Exploration into the Punk Rock Subculture
Aims and Objectives
”For just as the conflict between Genet’s ‘unnatural’ sexuality and the policemen’s ‘legitimate’ outrage can be encapsulated in a single object, so the tensions between dominant and subordinate groups can be found reflected in the surfaces of subculture – in the styles of mundane objects which have a double meaning.” Hebdige, 1979Movie Get Out (2017)
It is with this quote in mind I aim to analyse the layers off ‘punk identity’ and to understand how, through graphics and fashion, ‘punk’ resisted the dominant culture of the day. Through the ‘unacceptable’ choices Punks made such as anarchy, hedonism and living for the moment, not foreseeing a future (NO FUTURE). This message of ‘resistance’ was conveyed through a well designed and constructed system of visual signs, communicated graphically through fanzines, clothing, record sleeves and posters and physically through everyday objects such as safety pins and bin liners.
Through the research and exploration of the ‘punk rock’ subculture I aim to uncover the inspiration and meaning behind these visual aspects of this most celebrated and yet reviled subculture.
This project therefore hopes to unearth:
When the emergence of punk occurred
Who the major influences were within punk subculture
How the punk identity was created and communicated
What the relationship is between culture and subculture
Why there is the necessity for subculture
The Emergence of Punk Rock
Punk rock is a subculture movement that emerged in the mid 1970’s. There are various theories regarding the exact time and place of this subculture’s emergence but the major fact is that it happened and the repercussions and influences can be still felt today through the impact it had. Punk rock occurred at both sides of the Atlantic, in New York’s East Village and London, England, practically simultaneously creating transatlantic globalisation. As Lentini states “transatlantic exchanges (…) contributed to punk’s emergence on both sides of the Atlantic”. For this research project I aim to concentrate on the British Punk movement and the main characters who participated in the movement.
British punk rock was conceived in London during the mid 1970’s, the inspiration for this new sound was the strong opposition from musicians regarding the acquisition and monopolisation of the rock music industry by huge businesses as Hutch states
“the music business was as corrupt and – well – fucked up as the rest of cosy, oppressive, brain-dead 1970s Britain”. The sound was purposely crude and extreme and consisted of frenzied rhythms, hammering instruments and raucous, blaring vocals as Mazullo states “…was purely a music of the British working class.”. British Punk bands were becoming ever more disillusioned with the political and social conditions within the UK. Indeed as Henry evidences this decline in mid 1970’s Britain when he states that: “youth faced a lack of job opportunities or, at best, the prospect of entering a mainstream world they found abhorrent”.
Although the British Punk movement had been emerging slowly in the early 1970’s the subculture itself was clearly placed on the map with the construction and unleashing of the Sex Pistols in 1975. This globalising emergence has a connecting factor, being that of self-created fashion and costume designer, Malcolm McLaren.
Constructing the Situation
McLaren whose university education spanned nearly a decade, studied at various prestigious London universities and colleges.
Attending St. Martin’s College of Art (1963) and Harrow Art College (1964). McLaren was expelled from South East Essex (1965) and it was in this year that fellow student, Gordon Swire introduced him to his sister, Vivienne Westwood. McLaren moved in with Swire and two other film students in a run down house in Clapham. They were soon joined by Westwood and her son from her failed marriage to Derek Westwood. During this time McLaren and Westwood’s relationship flourished. He
“lectured her on the political power of art and the appeal of cult fashions. During this time, their roles were established and set for the next decade: she as the student craftsman, he the opinionated art director.” McLaren still feeling the need for study attended Chiswick Polytechnic (1966) from which he was later expelled, establishing his rebellious, anti-authoritarian personality. 1967 saw the birth of McLaren and Westwood’s son, Joseph. His arrival placed a great strain on their relationship, especially for McLaren. This was also a year without academia but one where McLaren would meet fellow Situationist and collaborator, Jamie Reid. Reid embarked on his journey of further education initially at Wimbledon Art College (1962) and then to the Croydon Art School, Surrey (1964). During his time at Croydon, Reid became involved with the publication ‘Heatwave’, a British alliance of the Situationist International for which he designed a front cover. McLaren decided to continue his education yet again, attending Croydon College of Art (1968) to study painting. During his studies here McLaren became interested in the political art movement, Situationist International whom he wrote his dissertation on.
