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For the Happening Hip and the Clued-In to the Uncool, It's Alt.Culture

July 23, 1998|ERIKA MILVY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What is trip hop, and how does it differ from Brit pop? What is the meaning behind Barbie Art? Who made the Caesar haircut famous way before George Clooney? Why are Mentos funny? What's the difference between riot grrls and rock women? Why are cigars back?

If you are out and out clueless and woefully uncool, Alt.Culture is a Web site that can give you a crash course in all things hip and happening so you can be down with the kids in no time flat. An ever-growing encyclopedia of '90s youth culture, Alt.Culture (http://cgi.pathfinder.com/cgi-bin/altculture/home.cgi) chronicles every fad, every trend that's been out there. If it's out there, it's in here.

Begun as a book by two guys with their fingers on the pulse of the zeitgeist, the spinoff Web site boasts a bloated database of some 900 entries, each with an explanatory paragraph and hyperlinks to related subjects and Web sites. Did you know that Dr. Scholl's Exercise Sandals are back in fashion? If not, it may be time to brush up on your youth culture.

Alphabetized from Acid Rock to Zines, it allows surfers to search for a particular word or browse through categories (alt.society, alt.tech, alt.art, alt.body). Most fun of all, turn on the auto pilot, put your arms behind your head and sit back for a whirlwind education in popular American culture.

A few moments on auto pilot (you can control the speed) took me from Technoshanism to Whitney Biennial to Blaxploitation (with links to Shaft Web sites and Pamela Grier sites) to Koresh, David. Check out alt.style or alt.language and you may learn a thing or two about your teenager. A typical entry offers some insight and examples. For instance, "Infantilization" is explained: "A confounding '90s trend which has seen young adults behave--and decorate popular culture--as though in an arrested state of infancy. One explanation is that infantilization offers an appealing sanctuary from grown-up uncertainties like the specter of AIDS and changing gender roles."

The entry goes on to hyperlink to such youth-speak affectations as the ubiquitous "like" and a popular intonation known as "upspeak."

Only at Alt.Culture would a listing for Kennedy give you a bio of the too, too cool MTV veejay known for her petulant personality rather than one of the past presidents. No, John F. Kennedy is not listed here but John Jr., founder of George Magazine, is.

Alt.Culture also offers a bulletin board forum where surfers can discuss Leonardo DiCaprio, raves, the Spice Girls and neo-beatniks. Are you a Fluevog fetishist? Bond with others who warm to the colorful, outlandishly impractical Fluevog shoe made famous by Dee-Lite's Lady Miss Keir.

Oddly enough, this compendium that includes the Lesbian Avengers, masochistic body artist Bob Flanagan and all things anti-establishment, is now sponsored by Time Warner and is part of its mega-Internet presence known as Pathfinder.

Erika Milvy is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. She can be reached at erika@well.com.

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