What do you think when you hear the word "Skinhead"?
October 11, 2002 5:31 PM   Subscribe

What do you think when you hear the word "Skinhead"? Here's one that SURE to spark discussion if not an outright flame war! Do you hold the popular belief that "Skinheads" are nothing but low IQ neo- nazi sheep? How many Metafilter enthusiasts even know about the birth of the movement? It had nothing to do with race either!
posted by hoopyfrood (54 comments total)
 
Do you hold the popular belief that "Skinheads" are nothing but low IQ neo- nazi sheep?

No.
posted by gluechunk at 5:40 PM on October 11, 2002


First 'skins I ever hung out with were SHARPs.
posted by eyeballkid at 5:41 PM on October 11, 2002


(don't know how that apostrophe got there)
posted by eyeballkid at 5:41 PM on October 11, 2002


Please take your post to the 15 year olds hanging around outside the ska show. Thanks.
posted by four panels at 5:47 PM on October 11, 2002


Great, the linked item tells me all the things skinheads are not for, or what a small portion of them got mixed up in. But what are "real" skinheads supposed to be for then?
posted by mathowie at 5:49 PM on October 11, 2002


Related photos: of the racist variety, courtesy of Vice. Nothing like facial tattooing to close off any chances you have of returning to a normal workaday life.
posted by poseur at 5:51 PM on October 11, 2002


some more information
posted by chrisroberts at 5:53 PM on October 11, 2002


The Traditional Skinhead FAQ
posted by buskpay at 5:53 PM on October 11, 2002


Did you know that Hackers claim to have been benevolent computer users all along, and complain all the time on Slashdot that everybody else is getting the definition wrong?
posted by Stan Chin at 6:01 PM on October 11, 2002


From the FAQ linked by buskpay:

"Being a SKINHEAD is not about being violent and hating everyone but about perserving [sic] a race and nation. Hate is a word commonly associated with SKINHEADs but it's not about hate. We are called hate mongers and bigoted bastards because we want to keep our bloodline clean. IN a world of impurity we struggle to purify. SKINHEAD means self-sacrifice and oppression by those who view our cause as unjust. To be called a racist is not a put down for the actual definition of a racist is a person who supports and promotes their race. This means that if you have any pride in your ethnical background you are a racist."

Oh, that's alright then.

[Enter God-give-me-strength of your choice]
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:02 PM on October 11, 2002


After reading the skinhead faqs, I should write one for another group of "misunderstood youths":

This reminds me of a great bunch of guys I once knew that loved to wear brown shirts. Sure, one or two of them had a screw loose and wanted to kill jews, but the rest of them were in it for the music, the moustaches, and the shirts. Well, mostly the shirts. God how they loved those brown shirts. Not all brown shirts are bad!
posted by mathowie at 6:04 PM on October 11, 2002


And so begins the first Metafilter thread where Godwin's Law was proved by the site's progenitor.
posted by GriffX at 6:10 PM on October 11, 2002


I don't think Godwin's law applies to discussions about Neo-Nazis.
posted by Optamystic at 6:31 PM on October 11, 2002


No, mathowie invoked the Brown Shirts. Nazi-era Nazis. Hitler's moustache. Good call, GriffX.
posted by The Michael The at 6:34 PM on October 11, 2002


I never know what to think of stuff like this. When 99% of the English-speaking world equates "skinhead" with "neo-nazi," should the "it was our word first!" factor trump common usage? Same thing goes for "hacker." (incidentally, I'm not a skinhead in any sense, I just googled the FAQ because I was curious)
posted by buskpay at 6:35 PM on October 11, 2002


Well, if there's a good hearted bunch of chaps with short hair that really love reggae music and want to claim they got the word first, they've got an uphill PR battle. If 99% of the world thinks one thing about a name you give yourself, you're never going to convince everyone that you're not one of the 99%, so it would be a lot easier to pick a new one.

How about "dockworkers" instead of "skinheads" for the "true" skin heads from the 1960s?
posted by mathowie at 6:41 PM on October 11, 2002


You know, "Hitler's moustache!" would make a really good interjection. Like Perry White's "Great Caesar's ghost!" Let's try it:

A friend: Hey, Aaron, Tom Waits is doing a free show right now over at the student union!"

Me: Hitler's moustache! We've got to get over there right now!

Classic!
posted by UKnowForKids at 6:41 PM on October 11, 2002


Hitler's moustache!