The Situationist International was a political art movement created in 1957 whose influences and connections were related to Marxism, Dadaism and Existentialism. The movement consisted of a total of 70 members over its duration although never having any more than 40 members at any one time and with a minimum of 10 the Situationist’s were known for falling out within their circle. The self-proclaimed leader was Guy Debord, who ruled with absolute authority, preventing the growth of the SI unless his specific ideas were adhered to. The movement itself was extremely pro active during the 1960’s with perhaps Debord’s greatest text, ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ being written in 1967. Following the publishing of this text the movement received its most attention during the Paris riots in 1968 and the occupation of the Sorbonne.
Debord’s book The Society of the Spectacle, was read by McLaren and became his inspiration. Although unable to make the Paris riots McLaren teamed up with fellow Situationist, Jamie Reid who had strong connections with the British alliance of the Situationist movement. Together they organised their first protest at the Art School, reflecting the student occupation at the Sorbonne in Paris. That same year their collaboration was to take yet another form. This time they began to create a film about the ‘History of Oxford Street’ which describes their account of the Gordon Riots. Depicting the middle classes who initially attacked the catholic religion by knocking their houses down. The working class then became involved, helping to knock down the houses. Running out of catholic houses they turned to the wealthy houses, of which the middle classes wanted no part. The rioters then went on to destroy all the London prisons and any establishment that prevented them from having a good time. They then wanted to set all the lunatics free from the asylums and the lions from the Tower. The film was never finished and McLaren and Reid parted going their separate ways. Reid’s rebellious side had been spurred, not only by his parent’s influence but the protest of 1968 and he continued this appetite with the co-founding of the Suburban Press in 1970 alongside Jeremy Brook and Nigel Edwards. This community news-sheet began in Croydon, soon evolved into a vehicle where Reid could display his political interests. His involvement and interest with Situationist International was reflected by the use of their slogans and the propaganda style graphics suggesting local corruption.
As Kingston states Reid’s “anti-consumerist snipes and capers remain as cutting edge today as they were back in 1972/3, when they were first unleashed on an unsuspecting London…..’Keep Warm This Winter – Make Trouble’ ….. ‘Save Petrol – Burn Cars’ ….. ‘This Store Welcomes Shoplifters’ ….. and the classic sticker that just screamed ‘Lies !’.”
This approach which Reid continued to develop, was the inspiration that was to become the foundation of the Punk graphic. The look was severe and subversive; identities were turned on their head, photocopiers were used and the colour intensified to the extreme and the excellent use of torn typography was perfected to a fine art. Employing the act of detournement, a term used by the Situationist International, where established media is turned back on itself, contradicting its original cause and meaning, being a weapon against itself was Reid able to make consumerist snipes. This process is what he would later perfect with McLaren in future works.
While Reid was engaging an attack on consumerism, McLaren attempted a final academic stint at Goldsmith’s College (1969-1971) it was here where he began to design costumes and gained an interest in fashion design. Leaving Goldsmith’s without acheiving a degree McLaren opened his first boutique alongside Vivienne Westwood in 1971.
