation were forced to politely ignore words they could clearly hear. The lack of respect of other people was far more shocking than anyone’s choice to wear clothes that identify them with their group.

This, of course, works both ways. You can’t associate with “the alternative” and demand that you should be allowed to wear whatever you want if you act in exactly the same way to people who aren’t alternative. I have seen this a lot. I was once out at a goth club where people were “accepted for what they were” – except for the guy that turned up in trainers. He was not welcome at all.

It is also worth noting that “alternative” is not the individual badge of honour people make it out to be. To claim that you aren’t a “sheep following the herd”, while wearing the uniform of your social group is a little hypocritical. Being “alternative” isn’t about being a unique individual, it is about belonging to a different tribe. People can be unique individuals no matter who they associate with, what they wear of what they listen to.

It is also interesting to see how people react to someone moving between social groups. Existing members of the group the person is joining act suspiciously and proclaim that the new-comer is not a “true” member of the group because of what they used to wear (although nobody was ever born wearing New-Rocks). This echoes of a rites-of-passage tribal system where the new-comers must prove themselves before being truly accepted.

So people should respect the personal choices of other people where the choices are not behaviours outside the bounds of what we feel are socially acceptable; it is okay to wear whatever style you want and listen to your choice of music – it is not okay to act anti-socially or make people feel unsafe.

So next time find yourself deciding whether someone should be allowed to wear something that you are uncomfortable with, imagine if someone dictated to you that you had to wear those clothes. You have personal choice, so everyone else should also have personal choice. Show a little respect people.

Written by Steve Fenton on