Great, yet another phrase I have to try to work into my everyday conversation. You know, I barely even make coherent sentences as it is, with all the hip terms I'm trying to cram in!
posted by oissubke at 6:50 PM on October 11, 2002


That also reminds me, thanks to MAME, I was playing vigilante today. This is the game that features skinheads that have kidnapped Madonna. It took a lot of free credits, but I eventually finished the game and rescued Madonna from the evil skinheads.

I just wanted to share the screenshots I took earlier, and the powerful message they contain: when law and order fails big stars, take the law into your own hands kids.
posted by mathowie at 6:51 PM on October 11, 2002


mathowie - just because the media has defined the term doesn't mean that it's right, right? I still correct my co-workers on the cracker / hacker difference, and most of the academics I work with say 'oh, I get it', and read news stories about 'hackers' differently than they would have previously.

Being given a label by the media is basically branding in the cattle sense. You'll never get it off you, and nobody will believe that you're not what they already think you are. This is already true with the word 'hacker' to the point that I would never call myself such, and I remember when it simply meant 'computer geek' rather than 'criminal'.

Skinheads; I'm not one, but I've known a lot of them, and none of them were racists; they all had more in common with the IMF/WorldBank protest kids than anything else. Anarchist, many, and generally silly and unreasonable, but not racists. Certainly not brown shirts.

Labels are very important, and controlling how you are labelled is the most important thing if you expect to ever be listened to. Trying to sort out how the media thinks about you is the most important thing for any political group, and skinheads are not a political group. They don't do media well, but they don't deserve to be branded as nazis; most of them have nothing to do with race or politics, and they're not a political movement in the first place.
posted by GriffX at 7:07 PM on October 11, 2002


All video-games probably have important messages. Wilfrid Brimley Battle encourages you to eat a good breakfast... then take the law into your own hands.
posted by Stuart_R at 7:11 PM on October 11, 2002


Most folks blame Ian Stuart and Skrewdriver for the racist tilt in the skinhead reputation. Anyone who doesn't know about them should read Skrewdriver's allmusic.com bio in full. It calls their 1983 "White Power" single "one of the most controversial songs ever released."

I also liked this from eyeballkid's link:

The original Skinheads of the late 1960s were by no means anti-racist angels from heaven. As were most working class whites in the UK at the time, most Skinheads were pretty bigoted by today’s PC standards. They listened to Jamaican music and went into black dancehalls, but still referred to blacks as “darkies,” and used other derogatory slang. However, they did support working class ideals common to left wing politics, and were not right-wing. They were definitely not Nazis, either – the UK of the ‘60s still bore the scars of the Second World War, and any patriotic UK citizen (as most all Skinheads were) took pride in being anti-Nazi.

This detailed history of skinheads is good, too.
posted by mediareport at 7:12 PM on October 11, 2002


Then there's the making of a skinhead.
[shudder]
posted by quonsar at 7:21 PM on October 11, 2002


I'm so glad some of you have already thrown up some historical links. As a historian of the transition from mod into hard mod into skinhead (alongside the flowering of dandy mod into glam), I get upset whenever people sweep skinhead up into proto-Naziism.

Greil Marcus once pointed out that for youth, styles in all things - fashion, sex, culinary habits, and, yes, politics - flow from music. I've found this to be an analysis that's held a great deal of truth over the years, and maintains a high degree of explanatory fidelity.

In that regard, especially, I think it's a damn shame to force skinhead into the Nazi coffin that has claimed it, especially outside the UK.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:39 PM on October 11, 2002


Take the skinheads bowling, take them bowling .
posted by jeremias at 7:46 PM on October 11, 2002


You. Yeah, you, with the jackboot tatooed on your cheek and the cross carved between your eyes. I just want you to know that I have been reading up on skinheads and I now know that you are probably just a regular guy-- not a racist or nazi or anything like that!
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:50 PM on October 11, 2002


Wow, what's up with you guys today?

I thought hereabouts we were all bright enough to distinguish between (say) a Rockefeller Republican and a Reagan Republican, a Malcolm X and a Louis Farrakhan, a circa-1982 Minor Threat fan and a mid-90s Utah straightedge ideologue.

Why, all of a sudden and on this one issue, the inability to make a clear analytical distinction?
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:15 PM on October 11, 2002


More than any other group, skinheads taught me not to judge someone by appearances.
posted by mediareport at 8:19 PM on October 11, 2002


Why, all of a sudden and on this one issue, the inability to make a clear analytical distinction?