The boutique started life as ‘Let It Rock’, a rock-a-billy haven, specialising in 50’s memorabilia. Initially at the back of the store in a sublet space, the shop became hugely popular and attracted customers nation-wide. It was the establishment of this cult store where Westwood spent the majority of her time and put the seamstress skills she acquired as a child to use. She spent her time dissecting and analysing teddy boy jackets and then recreating them. Her seamstress skills perfected and catering for the likes of Uxbridge Teddy Boys. The emporium continued to evolve and expanded to take over the whole store in the spring of 1972. Tiring of the Teddy Boys racist attitude, the store was refurbished and reopened, adorned with a new look and name, ‘Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die’, which paid homage to the early death of James Dean. The shop was aimed at bikers and the look typical of ‘Marlon Brando’, emulating the look of a ‘biker’. Taking on new staff, McLaren employed art student, Glen Matlock who had called into the shop enquiring about brothel creepers. Matlock was also a bass player and a huge Faces fan who were currently on tour. Matlock watched them play at the Wembley Empire Pool on October 29.
Visiting the boutique in 1972 was Sylvain Sylvain from the New York Dolls who were touring with The Faces. The New York Dolls formed in December of 1971, they were pre punk and played heavily on the androgyny of glam rock. Their influences ranged from Marc Bolan and David Bowie to the Rolling Stones and the Stooges.
“The New York Dolls created a new form of hard rock that presaged both punk rock and heavy metal.” Renowned for their drug-fuelled antics, vulgar displays and transvestism, many record companies would not take a risk in signing them, until Jerry Nolan replaced their then drummer Billy Murcia. Murcia had died from a mishap involving drink and drugs, on tour,
”where he drowned in a bath” on November 6. Mercury then proceeded to sign the group in 1973 and their next step was to record their debut album with producer Todd Rundgren. The album of the same name was released in that summer and
“was a proto-punk revelation” although it received rave reviews it was not a success with the public.
SEX, 430 Kings Road, Chelsea, 1976 with Ford Capri
During this time the store had introduced some changes and 1974 was the next stage of the boutique which saw the initial beginnings of punk. Using McLaren’s shock tactics the boutiques name transformed into SEX which was displayed in huge padded pink lettering above the shop. Displaying such a ‘dirty’ word in the light of day in such a tactile. inviting, fleshy fashion was unheard of, taking what would be seen by society to be a sacred act that would be performed behind closed doors to be displayed in full view in the light of day for all to see. The store was to house a vast array of subversive clothing including .fetish gear, sado-masochistic and rubber wear.
McLaren and Westwood’s notoriety had spread to the film industry and they had the luxury of designing costumes for such Ken Russell films as; Mahler and That’ll be the Day, both screened in 1974. That same year, continuing with their greatest influence McLaren and Reid were again united, involved with the layout for “Leaving the 20th Century”, the first English anthology of work written by the Situationist International by Christopher Gray. The book included some of Jamie Reid’s cartoons and graphics to give the message a more aesthetic appeal. After this creation Reid retreated to the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
Late that same year McLaren paid a visit to the National Boutique show at New York’s MacAlpin Hotel where he again met up with the New York Dolls. ‘Too Much Too Soon’ released in 1974 was a New York Dolls album produced by George “Shadow” Morton. Morton had produced some of the 1960’s great girl bands including the Shangri-Las. Even though this bizarre combination of proto-punk and pop seems unthinkable the sound was a success but not a commercial one. This album was yet again a failure for the Dolls. Mercury dropped the group and no other companies were interested in the Dolls. This was a great opportunity for McLaren, to revive the Dolls flagging career as the Doll’s employed him as manager. Mclaren started what would be known as political chic putting into practice the radical Situationist influences. Using these shock tactics he dressed the Dolls in red leather and presented them in front of the USSR’s flag. This blatant suggestion of the Dolls allegiance with communism did not sit well with Americans and their careers demise was inevitable as record companies were even more dubious about signing the band. Members of the band started to lose faith and leave and McLaren was soon dismissed as manager.
