The Tale of the Big Fish and the Small Pond

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photo courtesy of The Steampunk Journal

photo courtesy of The Steampunk Journal

Commercialism and the Last Refuge of the Fringe Arts Communities

Earlier this year I witnessed an arts revolution of sorts unfold live online. It will be remembered at least as a footnote in the history of an international music scene that is rapidly becoming commercialized.

To make a long story short, one moderately successful musician had taken it upon themselves to speak for an entire subculture and publicly trash talk about a dozen other artists. This person insisted that these artists were not genuine, and went so far as to insult some very well known and internationally respected musicians. The attack was akin to a snarling tomcat defending his territory – in this case an artist defending their reputation as a trend setting visionary when they see others tampering with their vision.

Perhaps the bully realized he was becoming outnumbered and was attempting one last time to re-establish his right to everyone’s lunch money. Perhaps this bully feared what we all do – that if everybody is special, nobody is. And this, dear friend, is how all fringe arts communities evolve.


Can an underground scene or subculture still be considered underground or alternative once it has been commercialized? The hipsters are screaming OF COURSE NOT!! And yet even as mainstream as Gothic aesthetics are in clothing, movies, TV, music, etc…the general public still regards it as a fringe subculture. No matter how popular comic book based blockbuster movies become, the average person will still regard a cosplayer at a comic convention a part of a small and unique community. And the common tourist witnessing extravagantly dressed steampunk enthusiasts at any number of the European alternative festivals still feel they are observing the strange rituals of a some special and exclusive cross section of society.

We are quick to forget just how unique and unusual we all are to someone from outside our circle of like minded peers, even when we feel that people from outside our circle are wanting to become part of it.

So why are members of these fringe arts communities so scared of commercialization? Why are there always bullies within every scene attempting to lay down the rules of membership? The answer to both questions would appear to be the same. Because in both cases, the bullies believe that the commercialization or mainstream success of a subculture takes away its exclusivity. After all, they are the big fish in a small pond, and the growth of their community only makes the pond bigger. In fact, if the pond was to remain small, the other fish would all eventually die…leaving the big fish all alone.

The truth is that the big fish are scared of competing in the bigger pond… the open sea of commercialization. In those waters lurk unknown predators, unpredictable forces of nature, other artists that will challenge the public’s taste and redefine musical genres….

Dreadpunk? Monocle Rock? Slaughterhouse Blues? Victorian Industrial? Goth Country? Vagabond Folk? Steampunk Power Metal? It all sounds fantastic. What an epic time in history to be an artist.

Commercialization does not take anything special away from your art or music community. In a way it is a success story. Without Hollywood, festival organizers, clothing companies, the media, and the music industry all capitalizing on your subculture there would be no bigger pond to swim in. Sell your crafts to the tourists coming to the festival, perform for the curious outsiders and sign their CDs after the concert, shake hands and share drinks with everyone who is excited to become a part of your wonderful and twisted little scene, even if it’s only for a night. The identity of your passionate and unique subculture community has not been compromised.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are the barracuda in the open sea –
we are The New Jacobin Club.


XerXes Praetorius HOrDE

Leave me your thoughts, and post a new band for me to listen to!! I have some CD’s from some GREAT independent Western Canadian bands I’m going to give away at random to people who reply!

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