From all the links I've read here, I'm seeing "skinheads aren't this, and they're not that" but still coming up short on what they are supposed to be.

Even the pro-skinhead sites linked talk about them going on "paki beatings" when their dockworking jobs of the late 1960s were threatened by immigration. I see mentions of being really into soccer and getting into fights being a big deal. Though the minority of them were supposed to be into far right politics and white power, the remainder look pretty violent still. I don't see a lot of positive things here.

From everything I've read here, the only non-violent things about skinheads I see is that they liked music, shaved their heads to ward off lice, wore heavy boots for work, and hung out at Jamacan clubs. Everything else veers into negative things. Is that all there is to being a skinhead? It's just a movement of guys that liked music but didn't want to be Mod?
posted by mathowie at 8:29 PM on October 11, 2002


Exactly. Even the Russian socialist, pro-Jewish and anti-nazi skins sound violent!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:43 PM on October 11, 2002


I haven't trawled all the links to see if this is redundant, but:

Skinheads were an outgrowth of the mod movement in England; the mods (short, naturally, for "modernists") were concerned with "clean living under difficult circumstances."

Primarily, this meant an authentic working-class youth fashion that could travel from the oppressive circumstances of dead-end, frequently manual labor, to the joyful release of amphetamine-fueled dancing to American soul music, and later Jamaican ska and reggae. (The scooters were a happy afterthought.)

The braces (suspenders), sturdy Dr. Martens boots, Ben Sherman and Fred Perry shirts, Sta-Prest pants and long jackets were a visual language cobbled together from elements that were inoffensive to bosses, headmasters, and parents, and yet were subversive: *too* clean, *too* spare, *too* hard. Think of a schoolgirl's uniform skirt rolled at the waist to become a mini: that kind of reclamation, of defiance-through-full-ownership.

There's a lot to admire in the late mods and early skinheads - alongside a propensity to physical violence and racial reductionism that might belong to any working-class population, anywhere, anytime. I think it's a sad misunderstanding of skinhead culture to reduce it to (ahem) Paki-bashing.

They were seminal pulp books, too.
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:00 PM on October 11, 2002


Here's my recent skinhead story:
---
Rudy is a skinhead from Spartanburg, SC. Tonight he and his buddy have came all the way into Greenville to drink at Barley's. Half way into his picture of Guinness he starts being all chummy. He leans in close as he talks.

"I cook, so I work with all these gay waiters. And they always want to talk about their sex lives with me, but they go running when I tell them how good the pussy tasted that I was eating the night before."

Thumbing through the weekly alternative newspaper he picks through certain ads, deeming them gay or not.

"Look at this! This ad says, ‘Meet Local Guys.’ This is totally for homosexuals." Pointing toward the picture of the well dressed, grinning young man he continues, "That guy is a fag." He goes on to say that given enough beer he’ll happily fuck the fattest girl in the bar. "So why would any girl want to call one of these fags?"

Looking at another ad for something "on ice" he continues, "Ice skating?! I’m sorry, but if you’re a guy and you ice skate you’re a complete homosexual!"

Leaning closer and looking deeply into my eyes he slurs, "You know, I’d say 3 out of 4 gays are perfectly fine. You know, they can be cool or whatever. But then there is just that one-fourth of the gay population that just needs to be eradicated. They’re all sex addicts and flaming queers."

The funny part is -- he was by far the gayest guy there.
posted by wfrgms at 9:01 PM on October 11, 2002


What I'm afraid the skinheads are up against is the same thing the swastika is. They we both around a long time before their appropriations by a racist groups.
posted by hama7 at 9:09 PM on October 11, 2002


It's just a movement of guys that liked music but didn't want to be Mod?

Well, yeah, kind of. A few items of clothing and a love for stuff like 1969's perfect party album is enough for me to understand a 'movement' like the original skins. How many working class pop-cult groups define themselves with much more than that?

Psst, Miguel - what wfrgms said (nsfw). But that's not why I'm defending them, honest. I've had straight skin friends for a while now.
posted by mediareport at 9:17 PM on October 11, 2002


There's a lot to admire in the late mods and early skinheads

Their fashion sense and musical tastes?
posted by mikhail at 9:21 PM on October 11, 2002


Thanks to those of you (adamgreenfield in particular) who have posted very illuminating information on this subject.
posted by Hildago at 9:50 PM on October 11, 2002


Hildago just beat me to it, but here's my "me-to":

Thanks much, everybody, for the contributed links... I've learned a lot here that I needed know.
posted by taz at 10:18 PM on October 11, 2002


Me, too, too--I knew the outlines but appreciate the links.