In 1975, after his ‘failure’ to save the flagging career of the New York Dolls, McLaren returned to England with a wealth of information and experience from this short time with the group. The SEX boutique had acquired a huge following and there were regular visitors to the shop. One in particular being Steve Jones. Jones was a member of the group called ‘The Strand’ who had previously formed in 1972 along with Paul Cook and Wally Nightingale. They were in need of a manager and on McLaren’s return from America. Jones enquired whether he would be interested. Organising a place for them to rehearse, McLaren paid a visit to watch them perform. Seeing they had no permanent bass player and no stage presence, McLaren called on the services of current Saturday boy shop assistant cum bass player Glen Matlock. The band was still incomplete, they needed a front man. Another regular client of the SEX boutique was John Lydon. His entrance in the shop caught McLarens eye, with his bright green hair, sporting a Pink Floyd t-shirt with “I hate” written on it. Asked if he could sing, Lydon replied ‘
No only out of tune and anyway I play the violin’”. Auditioning in the SEX boutique Lydon was snapped up as front man, given a new name, Johnny Rotten and by August McLaren had proceeded to construct the Sex Pistols. The name, not only referring to the male genitalia but also the ‘dissemination’ of the SEX label clothing. The “sexy assassins” as McLaren called them were walking mannequins and advertising vehicles for his range of clothing created alongside Vivienne Westwood at SEX, 430 Kings Road. They were a force to be reckoned with and had as Ferrell(1995) describes, an “intentionally confrontational and disturbing style. Drawing on the violently confused imagery of sadomasochism, bondage, fascism, and anarchy”. Anarchy was the key. It encapsulated the whole Punk ideology. It was a message for the people with ‘No Future’.
Although the Sex Pistols were established and their look promoted the SEX merchandise, they needed a clear identity to ‘compliment’ their image. 1976 saw McLaren call upon old art school friend Jamie Reid to work on the promotional graphics for the band. Through the traditional use of telegram McLaren contacted Reid in the remote isles of Outer Hebrides,
“Got these guys. Stop. Interested in working with you again. Stop.”
This would give Reid the opportunity to carry on with his subversive propaganda techniques. Creating the Punk iconography he is renowned for, to be plastered on record sleeves, posters and t-shirts, promoting the Pistols. The influence would continue from the 1960’s Situationists and Debordism, and Reids defiant approach would create a storm within the media.
The team was now complete, the political graphic skills of Reid, Westwood’s tailoring, McLaren as impresario and the Sex Pistols as the vehicle. Punk was here and society could never have been ready for what was about to take place.
What exactly is the meaning of “hegemony”?
“…Dominant groups in society, including fundamentally but not exclusively the ruling class, maintain their dominance by securing the ‘spontaneous consent’ of subordinate groups, including the working class, through the negotiated construction of a political and ideological consensus which incorporates both dominant and dominated groups.” Strinati, 1995
Hegemony is not a strategy exclusive to the ‘dominant’ culture, its form can emerge from social and class struggles and with Punk’s inception from a Britain in decline, brought with it its own hegemonic ideology. The subculture ‘punk’ expressed that its roots belong to the realms of the working class yet the construction of the subculture and its content was manufactured by middle class art students, McLaren and Reid, whose influences were derived from such movements as French Situationalists, Dadaism and Surrealism. These educated influences are not what you would find in the socially deprived streets of a working class Britain in decline but through the coercion between McLaren, Westwood and later, Reid. Their middle class intellectual, Situationist tactics, were channelled into the working class Sex Pistols, whom they used as their political vehicle, creating a combined force which ‘dominant’ culture had to acknowledge. The Punk’s ‘violent’ attack on society took place through the display of their clothing, the lyrics of the songs and the graphics used to promote this ideology. Through the well designed and constructed ideas, using the politics of class, gender and sexuality the control of the ‘state’ was established.
