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Lecture 5 - Subculture & Style

Definition of Subculture

In sociology, anthropology and cultural studies, a subculture is a group of people with a culture (whether distinct or hidden) which differentiates them from the larger culture to which they belong. 

You can have cubculture without the style. Cyber Goth SLUT.

The Lecture is going to Look at:-

- Skateboarding/ parkour and free running/ graffiti as a performance of the city
- The Riot Grrrl movement as a feminine and feminist subculture
- The portrayal of youth subculture in film and photography

Dogtown & Z-Boys (2001)

Dogtown and Z-Boys is a 2001 documentary film directed by Stacy Peralta. Using a mix of film the Zephyr skateboard team shot in the 1970s by Craig Stecyk and more recent interviews, the documentary tells the story of a group of California teenage surfer/skateboarders and their influence on the history of skateboarding (and to a lesser extent surfing) culture. The film is narrated by Sean Penn.

Financed by Vans as Peralta had a deal with them.

A history of the emergence skate culture in the 1970’s- from nerdy kids passtime to subcultural sport.

Using an empty swimming pool as a bowl to skate in. Using what is already there for something else. 

The development of original cultures into contemporary cultures. 

Skater Peggi Oki

In terms of style, there wasn't particularly a clothing style. It was more practical use, to protect from injury to some extent. The male and female members where not much differentation. Girls and Boys both had long hair and wore similar clothes. 

Ian Borden - 'Performing The City'

This book is really useful. 

Urban street skating is more ‘political’ than 1970’s skateboarding‘s use of found terrains: street skating generates new uses that at once work within (in time and space) and negate the original ones

Borden argues that the performance of street skating gives the body something to do other than passively stare at advertising surfaces; the movement and action creates an interest in other aspects of the city and in the skaters own physical presence- of being in the city, rather than being walked through it by the architecture etc. 

In the quote above he refers to an altered sense of time experienced in skating as the physical experience is cut up into moves and runs. Rather than the city carrying the body along at it’s own pace whichis dictated by commerce.

For example, the use of the hand rail is used for a place for the board to grind rather than its original use. 

Lords of Dogtown (2005)

Lords of Dogtown is a 2005 biographical film directed by Catherine Hardwicke, written by Stacy Peralta. The film is based on the story of "The Z-Boys", an influential group of skateboarders who revolutionized the sport.

“Skateboarders do not so much temporarily escape from the routinized world of school family and social conventions as replace it with a whole new way of life.” (Borden:2001)

People in the film intereviewd talk about the importance of the social interaction. 

Parkour & Freerunning


a method of movement focused on moving around obstacles with speed and efficiency. Originally developed in France, the main purpose of the discipline is to teach participants how to move through their environment by vaulting, rolling, running, climbing and jumping. Parkour practitioners are known as traceurs. They train to be able to identify and utilize alternate or the more efficient paths through the city.


a form of urban acrobatics in which participants, known as free runners, use the city and rural landscape to perform movements through its structures
places more emphasis on freedom of movement and creativity than efficiency

Parkour has a more 'sporty' element to it where as free running is based more on freedom of movement.

Yamakasi (2001)

The film demonstrates the skills of the Yamakasi, a group of traceurs who battle against injustice in the Paris ghetto. They use parkour to steal from the rich in order to pay off medical bills for a kid injured copying their techniques.

the Yamakasi group deny the differences and say: "parkour, l'art du deplacement, free running, the art of movement... they are all the same thing. They are all movement and they all came from the same place, the same nine guys originally. The only thing that differs is each individual's way of moving". 

The story creates a group of superheroes almost who fight in the ghetto. In this film the characters use parkour to steal from the rich and give to the poor.

Jump London (2005)

a documentary first broadcast by Channel 4 about parkour and free running in September 2003, directed by Mike Christie and produced by Optomen Television. It later spawned a sequel, Jump Britain that first aired in January 2005. Both feature documentaries were directed by Mike Christie.

Jump London followed three French traceurs, Sébastien Foucan, Jérôme Ben Aoues, and Johann Vigroux, as they run around many of London's most famous landmarks, including Royal Albert Hall, Shakespeare's Globe Theater, HMS Belfast, and many others.

Experience of Architecture in the city.

Nancy Mcdonald - The Graffiti Subculture 

Here (on the street) real life and the issues which may divide and influence it, are put on pause. On this liminal terrain you are not black, white rich or poor. Unless you are female, ‘you are what you write’.

It's a subcultural activity because it is a way of claiming ownership to public place. Tagging or putting your name up is some way of claiming that area. This could be public or static such as a wall or building or subway station. This experience of the city make it subcultural at night. The activity. 

Black Graffiti writer Prime Says:

I mean I’ve met people that I would never have met, people like skinheads who are blatantly racist or whatever. I can see it in them and they know we know, but when you’re dealing on a graffiti level, everything’s cool and I go yard with them, they’d come round my house , I’d give them dinner or something.

