How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
There is a process where radical ideas are adopted, socialized and tamed by the mainstream core of society.
In a conventional society, innovation happens at the fringes, away from the safe social core where conformance and stability are prized most. Innovators find the edge a more stimulating place where ideas can be aired and explored. Where nobody is invested much in the current ways, new ways have an easy market for adoption.
For example the punk movement of the seventies started as a radical reaction to the increasing exaggeration of 'glam rock' and the control imposed by the music business.
While many ideas fall at the wayside, either stillborn or do not take hold, some take hold and take off, becoming popular as they hit a chord and better satisfy needs. These innovations vary hugely, from the whimsical frippery of fashion to practical inventions that enhance lives.
Punk rock took off as an expression of uncontrolled wild youth. Bands dressed roughly and played loud incoherent music with much swearing and spitting. And audiences, feeling the catalytic anger, responded in kind.
Some of these fringe successes make the leap to popularity. At first the courageous adopters may be teased or sneered at, yet as others take up the idea, the first-footers start to seem more as social leaders than foolish explorers. What was weird becomes cool. Distinctive identification develops, yet the creation of identity that powers spreading adoption also contains the seeds of its own demise.
A style of dress emerged as a punk norm, with ripped clothing, safety pins and extreme make-up. The music also became more distinctive as new bands adopted the style of the original artists.
Businesses and others, seeing the underground popularity of the idea, realize that there is money to be made by selling it to a wider market. But before the idea can be drawn into mainstream use, it must be doctored and adjusted for mass manufacture and adoption. The product is hence stylized and revised to appeal to mainstream audiences. Marketing replaces word of mouth as the means of creating and spreading desire. In this process of acculturalization the original purpose can be easily lost as it is replaced by a sanitized caricature that is approved for mass use.
As money followed popularity, big music companies signed punk bands and the music was toned down and became more coherent. Popular retail stores produced punk-inspired clothing. A sign of its fashionability was in younger teenagers climbing on the toned-down bandwagon without realizing its roots.
As the idea gets copied, its originality gets subverted and lost, while the very nature of fashion that helped it grow means that it will have a limited period of popularity. With luck, it will remain as a tamed norm within mainstream culture. For many, however, its existence will inexorably fade.
Punk's popularity rose and fell as movements such as the 'new romantics' reacted in turn to its aggression with more musical melodies and friendlier faces. Punk became a theme more than a movement yet its success remains in influences that can still be felt. A few punks cling to the original, along with hippies, mods and others who are anchored in a time where they found meaning. They bemoan the 'selling out' of their movement but seldom realize that mainstreaming is a natural phenomenon rather than a conspiracy.