Gender and Sexuality
“They embraced alienation, and their “nihilist aesthetic” included “polymorphous, often wilfully perverse sexuality, obsessive individualism, a fragmented sense of self” .Hebdige, 1979
One of these weapons was sexuality. Punk sexuality was suggestive, and the clothing compared to that of ‘sexual deviants’, which was housed in the shop ‘SEX’. The use of anything that was seen to be unacceptable by ‘culture’ would be used. This was made apparent by the use of sexual fetish clothing, sadomasochism and bondage, which Westwood describes
“The bondage clothes were ostensibly restricting, but when you put them on they gave you a feeling of freedom.” There were other clothes depicting scenes of homosexuality, suggestions of rape and paedophilia, which brought these sexual subcultures out from the underground into the light of day, like the sign above the SEX store. These clothes took on new meanings thus forcing ‘culture’ to acknowledge the ‘abnormal’ subcultures that usually exist in the safety of night and behind closed doors making society consider elements of subcultural activity they would not deliberate which in effect challenged the dominant culture.
“Although punk rock of the 1970s did not really sustain extended interest in gender politics or sexual politics, it did provide a subcultural context in which girls could be boys and femininity could be totally rejected.” Halberstam, 1999
As Hebdige(1988) discusses, punk women were given a place within subculture albeit one of “secondary interest” they were however able to recreate themselves in any format, challenging the hegemonic ideology of dominant culture through their refusal to “submit to the masterful gaze.” Although the hegemonic ideology had transferred as Levine (1992) states “Punk rock retained misogynist imagery” Westwood was able to use detournement reflecting back this idea in the form of a violent attack on culture. An example of this is described in the text printed on the
‘Rape’ T-shirt (Stolper and Wilson, 2004). the T-shirt featured a passage of text taken from School for Wives, a pornographic novel by Alexander Trocchi, who was an excluded member of the Situationist International. The suggestion of this brutal act, delivered in such an erotic way, again forces culture to reconsider its position. The thought that one could be aroused by rape is culturally abhorrent. A further expression of defiance was displayed in the form of ‘Tits’, a T-shirt which displayed a pair of female breasts, in the correct position. This T-shirt was unisex and gave men the opportunity to flirt with appearing ‘cross gender’. Their skinny, androgynous looks calling into question, gender and sexuality.
Running alongside misogyny is homophobia which was (is) deeply entrenched in society. Westwood and McLaren also produced the “Two Cowboys” print which depicts a heavily plagiarised Tom of Finland style print of two cowboys who are half naked, their penises practically touching. This blatant display of homosexuality was not received well. Resisting not only dominant culture but the men who wore these items of clothing challenged hegemonic masculinity. Their sexuality unknown, although, most probably heterosexual, suggested through this display they may be homosexual thrusting another taboo into the face of dominant culture. The portrayal of these two men in such an act defies the moral standing of the mid 1970’s. Alan Jones was arrested in August of 1975 under the 1824 Vagrancy Act and fined £15. The police later visited SEX and confiscated a number of T-shirts including the ‘Two Cowboys’ and ‘Rape’. McLaren and Westwood were heavily fined and ordered to pay £120.
Another element of subcultural activity society will not deliberate is paedophilia. 1976 saw the outraged public reaction to Mapplethorpe’s image, ‘Honey’. The image depicted a pre-school girl lifting her dress, exposing her genitalia, which caused such a stir that year and Ferrell discusses it’s ‘crime’, quoting The Washington Post “… The photo advertises the availability of the child (and, by extension, all children) for photographic assault and rape.”
McLaren being the Situationist he was almost certainly sensed the publics reaction to this ‘crime’ and probably tapped into what was happening around the Mapplethorpe image. Using this controversy to influence, he created an unsettling image for the Sex Pistols incorporating a picture of a young boy, smoking, (which had been taken from a pedophile magazine) together with a tribal manifesto, devised in the autumn of 1976 by McLaren and Bernie Rhodes, later manager of ‘The Clash’, which was entitled ‘You’re gonna wake up one morning and know what side of the bed you’ve been lying on!’. They listed on the left over a hundred ‘Hates’ and on the right side their ‘Loves’. Challenging members of society to make a decision. You were either with them or against them. The image was used again that year for the 100 Club and Club du Chalet du Lac in 1976. This poster was used to promote the ‘Sex Pistols’ first ever-foreign concert. The copy read, ‘London’s Most Notorious Band!’. The text written here accompanied the image well as the poster suggests the boy was a Sex Pistol, a sexual being, which stirred a great deal of emotion within ‘culture’ as people do not want to see children portrayed as sexual beings for fear they will be aroused or stimulated by it.
