By the nature of my interests, I end up in a lot of non-mainstream ideas or groups or whatever. Despite that fact that I’ve heard this term a number of times, I have to say, it might be useful sometimes, but it’s so overused that it’s essentially lost it’s intended meaning and it’s just used to deride people without different views and I’ve come to loathe it. As in, someone has a mainstream opinion? Nevermind that they might have come to that opinion with good logic, they MUST just be following the crowd. Hell, some people take non-mainstream opinions with exactly the same sort of though process they accuse others of. They just don’t want to be mainstream so they latch onto some non-mainstream idea and run with it, but they can’t really articulate why.
There’s a few reasons here. First, humans are social creatures, as a general rule, we want to fit in. Even in non-mainstream ideas, there tend to be groups that form around these various ideas and people tend to conform to the norms of those non-mainstream groups. A big part of our moral construct comes from judging the norms of whatever group we’re a part of and seeing those as generally good and differences as generally bad.
Second, sometimes (not always) ideas become mainstream because there’s value to that idea. For instance, to pick something minimally controversial, heliocentrism is a mainstream idea. Sure, people can disagree, and there are groups out there of people that do, and I imagine some people do it just because they don’t want to be mainstream rather than because they necessarily disagree. But I think it’s fair to say that the reason it’s a mainstream idea is because it’s just a far more effective idea than geocentrism.
Third, not everyone has the time and energy, or just plain doesn’t care enough, to put a lot of thorough thought into ALL of their opinions. As an example, I’m extremely passionate about music and I can explain, in detail, so many aspects of why I like the genres, bands, songs, aesthetics, whatever I do. It’s odd in some ways to me that there are people out there where music just doesn’t mean very much to them, only because it means so much to me and people close to me, but they’re clearly out there. I’ve heard many people who are content to put on pop music called “sheeple” in that respect. But then, for many of these same people who really don’t have a strong opinion on music, they perhaps have really well defined opinions on literature, film, fine arts, dance, or food. Or maybe they’re passionate about travel, science, religion, politics, technology, history, or philosophy. It seems unreasonable, to me, that we should expect everyone to invest a ton of energy into having strong, articulated opinions or views on everything.
Aside from the situations above, I think it CAN be a bad thing if one really DOES care about it and puts in all of that effort and comes down into an idea, mainstream or not, for bad reasons. In that way, even a non-mainstream idea can make one a “sheep”. For example, using my interest in music since I see it often that people dislike some mainstream act. I’ll see bandwagoning on hating some act and then come to find out that a bunch of those people haven’t even heard that artist’s songs, or maybe heard just part of one. At that point, they’re just following the crowd, even if it’s the non-mainstream crowd, but yet, it’s in an area that they very well may have put in a lot of time and energy into determining their tastes and opinions in becoming part of that particular non-mainstream identity.