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.


“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?


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.


International Youth: Absolute Beginners–Meghan

At the beginning of Absolute Beginners, a concept of universal youth is introduced when the narrator is having a conversation with Mr. Pondoroso about “the bomb” on pages 30-31. The conversation goes like this:

Mr. P. grew a bit vexed

“But you haven’t been to America, have you!” he exclaimed. “Or to Russia, and talked to these young people!”

“Why do I have to go, mister? You don’t have to travel to know what it’s like to be young, any time, anywhere. Believe me, Mr. Pondoroso, youth is international, just like old age is. We’re both very fond of life.” (31)

Considering “youth” is an important concept to this novel, I think this conversation is important to the rest of the novel. It appears to be a pretty bold statement to claim how all of the world’s youth acts and feels, especially not having been anywhere. However, his last sentence is very interesting: “We’re both very fond of life.” This is a pretty vague statement and equates the feelings of old and young people, which is something that he clearly differentiates in the rest of the novel. I’m not sure where to go with that idea, so I’m going to leave it floating around if anyone else wants to jump on it.

Anyway, I think the idea “youth is international” is a fascinating concept. In my own childhood/early teens, I always wondered what is was like growing up in other countries. I have always had a desire to travel, though, unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to venture outside the U.S. So, having never been anywhere “cool” or “exotic,” I have always  wondered what life is like around the world. Particularly, when I was much younger, I wondered if other parents were as, let’s say, involved as my own. I knew what my friend’s parents were like–mostly similar to mine with the exception of a few “cool” parents. However, I was always curious of the parent-kid dynamics abroad. The media often portrayed free lifestyles of the youth around the globe–of course, particularly with young celebrities. Though I haven’t thought of these particular ideas in awhile, I was reminded of them while reading this novel…

I think the narrator’s perspective is really interesting. At times, I found his commentary on everything a bit know-it-all-ish and slightly pompous, which bothered me. However, after thinking about it more, I realized his attitude towards everything, especially older people, was so perfectly representative of the attitudes that kids have even nowadays. With that in mind, not only is youth international, it is also timeless. Not to make any generalizations or assumptions, but I think it is fair to say that there is always a chasm between generations that can cause a disconnect between older and younger people. For example, my parents may be frustrated by some of the choices I have made in life, but their parents were likely also frustrated by the choices they made. I think we kind of mentioned this in class on Thursday–there will always be a disagreement between generations about how to live life.

Anyway, back to youth. The assertion that “youth is international” is kind of cool to think about. If we go along with the narrator’s idea, it means that every kid around the world is facing some kind of disconnect with their parents, some kind of love tragedy, some kind of social issue, some kind of rebellion, some kind of struggle to “fit in,” or acne (Haha. But, really though). I think this idea continues into adulthood, too. Everywhere in the world people are struggling with jobs, money, family, politics, love, health, etc. But, people are not only universally struggling, they are also universally enjoying being “fond of life”: spending time with friends and family, going on adventures, making new memories, eating ice cream, or whatever. I think people too often get caught up in their own problems and don’t appreciate the positive aspects of their lives or realize that their problems really aren’t as big as they seem.

That was a bit of a random tangent, sorry. But, I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on these ideas. 🙂


Also, here’s something silly. I typed “youth” into Google, unaware that it is the title of a song, and the first thing that popped up was this music video. It’s definitely not the kind of music I listen to (so don’t judge me) and it is very teenybopper-ish (if that can be a word), but I found it to be strangely applicable to Absolute Beginners. It kind of gives the idea of “youth” being a universal concept among young folk–specifically because of the line “my youth is yours,” which I interpreted as youth (potentially experimental youth? or something) is an experience that everyone goes through. Anyway, if you can bear it, take a gander.