The Rhetoric of Fear

One thing I didn’t consider when reading Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style was the idea of fear. When the concept of fear was brought up in class discussion, I remembered reading Hebdige as an undergraduate. When I read an excerpt from this book then, I remember assuming fear was the reason the subcultures, specifically punk, were brought back under the control of hegemonic society. I felt the group in power acted quickly, before these subcultures became something to really fear. Of course, I don’t, and I don’t believe Hebdige does either, believe that the punk subculture was a true threat, except to those who wanted to keep power, the ruling class. The threat then is not physical, the subculture posed no actual danger; instead, the punk subculture threatened to disrupt the social system, or to create noise. So, I guess what I think was happening was a creation of a fear that was easily eliminated. The punk subculture was allowed to exist for a time before it was converted through the commodity form and the ideological form. Then, the punk subculture was made out to be something that dangerous that was quickly converted. Fear, then, was used during this time, but in a much different way than it is used today. In Britain in the mid-nineteenth century, it seems those in power did not actually want society to fear. At least, they wanted to show that anything that could potentially be feared was easily controlled by those in power. I imagine this has a lot to do with the time. The country has just come out of another war and is trying to re-build. Those in power, probably, want the British citizens to have confidence in their country. It makes sense that the power structures of Britain did not want people to fear. In our society, however, it seems all those in power want us to do is fear. Without getting too political, one simply needs to look at recent tactics used in this election to see the scope of the rhetoric of fear. Fear seems to be used to control us, or at least convince us of things that are not necessarily true. I find it interesting to look at how this rhetoric of fear has changed. Also, I have to wonder about subcultures today. We had a hard time identifying any true subcultures, in the way Hebdige describes them. If there were a significant subculture that rose up, I wonder what the reaction would be in terms of the rhetoric of fear?

-Rebecca

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