Mainstream is, generally, the common current of thought of the majority. However in the reality, the mainstream is far from cohesive; rather the concept is often considered a cultural construct. It is a term most often applied in the arts (i.e., music, literature, and performance). This includes:
- something that is available to the general public;
- something that has ties to corporate or commercial entities.
As such, the mainstream includes all popular culture, typically disseminated by mass media. The opposite of the mainstream are subcultures, countercultures, cult followings, underground cultures and (in fiction) genre. Additionally, mainstream is sometimes a codeword used for an actual ethnocentric or hegemonic subculture point of view, especially when delivered in a culture war speech. It is often used as a pejorative term. In the United States, mainline churches are sometimes referred to synonymously as "mainstream."
The original meaning of "mainstream" is "the principal current of a river." Its use as a metaphorical reference to popular opinion or taste appeared at least as early as Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus in 1831, where he wrote in Chapter VII of "those main currents of what we call Opinion".
- Caldwell, John. "Faith in school: as mainstream churches continue to wrestle with homosexuality, some religious colleges are taking an increasingly welcoming attitude toward gay students,", The Advocate Sept 2, 2003
- Baer, Hans A. "Black Mainstream Churches; Emancipatory or Accommodative Responses to Racism and Social Stratification in American Society?" Review of Religious Research Vol. 30, No. 2 (Dec., 1988), pp. 162-176