Culture is a never ending and consistently changing concept that has been around for centuries, being shaped by a variety of events and numerous amounts of people. In Dick Hebdige’s Subculture The Meaning of Style, he said, “[Culture] even as a scientific term, it refers both to a process… and a product” (Hebdige 5). Culture for a while was simply a matter of hegemony between colored people and white people, in addition to class status – lower, middle, and high – with the high being the richer and usually more dominant class. Eventually, resistance occurred against the “feudal ideal of hierarchically ordered community” (Hebdige 6), and a moral panic overcame the once harmonious community.
Though I would’ve like to see some of the specific characteristics explained in Maryam’s descriptions below her pins, I thought Maryam’s board had a nice depiction of the various subcultures that were formed which included but were not limited to skinheads, beatniks, Zoot Suit, Mod Male, and Reggae. After history lessons of the hardships and the unfair treatments Africans or any “blacks” suffered through, I am amazed, proud even, to say that the influence of white youth subcultures traces back to Africans, Jamaicans, and blacks from the West Indies. Starting out with the Rastafarian movement, reggae, a rocksteady and rhythmic patterned music, became a way to deal with problems of race and class (Hebdige pg 37) and a way to accentuate Rastas’ racial existence and difference from the dominant class. Somehow dreadlocks, khaki camouflage, and weed, all of which were inconsistent with a white man’s style of living, became the icons/styles associated with the Rastas. I applaud them for being an inspiration for others to find an identity not predisposed by the law, the order, or the norm.
The trajectory of the black immigrants, who emigrated from Jamaica to Great Britain in search of decency, justice, and jobs, served as a model to neighboring white youths as these youngsters acquired a desire for their own subculture (Hebdige pg 43-44) to establish a sense of “otherness” (Hebdige pg 88), and to “act out” (Hebdige pg 44) against the standard way of living. In this sense, I believe that this occurrence marks a “present absent” role of blackness in what will later be known as white punk.
While members of the working class encountered daily hardships from the ruling hegemony, the younger crowd protested against having the same sufferance as their parents had. Therefore, several distinct styles and practices, particularly in music, were created and transgressed as these younglings tried to form new identities, separate from that of their parents. This alienation is one of factors contributing to the development of subcultures, and, as Grace mentioned in one of her pins, is one of the key qualities that initiated the transformation of punk culture. Punk is a subculture in the mid 70’s influenced by the subcultures preceding it and eventually transpired as an act of rebellion against the normalized traditions and separation of class.
As white youngsters began to reject and deviate from mainstream society by assimilating into the immigrant culture, they began adapting their own symbolic style (and music) in order to be visually claimed as separate. According to Umberto Eco, “style is an intentional form of communication” by which “[they] speak through [their] clothes” (Hebdrige pg 100). Whether it be the hipster’s (Zoot Suit) “zoot suits and lightweight ‘continentals’” (Hebdige 49), the beat’s “jeans and sandals” (Hebdige 49), the skinhead’s “cropped hair, braces, short, wide levi jeans or functional sta-prest trousers, plain or striped button-down Ben Sherman shirts and highly polished Doctor Marten boots” (Hebdige 55), the mod male’s “conservative suits in respectable colours…neat and tidy” (Hebdige 52) or the punk’s “stained jackets, tarty see-through blouses…straps and chains” (Hebdrige pg 63), these aesthetic choices contain a whole range of messages and advertise each subculture’s representation, identity, resistance and pleasure. For example, the Sex Pistols was a punk style in revolt, expressing their movement as “completely nihilistic” (Hebdige pg 106). As a way to express their movement, Sex Pistols wore offensive and threatening clothing items such as T-Shirts covered in swear words and terrorist/guerilla outfits which were “defined through the violence of its ‘cut ups’” (Hebdige pg 107). Each visual ensemble has been fabricated and has been clearly thought out to “display [its] own codes” (Hebdige pg 101) rather than having been randomly thrown together.
Hebdrige referred to subcultures as “noise” as opposed to sound, metaphorically signifying that subcultures are merely an “interference in the orderly sequence, which leads from real events and phenomena to their representation in the media,” (Hebdige pg 90). Initially, the subculture’s “breach of expectancies” (Hebdrige pg 92) was a semeiotical resistance to ideology, hegemony, and social normalization, using style, music, facial art (as seen in Grace’s pin), and anti-social tactics such as vandalism, swearing, fighting, and animal behavior to attract the media’s attention. Grace’s pin of the vandalized UK flag by the Sex Pistols is a great portrayal of an anti-social tactic used for rebellion against the UK by punks who wanted to show their lack of care and possibly even to vie for control of the dominant culture. Such tactics and styles drove the society to a moral panic. However, the moral panic will ultimately subside, as the subculture’s eminent acts will become obvious and familiarized within the society. Such recognition by the society consequently will lead to the incorporation of the subculture to mainstream culture, “generating new looks and sounds which feed back into the appropriate industries” (Hebdige pg 95). Eventually, the radical aesthetics such as leather jackets or ripped T-Shirts will be no more than hot commodities. I suppose we should thank those who had the courage to start a new subculture and who indirectly contributed to the wide range of mainstream fashion and style.
The various British subcultures and their histories are documented in interesting film presented by Fred Perry, an e-commerce web site selling authentic British street fashion, called Subculture Films. From the original Mods and Teds to UK punk, this project follows the evolution of street style, music, and counter culture over last 60 years. In six different episodes, the film shows how much of an impact Black heritage had on the cultural transformation in the 20th century. Overall, I am astonished at how much our culture, style, and fashion have progressed because of these subcultures.