‘You’re gonna wake up one morning and know what side of the bed you’ve been lying on!’
The majority of material promoting the Sex Pistols was provocative, which seems an understatement as Ferrell discusses “In addition, British authorities ruled the band’s promotional displays to be obscene;” Punk had created a political language which culture had to acknowledge.
“The Sex Pistols single release of ‘Anarchy in the UK’ (1976) summed up punk’s radical position where Malcolm McLaren, the self-proclaimed punk creator and Sex Pistol’s manager, was quick to point out, ‘ “ Anarchy in the UK ” is a statement of self-rule, or ultimate independence, of do-it-yourself ’.” Triggs, 2006
This do-it-yourself method was demonstrated through the use of ‘ready made’ text and imagery, of which some was blatant plagiarism, suggesting the influence of Dada, making use of the ‘art of the ready made’ was reflected in the construction of the ransom note inspired logo which Jamie Reid created for the Sex Pistols. This use of cut and paste and the ‘do it yourself’ aesthetic was also applied to the self published fanzines. The punk fanzine was seemingly working class through its use of language. The intentional use of misspelling, grammatical errors and jumbled pagination suggested that the creators were uneducated continuing the expression of working class. This constructed, humble approach helped to gain the assistance of the ‘workers’.
Punks appeal to the other minorities and subcultures helped to unify a forceful attack on the ‘state’. Punk had a place for all ‘misfits’ of society, women, lesbians. They were the 1% who didn’t care but had the power to structure an allegiance with other subcultures to form a hegemonic strategy.
“As the plethora of punk-inspired fanzines materialised, a unique visual identity emerged, with its own set of graphic rules and a ‘ do-it yourself ’ approach neatly reinforcing punk’s new found ‘ political ’ voice. As independent self-published publications, fanzines became vehicles of subcultural communication and played a fundamental role in the construction of punk identity and a political community.” Triggs, 2006
The rebellious, defiant attitude, some of which was treasonable caused moral panic.. One of these treasonable offences was the release of ‘God Save the Queen’ which coincided with the Queen’s Jubilee. Reid constructed a heavily Situationist influenced image of the Queen with a safety pin through her lip. Britain in the 1970’s was a very patriotic place. The British public loved the Queen and this image of Cecil Beaton’s portrait which had been defaced by the installation of a safety pin outrage society. The Sex Pistols
lyrics declaring the Queen was fascist and was not human was another hard hit at British society and the dominant culture. This attack with clear disregard for the consequences undermined authority. The Sex Pistols also professed England did not have a future, ‘NO FUTURE’, the decline of Britain had taken its toll on the working classes and the Pistols were the weapon against the state. Their declaration
”No mercy, no compromise – and No Future.”
“The British media condemned the band (Sex Pistols), and the larger punk movement, as violent threats to British society; and British politicians raged against this perceived threat to civil order and morality.” Ferrell, 1995
In order for the ‘state’ to retrieve hegemony, Punk had to be acknowledged and absorbed into culture for it to become less powerful. This was achieved by society accepting Punk so that it lost its edge. This removal started by the acceptance of punk fashion into society. The Zandra Rhodes collection introduced punk chic into the mainstream culture which started the punk decline.
“This “semiotic guerilla warfare” is doomed to fail, mainstream culture will either incorporate (and thus destroy) a subculture or the subculture will conveniently be labelled as being too exotic to be taken seriously.” The adoption of the mundane objects such as safety pins and razors were transformed into gold objects of adornment. The Punk edge had been softened. It was no longer a threat, culture had absorbed its essence and with that came the demise of the Sex Pistols.
