Subculture in America pt. 2

When taking the time to consider the film Absolute Beginners and its depiction of the Notting Hill riots as a kind of rock opera compared to the novel’s depiction of a darker, more somber toned version of events, we see the conflict of image vs. word. Consider MacInnes’ descriptions: “Quite decent, respectable people they seemed, too: white-collar workers and their wives, I expect, who’d probably been out to do their shopping. Well, they saw the lads get in the Spades’ car, and drive it against a concrete lamp-standard, and climb back in their handy little delivery vans, and drive away” (246). The crowds of white collar workers, quite civilized, escalating racial violence. “Then came another incident–and soon, as you’ll understand, I began to lose count a little, and, as time went on, lose count a bit of what time was, as well” (247). The narrator’s loss of time seems to be a loss of existential identity in the temporal landscape–but it is not silly. The crowd is searching for violence. For a subject to exact violence upon.

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“Well they weren’t disappointed long. Because out of the Metropolitan Railway station–the dear old London Transport, we all think so safe and reliable–came a bunch of passengers, and among them was a Spade” (247). The subject to be brutalized. “A boy of my own age, I’d say, carrying a holdall and a brown paper parcel–a serious-looking kiddy with a pair of glasses, and one of those rather sad, drab suits that some Spades wear, particularly students, in order to show the English people that we musn’t think they’re savages in grass skirts and bones stuck in their hair” (247). What is to be made of the image of this poor victim, so much in contrast to the vibrant silliness of the film’s West Side Story-ish portrayal of the Notting Hill riots?

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I remember an American movie from 1979–The Warriors–a film based on Sol Yurik’s dark novel about gang warfare. The film became a greatly exaggerated version of the book, a musical or fantasy, if you will, as the director felt no one would allow him to make a direct adapation. Hollywood lore posits violence and rioting broke out in response to the film despite its fantastic tone. Fear of glorifying gang violence on the bigscreen became a talking point in the media even though the Warriors depicted gangs of mimes on roller skates, rednecks in overalls, and a weirdo who wore beer bottles on his fingers. This fantastical version of gang warfare in New York sparked fear and debate about how violence should be depicted on screen.

Whether or not this ultimately affected the 1986 adapation of MacInnes’ Absolute Beginners is certainly worth debating, but the spectacle of seeing rioting, the imagery of gang warfare displayed as an actual dance number, allows us to wonder.

America’s subcultures in the late 70s and 80s were marked by fear and violence. Gangs prowling the urban America. To show the reality of this on the bigscreen would be to glorify it–or so people believed.

 

Works Cited

MacInnes, Colin. Absolute Beginners. Allison and Busby, 1980.

Parallels from This is England and the United States

Watching Shane Meadows’ This is England was shocking to me because of how relevant the content of this movie is today. The movie depicted Britain in 1983, but I saw so many parallels between that society and the society that we currently live in.

Combo was able to gain followers by playing off of the fear and anger that some of the characters, especially Shaun, felt. This technique is nothing new, but it is effective and it continues to be employed throughout society. In this last election Donald Trump played off of the fears and anger that white working class America was feeling, and it worked. Many people voted for him because they believed that he would bring change for that group of people without even understanding what his policies would be. Instead, many people focused on the rhetoric that Trump used and his promises to “make America great again.” This became Trump’s slogan, but at what cost? Does making America great mean splitting up families? Does it mean denying women their rights to choose? And does it mean that the white man will continue to sit at the top with no opposition? I want to be clear that I don’t think everyone who voted for Trump is racist or misogynistic, but when Trump was elected president all of the hateful rhetoric that he spewed throughout the election became legitimized. The same thing happens in the film, especially through Shaun’s eyes. Combo took them to a rally where hateful and racist rhetoric was used, and it became validation for their actions because other people felt the same way.

I think one of the hardest scenes to watch in this film, other than Combo beating Milk, is the scene that depicts the skinheads’ violence against children who they believe are from Pakistan. Grown men threatening children because they are a perceived threat is completely unacceptable. I also thought it was inappropriate that just because of their skin color and their clothes that these children were automatically “pakis.” I think that these children could have been from any culture but that it would not have mattered. All that Combo and his group saw was that they were not white. This scene disgusted me because Islamophobia is still something very real happening today. Just the other day I read a news article that talked about the rising rate of violence against Muslims in the United States. It hurts me to know that Muslims are being targeted simply because people fear or disagree with their religion.

The realistic nature of this movie was disturbing because it still resonates in society. I have always been told that we have come so far and that soon racism is going to be a thing of the past. I used to believe that, but now I am not so sure. As I said earlier, I don’t think that everyone who voted for Trump is racist, but I do think he validated that behavior. Seeing someone who acts in that manner and spews hateful rhetoric has opened the door for people who are racist to be more open about it. This is England has so many parallels with our society that sometimes I wonder how much progress we have actually made.

This is England. Directed by Shane Meadows. Warp Films Limited, 2006.

Samantha Hudspeth

Breaking the Chains of Domesticity

Something that struck me in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen, is the way the protagonist Adah used domesticity as a form of strength instead of a crutch. In class this semester we often discussed the norms of society within twentieth century Britain, and a lot of those norms discussed are oppressive to women. The sphere of women that we discussed is in the realm of the home where she is usually wife, mother, and homemaker. We have seen women who have fallen into this norm and lost their individual identity, such as Clarissa in Mrs. Dalloway, and women who have rebelled against the norm, but disgusted readers, like Deborah from To Bed with Grand Music. Adah is a different type of woman. She remains in the domestic sphere, but she uses that to empower and motivate herself.

Adah is often called a second class citizen, and not just in that she is black, but also that she is a woman. Adah does not let this discourage her though. Instead, her status as a mother, a homemaker, and a provider for her children empowers her. Perhaps Adah’s resilience can be attributed to the “Presence” that she felt so strongly in her when she was seeking an education. This “Presence” helped Adah overcome her own doubts about her limitations and her abilities; “’You are going, you must go and to one of the very best schools; not only are you going, you’re going to do well there,’ Adah heard the Presence telling her” (Emecheta 20). This “Presence” becomes synonymous with Adah’s will, and it refuses to let her give up despite her situation. Adah is also different from other female protagonists because she does not let her children act as a burden to her. She recognizes that by having children that doing simple things like working and finding an apartment are going to be more difficult, but she does not condemn or blame her children for that. Adah often tells the reader that her children are the only thing of worth that Francis ever gave her, and she sees potential in her children.

Adah’s character offers a new and refreshing way to look at women. Instead of being held prisoner by domesticity Adah uses it to her advantage.

Emecheta, Buchi. Second Class Citizen. George Braziller Inc., 1974.

Samantha Hudspeth

 

Taking a stab at Subculture–Meghan

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.”