I have had the arguable fortune to be involved with two “scenes” in my lifetime: one surrounding New York City Hardcore music, and another tethered to hip-hop’s international popularity. I wasn’t anyone important, you won’t find me in any oral retrospectives or graduate theses about these times, but I attended a lot of shows and developed a cabal of like-minded friends, with whom I could argue redundantly about our scene’s particulars. He’s wearing a stupid hat. She’s got the wrong shoelaces on her Doc Maarten’s. Ultimately, we united in order to process our scenedom–a scene within a scene. And the main thing that unified us was our collective dismissal of anyone out of touch or new to the genre.
Apprenticeship is nothing new, indeed its traditions stretch back to humanity’s earliest days. There’s no easy way around it, you’ve got to pay dues before you can effectively talk shit. In the work-a-day world, this makes good horse sense: I wouldn’t want an untrained surgeon poking around my smelly bits, nor would I want a budding plumber to take his first whack at my leaky toilet. Job training is a place where a would-be professional can be humbled by his mistakes without pissing off a client, or worse, killing someone. Being part of a scene, however, offers no such luxury: one must take their lumps in full view of the old guard, who already sneer with derision at your existence. You clique up with other newbies, pay your dues together, and heap shit on newer, smaller fans of whatever a particular scene revolves around. Mind you, most music scenes last three years at best, so this cycle is reiterated at tremendous speed. It’s only a few generations of supplicants before a genre devours itself and becomes irrelevant.
I wonder how important that kind of scenester apprenticeship is today. To be acknowledged at hardcore and hip-hop shows, I bought and listened to a lot of music, wore certain t-shirts and accessories, steeled myself for interminable discussions about every aspect of the genre in question. I paid those dues, often literally with actual dollars, and earned the right to wear a long-sleeved BURN t-shirt. Today, you could download all the music I’ve ever owned and read the liner notes from the album covers in a weekend. All of that arcane knowledge passed down from asshole to asshole is right there on the internet, free for the taking. Do scenes even exist anymore, or is culture something to be devoured and assimilated before going on to newer things? Really, I have no idea. The only scene I’m looking at joining in the near future is the scene of dudes about to get their first prostate exam. I hope there’s someone experienced in the waiting room to instruct me on the finer points of having a gloved finger shoved up my butt.