In Exploring the Meaning of the Mainstream, Thornton establishes subcultures as antagonistic to the mainstream, which she states is often construed in an “abstract and ahistorical” (93) light. An “us versus them” opposition arises, in which club-goers spurn the mainstream as homogenous and “un-hip,” while they view their own subcultures as mixed and heterogeneous. Diverse though these crowds may be, Thornton asserts that they are “self-selecting” (113) and are held together by a sense “not of conformity, but of spontaneous affinity” (111).
At odds with this element of communality and shared experience is the strong exclusivity that pervades the described club scene, specifically the acid-house musical genre she discusses. Once newspapers caught wind of the drug-ridden acid-house scene and publicized it, it was inundated with “Kids who shouldn’t even have known about drugs” (88). Acid-house’s incorporation into the mainstream, Thornton suggests, brought about its demise. Although many of its new members’ interests were arguably piqued by its seemingly radical drug scene, a large portion of acid-house devotees were likely drawn in because of its music.
What then, is the distinction between popularization through Thornton’s shared “affinity” and incorporation into the denigrated “mainstream”? At what point does common musical taste stop contributing to a sense of welcoming and instead lead to the popularization of a subculture – a conversion from subculture to general culture? In other words, how do we reconcile the invitation of common interest with the ever-present trope of exclusivity?