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Subculture, the meaning of style
September 25, 2004 8:30 AM   Subscribe

For Westerners, the index case of subculture has to be the 1960s UK conflict between the razor-sharp, tailored mods and their mortal enemies, the greasy rockers.

Difference was critical to these first self-identified youth subcultures: difference in dress, in music, in drug of choice, in the favored mode of transport...everything. This obsessive focus on not just standing out, but standing out just so - on showing the world precisely the right angle of a hat, length of a coat, shortness of hair - has defined many a subculture since. We recognize b-boys, ganguro girls, and straightedge punks by such deployments, among many, many other identifiable groups. (It's not just a youth thing, either: leathermen and the delightfully recrudescent roller derby culture are largely adult phenomena.)

To a devotee of a given subculture, such matters, far from being a "narcissism of small differences," are a matter of pivotal import in framing how one presents oneself to the world: how we want to be seen, how we want others to understand us. But I'm getting older now, and further out of the loop, and I realize that just maybe I'm losing the ability to discern these differences in the people I pass walking down the street. I find myself asking, who and where are the new subcultures? And how do they choose to present themselves to us?
posted by adamgreenfield (17 comments total)

 
For Westerners, the index case of subculture has to be ...

Only because they don't know about older ones. There's a long history of characteristically dressed gangs: Mohocks, for instance. This feature on 'casuals' (a type of soccer subculture) mentions 19th century gangs such as "Scuttlers, Peaky Blinders and Area Sneakers". This Guardian review of a book about the cross-dressing surgeon James Barry mentions other weird early 19th century subcultures: " Dandies of all sorts were influenced by the military look of the current Napoleonic wars, and worshipped padded coats and Cossack pantaloons; so-called 'Herculeans' were especially keen on strap-on musculature, including stocking stuffing and false calves...". I'm sure people can provide further examples.
posted by raygirvan at 9:17 AM on September 25, 2004


I love Dick.
posted by cowboy_sally at 9:31 AM on September 25, 2004


Here's a start. It helps if you have a 13 year old niece to explain the crucial importance of Townies in all their forms.
posted by grahamwell at 9:45 AM on September 25, 2004


And there's emo.
posted by raygirvan at 11:50 AM on September 25, 2004


I remember in my high school, the subcultural lines were drawn between countless groups. Some of the details seemed so arbitrary. I remember the preppy crowd wore brown leather jackets and the metal kids (myself included) would wear black ones. A tiny thing but it seemed extremely imprtant at the time. (There were maybe 5 punks in the whole school and they were allied with the metal kids or "burnouts" as we were called. The Deadheads were somewhat split. It was kind of bizarre in retrospect. I remember one metal guy who yelled "peace. love and granola bars, asshole" at this Deadhead kid and a fistfight broke out. The metal kid is a cop now.)

What's odd is, even though I've grown up and moved away and encountered different types of people and things, back home I'll occasionally run into to someone from those days and they'll still have the same mullets and driving camaros as if time stopped dead around 1988. I don't know whether to feel nostalgic or depressed, ...or proud of myself or disloyal somehow.
posted by jonmc at 12:04 PM on September 25, 2004


If you can walk down the street and just see people, isn't that a gift?
posted by weston at 2:52 PM on September 25, 2004


im part of the 'ayn rand was a stupid bitch' subculture
posted by Satapher at 3:21 PM on September 25, 2004


me too.
posted by Jimbob at 3:52 PM on September 25, 2004


Prior art: the Zoot Suit Riots in 1940's Los Angeles.
posted by anser at 3:52 PM on September 25, 2004


My favorite old one is the Fops. Japan is the place to find what Adam is talking about taking to the (il)logical exteme. Great post, by the way.
posted by cell divide at 6:48 PM on September 25, 2004


"delightfully recrudescent"?

You're veering dangerously close to self-parody, there, my friend.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:03 PM on September 25, 2004


Gotta give it up for Goffman. Brilliant stuff.

And nice work on the page title, too. I cited Hebdige extensively in my Master's thesis. Hell of a book.
posted by MrBadExample at 10:59 PM on September 25, 2004


or Westerners, the index case of subculture has to be the 1960s UK conflict between the razor-sharp, tailored mods and their mortal enemies, the greasy rockers.

Quadrophenia
posted by tenseone at 7:23 AM on September 26, 2004


I'm interested in the underlying historical currents, usually there is some connection to current groups and past movements that can be traced back. Like an echo of prior conflicts, where did it all start. Who are the mods really.. Norman royalists? Who are the rebels.. vestiges of an Anglo-Saxon rebellion?
posted by stbalbach at 9:12 AM on September 26, 2004


See, here's the thing. I read Hebidge when I was a teenage punk rocker, and thought he was full of shit. Then, I read him after obtaining a collidge degree, and he seemed insightful. When was I smarter?
posted by mwhybark at 5:39 PM on September 26, 2004


It's the Vincent, no question....
posted by Pressed Rat at 6:25 AM on September 27, 2004


Looking forward to Dave (Watchmen) Gibbons's Originals?
posted by Shane at 6:57 AM on September 27, 2004


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