He's saying that graffiti kind of erases the traditional borders. Graffiti is a way of separating your identity from the performance. 

Miss Van

McDonald suggest that women come to the subculture laden with the baggage of gender in that her physicality (her looks) and her sexuality will be commented on critically in a way that male writers do not experience.

The baggage of gender or looks is more difficult to escape from. You could read it as a focus on appearance or a way of putting femininity in peoples faces.

Swoon (US)

There are female writers who do the opposite of that such as swoon. A black women rest on the top of the city. Swoons work is very politically motivated. She works on urban re-generation and uses graffiti as a way of people claiming back space. 

“In the meantime there was a lot of attention coming my way for being female, and it just made me feel alienated and objectified, not to mention patronized. ‘Look at what girls can do-aren’t they cute?’ To hell with that shit. I don’t want it.”

Angela Mc Robbie and Jenny Garber

Girl subcultures may have become more invisible because the very term ‘subculture’ has acquired such strong masculine overtones (1977) 

Most of the writing and research on the topic is done by men.

The authors choose to look at where girls do appear historically in subcultures and to see if these appearances indicate that cultural subordination is retained

This might not be the case nowadays with post subcultural activity. An example is the Japanese street style which is mainly all female. 

Terrible child-like sexual overtones. 

Motorbike Girl

- Brigitte Bardot 1960’s 

- Suggests sexual deviance which is a fantasy not reflective of most conventional real life femininity at the time

They look at the motorbike girl and the female in the motorbike culture. A powerfully sexual, deviant biker female. This is suggested to be untrue to the femininity of the time. 

Girls are usually an 'add-on'. With no involvement with the competitiveness or mechanical side of the culture. 


Hells Angels

- In rocker and motorbike culture girls usually rode pillion
- Wills 1978: girls did not enter into the cameraderie, competion and knowledge of the machine
- In this subculture women were either girlfriend of.. Or ‘mama’ figure

Mod Girl

A morphus style appearing. Neat and Tidy fashion unlike the biker 'scruffy' culture. The girls had short hair. This fashion allows it to fit in to the school and work routine without attracting too much attention. Girl could have a status within the culture without being attached to a boy. 

They had part time jobs which meant they had money to buy the clothes and socialise. 


- Mod culture springs from working class teenage consumerism in the 1960’s in the UK 

- Teenage girls worked in cities in service industries for example, or in clothing shops where they are encouraged to model the boutique clothing 

- This meant they had money for socialising and mod rallies.

- Mc Robbie and Garber note that The fashion was neat tidy and unthreatening therefore fitted into the school home work routine without attracting attention..

- A girl could be a ‘face ‘ without being attached to a boy. Quadrophenia

- Short hair, thin frame and unisex nature of the culture meant that attention from cultural commentators begins

- Brook clinics make the Pill available in 1964- swinging london

- More about belonging to a group identity than individual expression.   

Quadrophenia (1979)

Depicts tensions between mods and rockers in 1965 in London and Brighton Bank holiday weekend.

Everything goes wrong for Phil Daniels character Dave when his mum throws hiim out when she finds amphetimeines in the house, the girl he likes finds someone else etc.

The film culminates in the elusive character ‘Face’ played by Sting who drives off the cliff edge, signifying the end of the illusions of youth for Dave.

Hebdige outlines the hierarchies within the mod subculture where “the ‘faces’ or ‘stylists’ who made up the original coterie were defined against the unimaginative majority…who were accused of trivialising the mod style”

This idea of status in the culture separates from the original culture. The different factions within this movement compared to the factions of the skinhead movement. 

Some people were original and some people were unimaginatively following a trend.

Hippy Girl

- Subculture arises through universities of the late 60’s and early 70’s 

- Middle class girl therefore has the space to explore subculture for longer before family etc. 

- Space for leisure without work: encourages ‘personal expression’

- Feminist authors point out that traditional sex roles prevailed in the hippy subculture eg: earth mother, pre raphaelite mystic, etc.

- Similar culture now gone mainstream in the contemporary festival circuit as a right of passage   

Bad Hippy / Good Hippy

Janis Joplin

Peace and Flower Power

Good Hippy being the flower power girl and the bad hippy being symbolised by the janis joplin type. Rock and Roll destruction. 

Riot Grrrrl - Mid 1990's onwards

Originally an underground punk movement based in Washington DC, Olympia, Portland, Oregon and the greater Pacific Northwest.

I would like to suggest the Riot Grrl movement as a genuine feminine/feminist subculture in that it is lead, formed and used by women.  They wouldn't have called themselves Feminists though.

Third wave feminism

Riot grrrl bands often address issues such as rape, domestic abuse, sexuality, racism, and female empowerment


Some bands involved in this scene was less about the music and more about the protest. The DIY Punk ethic which is not about musicianship but an anti-approach attitude. 