Nothing like facial tattooing to close off any chances you have of returning to a normal workaday life.

I've made the same observation here before, poseur, in regards to gutterpunks. I once was spare-changed by some 15 year old runaway with spiderwebs on her eyelids. It just made me want to cry--the tats, her age, the lowlife scum she was hanging with...

On the violence tip--I was listening to an All Things Considered segment on avoiding Alzheimer's--#1 was avoid head trauma at all costs. That's something of tangential interest to this.
posted by y2karl at 10:36 PM on October 11, 2002


I'm not sure a Dropkick Murphys FAQ is the best link to start a conversation about skins, but whatever. Most of the skins that I've met and hung out with were fine guys. A tendency to drink too much, sure, but you'll find that in most groups. The SHARPs have just as nasty a rep as the neo-nazis (mostly b/c they deal with the neos consistently, like a Bloods vs. Crips type thing) around here anyways. But most of the skins I've met in austin or dallas have been normal traditionals, who get on with the gutters and the rude-boys and the other kids alright. I hate seeing any group pigeon-holed like this thread has gone. The stories I have about dumb shit violent skins aren't any worse than dumb shit violent punks or dumb shit violent frat boys or dumb shit violent techie guys. You'll find good people and bad people in every scene. Every single one. Including this one.
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:18 PM on October 11, 2002


...dumb shit violent techie guys.

Who you callin' a dumb shit?
posted by Witty at 12:44 AM on October 12, 2002


Ufez, I was actually pleased with the way the post has gone because of the contributions, for example, of mediareport, eyeballkid and adamgreenfield. And I'm happy to see that so far it hasn't turned into a "flame war" sort of thing. I'm not much of a knee-jerker, so I don't always assume the worst when I see a skinhead, but I was woefully ignorant about the roots and the current status of this evidently multi-various (is that a word?) subculture.
posted by taz at 3:12 AM on October 12, 2002


Umm. Left out chrisroberts and buskpay's links. All enlightening.
posted by taz at 3:32 AM on October 12, 2002


but still coming up short on what they are supposed to be

I don't think they have to be anything. It's a style, and a pretty strong one at that. What's a goth, apart from someone who wears a lot of black and never smiles? To me, a skin suggests someone who's romanticised the old labour-movement working class and believes in a kind of clean-cut, pure masculinity (sometimes encompassing gay masculinity) - the sort of masculinity my grandfather had, which comes from hardly ever mixing with the opposite sex and which values a good, no-nonsense haircut and fresh, pressed shirt.

But that's just my impression. Unfortunately, that kind of separatist masculinity is prone to violence - football violence, post-pub violence, domestic violence. It's no surprise it extended to racist violence.
posted by Summer at 5:52 AM on October 12, 2002


Hmm, Summer, then in part what you are describing is a group of people, skin (or goth or whatever), who are trying to create some safe harbor of identity and community around a myth or romantic fantasy, and getting interpeted, misinterpeted by the rest of us--and marketed to by commercial and, ultimately, corporate concerns:

Greil Marcus once pointed out that for youth, styles in all things - fashion, sex, culinary habits, and, yes, politics - flow from music... The braces (suspenders), sturdy Dr. Martens boots, Ben Sherman and Fred Perry shirts, Sta-Prest pants and long jackets were a visual language cobbled together from elements that were inoffensive to bosses, headmasters, and parents, and yet were subversive: *too* clean, *too* spare, *too* hard. Think of a schoolgirl's uniform skirt rolled at the waist to become a mini: that kind of reclamation, of defiance-through-full-ownership.

Which eventually and inexorably involves buying something. Ka-¢hing.

We are evidently bred to be tribal, and will create community and identity out of a whole cloth of some mass consensual default... and someone else will attempt to make a living selling us what we need to identify ourselves. Even skins create commerce--these are the people who put Doc Martens on the map, remember. All these religous or, er, fashion choices in constructing the display of a common identity involve the consumption of commodities--that kind of reclamation, of defiance-through-full-ownership. Ka-¢hing, Ka-c¢hing, Ka-¢hing...

Well, for various reasons I only wish Northern Soul had as much resonance among the same demographics. I guess I prefer a kinder, gentler grandchild of Mod.
posted by y2karl at 6:48 AM on October 12, 2002


anyone mention the 'croppies'?