The death of the Punk subculture was inevitable and subcultures since then have no room to evolve as Punk did because they are commodified and repackaged for mass culture, the dominant culture, so these exotic outlets are seemingly controlled and hegemony is retained. All this said there does seem to be a subculture which is causing ripples within society which is receiving a lot of negative attention. This subculture is EMO.
The initial beginnings of the musical genre EMO, like Punk, are open to debate although research points that the first wave began in Washington DC. Spawned from the demise of DC Hardcore Punk around 1985 as Radin states in the “Revolution Summer” the EMO music acquired its name from the lengthier title ‘emotional hardcore’. The sound was like punk, hard and fast, yet it had more emotional, lyrical, melodic qualities that were given the initial abbreviation of ‘emocore’ before transferring to EMO. The influential bands at the time according to Radin were “Rites of Spring and Moss Icon”. Numerous others developed under the ‘Dischord Records’ label during the 1980’s. This first wave continued into the mid 1990’s when in 1994 a new genre of the music branched into what would be known as indie emo. This off shoot of EMO was inspired by Dischord Record’s, Fugazi which continued until the turn of the millennium.
Entering the third wave in the year 2000, EMO has now evolved into more than music. It, for many, has become a lifestyle and image, incorporating a fusion of Goth, punk and skater styles that during the beginning of the 21st century has seen Britain’s youth culture adopt and transform into a subculture that has to be recognised on some level whether positive or negative.
With this recognition, a host of assumptions and stereotypes have accompanied it during the last 6 years and people have definite preconceived ideas. These are namely that the subcultures participants are somewhat depressed, suicidal, have a tendency to self harm and suffer from eating disorders. Their dark clothing and supposed emotional approach to life has come under attack from culture and other subcultures. The boys are seen to be weak for showing emotion and are therefore targeted as being gay and socially unacceptable.
Because of the stereotypes, associations and the general commodification by fashion designers and high street stores it has become difficult to determine exactly what EMO is and who EMO’s are. As discussed earlier culture absorbs subculture so that they are unable to become overly exotic. The high street fashion stores sell typical EMO clothing and accessories which are then adopted by none EMO’s reaffirming that subcultural fashion is immediately distributed in the high street. This has made it difficult to determine a who’s who, hence my practical title, ‘Finding EMO’. Members of the subculture have distanced themselves from it, bands and groups will not associate themselves with the term and attack the youth subculture no end, ridiculing freedom of expression and pushing EMO ‘into the closet’. The line between culture and subculture is therefore blurred and harder to define and we are left to identify the members by other forms such as body modification, incorporating tattoos and piercings which are again not exclusively EMO. The denial then that anything EMO is EMO by EMOs makes the subcultures identity ever more difficult to decipher and pinpoint. This is achieved by the satirical internet presence of numerous
‘How to dress EMO’ sites which are seemingly controlled by EMOs and have a definite EMO community presence.
The dominant rise of the internet has increased transatlantic exchanges creating a more global apparel within EMO culture. Web sites like myspace.com have become a haven for EMOs to express themselves, indulging their narcissistic personalities with receipt of adornment from like minded ‘friends’. Their photographs are taken with a definite style, the camera capturing the subject from a dominant high view, resulting in the obscure image of the subjects face. This is usually achieved by holding the camera above the head at arms length, creating a dynamic image with great perspective. Alongside this positive aspect of expression comes the abuse of the internet where attackers download the images from peoples profiles and create anti EMO campaigns, such as videos and virals accompanied by abusive and generally homophobic language.
EMO seemingly has caused a disruption not only within society but amongst other subcultures and has been subject to critique by both, receiving a great deal of negative press.
Application of Theory
The EMO subculture as discussed has received a huge amount of negative press recently and there has been numerous videos and viral animations attacking the subculture. Message-boards on the internet are inundated with obscene remarks against the EMO community
My investigation into the ‘EMO’ scene. became an ethnographic study of the subculture which I hoped would give me an insight into the interests and function of the movement. Producing qualitative results, I interviewed a selection of youths across Leeds, Bradford and Manchester capturing a good range of video data, focusing on their style, accessories, general attire and attitude.
