I wish I would have been in class last night because I am sure I missed a really interesting discussion on Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style. For the record, I wasn’t playing hooky, I have been fighting a cold all week and yesterday and today have been my worst days (I am voiceless and sneezy and headachey). Anyway, I found Subculture to be a really fascinating collection of essays. I know I read a few excerpts in an undergrad theory class, and I am pretty sure I remember reading some Hebdige in Chaves’ theory class last spring. I am going to try to do a little analysis/interpretation for this post. I am not the best when it comes to theory related things, so bare with me if I choke and completely misinterpret. Instead of responding to the whole book, I would like to focus on Chapter 6 (pages 90-99).
Here is a quick overview of the chapter: In a simplistic view, this chapter mostly discusses the language used in subcultures, the attention drawn to subcultures by media, and how media represents subcultures in commodity and ideological forms. When media gets a hold of a “subculture story” they run wild and misrepresent the community. This can be done either by creating a “commodity” out of the subculture’s appearance and style or by labeling and making a subculture appear to be threatening or deviant to an orderly structure. Basically, subcultures are being “othered” and exploited by media simply because they are different from the norm.
I am particularly interested in the following quote that was used in the beginning of the chapter:
“Subcultures represent ‘noise’ (as opposed to sound): interference in the orderly sequence which leads from real events and phenomena to their representation in the media. We should therefore not underestimate the signifying power of the spectacular subculture not only as a metaphor for potential anarchy ‘out there’ but as an actual mechanism of semantic disorder: a kind of temporary blockage in the system of representation.” (90)
First of all, I love the comparison between subculture and noise. I have heard this comparison before, likely in one of the previously mentioned classes. “Noise” has a negative connotation of disruption; thus, subculture disrupts the flow of the “sound” in culture today–which is articulated as “interference in the orderly sequence.” Although subculture is seen as noise, I think it plays an important role in society, which is obviously what this book is articulating. Without subcultures, life would be pretty boring. This sounds cliche, but think about how much our entertainment revolves around subculture and “being different.”
Furthermore, the above quote articulates an interesting perspective of subculture’s as a “mechanism of semantic disorder.” This idea is really interesting to me because subculture is being directly related to the function of language. If we look at society as whole metaphorically as language, subculture is spicing up the lexicon and syntax of the language (is that cheesy?). The language (society) might get jumbled up a bit, but it still functions–or, at least, it will be able to function again. The fact that subculture is a “mechanism” implies that there is a specific use for it. A “mechanism,” according to a quick Google search, is “a system of parts working together in a machine; a piece of machinery.” Thus, subculture is an important piece to the machine that is society. This means that the “noise” that subcultures create and the disruption they cause is all a part of the system that makes the wheels of the machine turn.
Now I’m going to switch gears a little bit because I’m not sure if I was on the right track with that. Considering this book was written in 1979, I think our interpretation and perspective on subculture has changed a bit. Of course, I can only speak for myself, but when I hear “subculture” I do not immediately associate negative connotations. I guess I kind of view society as made up of a bunch of little subcultures. When you think about it, any group of people can be a subculture: academics, vegans, goths, body builders, hippies, athletes, etc. I understand “subculture” is supposed to be that which goes against the “norm.” But, really, what is normal nowadays? Who are we to place people into categories of normal and abnormal? Sure, there’s some weird shit that people do, but just because it is weird or “abnormal” to me doesn’t mean it is to someone else. I might be missing the point here or going off topic (cut me some slack because I don’t know what conversations happened in class last night), but I think it is interesting that humans have the need to place other’s in boxes.
Here’s a fun video of the “weirdest subcultures around the world.”