"we found new tactics happening everyday"

-Seamus Heany.
posted by clavdivs at 8:28 AM on October 12, 2002


oh please. words are defined through usage, communally, over time. if 99% of the population equates skinheads with nazism, then that's what it means, and it's time for the 1% still lamely clutching to some alternate definition to find a new fucking word. now, was that so difficult?
posted by luriete at 11:25 AM on October 12, 2002


I'm not sure a Dropkick Murphys FAQ is the best link to start a conversation about skins, but whatever.

Yeah, I agree; I'd have emailed hoopyfrood but s/he doesn't give an address. This was a weak post totally saved by good discussion. "Sparking flame wars" and then disappearing isn't really the point here, hoopy.
posted by mediareport at 12:25 PM on October 12, 2002


So we're just supposed to abandon any sort of linguistic history since poorly informed mass media tells us the words mean something else? Well then, burn my OED and bring on the Newspeak...

BTW: Ex-skin myself. We didn't hate minorities of any kind. We just hated everyone else...
posted by Samizdata at 12:27 PM on October 12, 2002


Btw, is anyone else getting two different Allmusic pages when you click the 1969 perfect party album link? I got a page earlier today without the detailed review of Syramip's "Skinhead Moonstomp" album, but the text is back up now. Strange.

An excerpt just in case: The Pyramids had built their reputation as Prince Buster's backing band during the Jamaican star's visits to the U.K., but it was with the phenomenal success of their barely disguised alias' "Skinhead Moonstomp" that the group went down in legend...Simaryp was well aware of what their skinhead fans wanted - more of the same, and the band served it up with relish...As dated as it all is, Skinhead Moonstomp is a kick and the perfect party album.

posted by mediareport at 12:37 PM on October 12, 2002


ok dude.
posted by Satapher at 3:03 PM on October 12, 2002


"So we're just supposed to abandon any sort of linguistic history since poorly informed mass media tells us the words mean something else?"

I don't think it's a matter of abandoning the history because of 'poorly informed' mass media. I think the media are the one's who know the history, it's the average person that is poorly informed. However, the somewhat innocent origins of the skinheads has been co-opted by a movement which is willing to rewrite its own origins or at least twist them to its own agenda.

Hell, if you want to go by origins, the Ku Klux Klan was nothing but a bunch of frat boys out to have a good time. One 'history' even notes:
In the beginning, the Klan was organized by a small group of men, to have fun. The spirits of the people were much beaten down after the war and Reconstruction, and it was a very sad state of affairs. Theses ex-soldiers made home-made costumes and rode through town like clowns, making faces, acting silly, etc.
But if you look at what each say was the environment at the time, and which share some commonality:
SH:As Racial, Social, and economic conditions in Britain deteriorated, these young, White Factory workers were among the hardest hit. Specifically, because of an open door (read whore) immigration policy on behalf of Britain, all these non-whites from third world countries came pouring into the island. These white youths rebelled and "reacted" to the problems by going around beating up any and ALL non-whites, especially the immigrants who were taking their jobs.
KKK: ...flooding into the South, came Northern troops and men with hostile ideas. They brought heavy taxation and more abuse. Along with them, came the Union League - supported by a new militia of ex-black Union soldiers. They moved right into the plantations, cities, towns and villages, looking for the ex-slaves. The illiterate, simple minded freedman became easy prey for their political agenda. Hate the whites, hate your masters, and vote for us. We will divide the spoils of the South with you.
They're just a group of disenfranchised youths, no? Out to protect themselves and their way of life. They deserve our pity, and we should try and remember the innocent origins of each movement when we think about them now.

If you want to blame someone for how the groups are perceived, blame the people that co-opted the movement. Mass media just reported what these groups turned into. If they prefaced it with "Despite their innocent origins...", would that make much of a difference when the representative majority of these groups define themselves in racist, Neo-Nazi, militant terms?
posted by mikhail at 3:45 PM on October 12, 2002


*dusts off Trojan ska records for that old skinhead moonstomp song in silence*
posted by dabitch at 6:44 PM on October 13, 2002


and here I thought they were all thick-necked angry white guys who wore thick black boots
posted by Degaz at 7:09 PM on October 14, 2002


*dusts off Trojan ska records for that old skinhead moonstomp song in silence*

[Curly Howard] I useta have that record![/Curly Howard]
posted by y2karl at 10:44 PM on October 14, 2002


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