Whilst observing the members of the subculture I began to draw comparisons from Hebdige’s analysis of the Punks. I discovered that the girls refused to give into the ‘masterful gaze’ by holding hands and creating an air of sexual uncertainty. Their outward displays of affection in public defied ‘normal’ behaviour forcing society to acknowledge them. Like the Punks, EMO boys are incredibly androgynous. Their slight frames accentuated through their attire of skinny fit jeans and T-shirts which are too small accompanied by various avant-garde hairstyles, are generally attacked for looking feminine with comments like “EMO fag” and other homophobic rants. The boys openly flirt with homosexuality creating again more sexual uncertainty which the females tend to find attractive. This suggestive behaviour undermines typical hegemonic masculinity, although the subjects are heterosexual, their polymorphous behaviour is again comparative to Hebdige’s Punks. Both sexes were were equally nihilistic enjoying an array of alcohol and party lifestyle, whilst the boys were far more indulgent in drugs such as marijuana and far more serious about the music element than their female counterparts who had a broader taste in music. I found that all EMOs were passionate and respectful of their friends expressing how important they were across the regions.
My aim was to produce a range of moving image pieces to communicate the fact that these members of this youth culture are in fact no different from any other youth culture be it past or present. I wanted to show that beneath their clothing their attitude, interests and social behaviour they were akin to other youth groups / subcultures and that people could find an affinity with the group and relate to them rather than target them. Aiming to dispel the myths behind this subculture and relieve any stereotypes and misconceptions people have the ambiguous nature of the video combined with the sound gives the viewer the opportunity to build up an image of the translated subject matter. The piece hopes to challenge stereotypes through a series of short clips that eventually build up to create a picture of the EMO culture.
My investigation into subculture has led me to the conclusion that it is for ever changing yet ever staying the same. This contradictory claim is backed by the historical evidence of subcultural and cultural warfare. The fact that hegemonic ideologies are transferred from mainstream culture into subcultural groups which then form attacks upon each other, emulating culturally ‘acceptable’ roles. It is these adapted roles that subcultures currently emulate and defy simultaneously which lead them into acceptable culture, namely adulthood. It is safe to say the importance of subculture is to determine where one sits within the dominant culture and how one establishes their role. This said I do not believe that dominant culture is necessarily a positive transference as this clearly promotes stereotypes and prejudices which subcultures aim to dispel yet sadly the journey into adulthood sees the emulation and dissemination of these negative aspects.
My series of sequences communicates a more positive side of the supposed EMO ‘way of life’ which I am sure can be transferred across the board, dispersing an unknown, yet more realistic positive point of view.
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12 I groaned with pain as he eased the pressure removing the thing which had split me and then, his huge hands grasping me at the hips my blonde hair forming a pool on the dark wood between his feet, he raised me to doting love soothing the bleeding lips and causing the tearing commotion at my loins to subside in a soft corrosion. (SEX, 1974/75)
13 God save the queen
The fascist regime
They made you a moron
God save the queen
She ain’t no human being
There is no future
In England’s dreaming
Don’t be told what you want
Don’t be told what you need
There’s no future, no future,
No future for you
God save the queen
We mean it man
We love our queen
God save the queen
‘Cause tourists are money
And our figurehead
Is not what she seems
Oh God save history
God save your mad parade
Oh Lord God have mercy
All crimes are paid
When there’s no future
How can there be sin
We’re the flowers in the dustbin
We’re the poison in your human machine
We’re the future, you’re future
God save the queen
We mean it man
We love our queen
God save the queen
We mean it man
And there is no future
In England’s dreaming
No future, no future,
No future for you
No future, no future,
No future for me
No future, no future,
No future for you
No future, no future