Someone is obviously capable of multitask-logging into Tumblr as they engage in their art, with coffee on the side. Surrounded by their passions and tools, they are less familiar to today’s internet users.
In the previous article, we looked at Caroline Young’s interpretation of the ‘post-9/11’ response to fashion. Here, I would argue that the angle of recession after 2008 is equally shocking – an event that has been remembered for millennia and some Gen Z and can be placed in a particular context. However, the cultural changes that followed were not as direct and simple as the rise and fall of heel height, but a systematic change in how we socialize and become social. Technological advances are changing how people shape subcultures, from divided underground circles to cohesive online caves of expressive movements.
The 2008 recession in the West fueled the instability of young people, weakened the ‘American Dream,’ and displaced millions of people. On the other hand, another superpower is on the incline.
While I have no memory of the release of the iPhone in 2007, I do remember the innovation of owning an Apple product at the start of the decade. As industries like retail, publishing, and construction get more hits, the tech developer’s dream has become more attractive than ever. After the recession, Apple’s shares fell sharply, but continued and improved thanks to its iPhone 3GS. With Steve Jobs leading Apple’s success, and emerging silicon valley ‘tech-bros’ like Mark Zuckerberg making headlines, the rest of the optimism has fallen on these giants: the future of technology and, more importantly importantly, the internet.
From chunky computers weighing a home to the world at a finger, the internet has great potential. It makes the world smaller, making accessing information and social contact faster and easier than ever before. From 2008 to 2010, Facebook users increased fivefold, from 100 million to 500 ~ million. This was the beginning of the dominance of social media as we know it today.
Coincidentally (or, maybe there’s a bigger link here), the same time saw nerd culture become… well, cool. Or at least, cooler than ever. The cute girl back in the class might get away with liking the anime. Your partner on your night shift is constantly excited about the in-game universe of Portal. Big Bang Theory (2007-2019) and Scott Pilgrim (2009) turned background geeks into seemingly kind main characters, while MCU hit the big screens with Iron Man (2008), which served as mainstream audience. Marvel’s MCU is now the highest -grossing movie franchise of all time.
In fact, the markets take full advantage of the nerd culture, which is unheard of by someone or their friends, or friends of friends, with a funko pop or DnD merch. The consumer attitude of managing collectibles, attending conventions, buying games and other forms of entertainment ensures that the masses are entertained amidst the ambiguous apocalyptic political climate. It’s almost as if marketing yourself in relation to the franchises you like and the media you use has to do with individualizing self-expression…
This is the inevitable point where we talk about Tumblr.
We’re talking about the internet. We talked about nerd culture. Now, what happens when you put them together?
Anyone who was endlessly online in the early 2010s will likely remember Tumblr’s role in establishing fandoms, fanfiction, fanart, and fanships. The whole community is a breeding ground for fanworks under the iceberg tip of Facebook and Youtube. As a social media platform, Tumblr has a more communal aspect than other fanfiction sites, where friendships are formed and threads of discourse develop. ‘Superwholock’, a union of Supernatural, Doctor Who, and Sherlock floods the site and satisfies the delight of the crowd with quirky white men and fellow mission companions. Harry Potter, Homestuck, and Phandom are other well-known spaces for young people to creatively explore their love of such media.
However, beyond this world of skinny British men and queer fanfiction, another Tumblr phenomenon has emerged from its artistic depth.
Styles are changing. The surrounding Y2K and McBling seasons embarrassed the formative years of the 2010s. Twee women and boho hipsters have distanced themselves from their older sisters, and fashion has become an identifier of what space you belong to – especially on the internet.
Nowadays, it is better known as the Aesthetic cult.
Pinterest already has a monster-grip on moodboards, but Tumblrs’s community-building aspect gives these aesthetics to their cult followers. By 2014, ‘grunge’ photography depicting street art, graffiti, polaroids by youth groups, and song lyrics against a grid background built the blueprint to the ‘grunge aesthetic’.
It’s a different flavor of 90s grunge. Feminist influences such as Lana Del Rey and Melanie Martinez promoted a ‘sad woman’ in the movement, drawing teenage girls from every corner of the internet. Established from Nirvana and its sludge-y roots, Tumblr grunge shows an ethereal, tragic spin on its revival. Fishnet tights, leather jackets, converse, chokers, and ripped jeans or skater skirts join the classic head-to-toe black ensemble-however, it’s not uncommon in 2016 to also adopt pastel elements.
The grunge aesthetic is a major factor in the evolution of internet aesthetics that we surround ourselves with today. In addition, the mid-2010s marked the final rise of 80s and 90s nostalgia, with Tumblr Grunge diverging into pastel grunge and even vaporwave-grunge-Vaporwave being a niche music and art genre that satirised 80s and 90s pop culture. In the deeper part of the 2010s, indie bands like Blossoms, The Garden, and MacDemaco took advantage of this jangle poppish, shoegazing trend and became icons of the indie music scene.
With indie aesthetics reigning supreme among those with alternatively driven interests, this is the staple soup for TikTok’s thriving subcultures. Cottagecore and Dark Academia will see themselves grow as popular Tumblr hashtags, while E-kids draw inspiration from 2010s grunge fashion, alternative styles, and Japanese makeup trends to platform their new look.
The younger generation looks at these hashtags, mood-boards, and photos that revolve around aesthetic and individual importance, and creates whole movements out of them. A bold new world can be encapsulated within a photo, phone background, or selfie. These aesthetics have one thing in common: a dream, nostalgic longing; aspirational while simultaneously an example of a ‘simpler time’. When I look at the Aesthetics phenomena of the 2010s, I see young people seeking to find themselves, distinguishing the individual within the online subculture from others, imagining a much more beautiful reality than in their sun -blocked rooms and long school days.
In the final article, I will look at how the covid pandemic has encouraged the shortening of fashion cycles and the impact of the fashion industry on the environment. Microtrends are somewhat covered in the commentary community; My goal is to examine how we can recover from this consumer mindset, and keep in mind the environment of our purchasing choices. I’m not a fan of blaming the individual for industry ills – however, what Marie Kondo has taught a generation about assets and waste can always contribute to mitigating consequences.