Bikini Kill, Bratmobil, Excuse 17, Heavens to Betsy, Fifth Column, Calamity Jane, Huggy Bear, Adickdid, Emily's Sassy Lime, The Frumpies, The Butchies, Sleater-Kinney, Bangs and also queercore like Team Dresch

Cold Cold Hearts, side project band of Allison Wolfe of riot grrrl band Bratmobile, playing 'Sorry Yer Band Sux' live at Black Cat, Washington, D.C. 3/7/97

Not about the music but the attitude of the female figure in this scene.  

Influence / Origins

Poly Styrene - Seen as a founder and key figure of the movement. 

- The Raincoats, Poly Styrene, LiLiPUT, The Slits, The Runaways/Joan Jett, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Exene Cervenka, Siouxsie Sioux, Lydia Lunch, Kim Gordon, Neo Boys, Chalk Circle, Ut, Bush Tetras, Frightwig, Anti-Scrunti Faction, Scrawl,and Fifth Column 

Riot Grrl?

- Mount Pleasant Race Riots in 1991 

- Bratmobile member Jen Smith (later of Rastro! and The Quails), reacted to the violence by prophetically writing in a letter to Allison Wolfe: "This summer's going to be a girl riot."

- Involved in these political active movements. 


Wolfe and Molly Neuman collaborated with Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail to create a new zine and called it Riot Grrrl, combining the "riot" with an oft-used phrase that first appeared in Vail's fanzine Jigsaw "Revolution Grrrl Style Now”. Riot grrrls took a growling double or triple r, placing it in the word girl, as a way to take back the derogatory use of the term 

Reproduces the punk DIY aspects within the cut and paste print aesthetic of the zines. 

What makes this a true subculture? 

- To be a subculture it must be political somehow

- Zines revived from 1970’s DIY punk ethic 

- In turn this was influenced by posters and graphic design from the Dadaists in the 1920’s 30’s 

- Women self-publishing their own music

In addition to a music scene and genre, riot grrrl is also a subculture; zines, the DIY ethic, art, political action, and activism are part of the movement. Riot grrrls are known to hold meetings, start chapters, and support and organize women in music.

During the early 1990s the Seattle/Olympia Washington area had a sophisticated Do it yourself infrastructure. Young women involved in underground music scenes took advantage of this to articulate their feminist thoughts and desires through creating punk-rock fanzines and forming garage bands. The political model of collage-based, photocopied handbills and booklets was already used by the punk movement as a way to activate underground music, leftist politics and alternative (to mainstream) sub-cultures. Many women found that while they identified with a larger, music-oriented subculture, they often had little to no voice in their local scenes, so they took it upon themselves to represent their own interests by making their own fanzines, music and art. 

Raoul Hausmann- Dada

- ABCD Self-portrait (1923-24) 

- “Like the author of the the surrealist collage typically juxtaposes two apparently incompatible realities” (Hebdige: 1979)
- It is perhaps difficult for us to think about the sidlining of women in the music industry now, but this was revolutionary at the time. 

Media attention turns to Grunge scene!

 Courtney Love and Hole 

- Style without the subculture

- Distorts even further as the 90’s continue into the more more media friendly Spice Girls use of phrase “Girl Power”

- Early 90’s Seattle

- Less political acts gain attention. Hole Courtney Love

Spice Girls

- Band styling presents a set of visual ‘types’ that are easily consumable by the target audience which are just there for easy consumption of the teenage girl audience. 

- There is no empowerment for young women as there is nothing but the reduction of young women to cartoon representations. Reduces any political undertones of what power might be. Purely a comment on style. Even their lyrics portrayed an emptiness of the power they had. 

- The 5 types invite identification

But what does each type represent or stand for? Here are no role models put forward here, only the loose concept of Girl Power. Power to do what?

The lyrics betray this in “I’ll tell you what I want what I really want, I wanna huh I wanna huh I wanna zig z ig ah” ??????

Real needs/desires replaced by nonsense

Dick Hebdige Subculture : The meaning of  style 

- “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.” 

- This is triggered by the offence caused by lyrics and behaviour is important as it leads to questions about ‘the parent culture’

- Hebdige looks at the punk subculture of 1970’s Britain and stresses the importance of subculture in the visual world. So really the true experience of the subculture is to be in there with the live experience. 

- Youth subculture separate from the wyay it is represented on TV, by record companies, in marketing.

- Live music experience is the phenomena, the youth groups are the lived experience

The Commodity Form 

- Subcultural signs like dress styles and music are turned into mass produced objects
- Eg: clothing which is ripped as an anarchic anti-fashion statement becomes mass produced with rips as part of the design    

- Vivienne Westwood and Mc Laren capitalise on this through the shop SEX which sells punk clothing

 – the polar opposite of the original DIY aesthetic of punk 

- Style overtaking subculture. 

A Threat to the Family 

- Womens Own 1977 runs a feature on “Punks and Mothers”, smiling, reclining next to the family pool etc. 

- Non political threat that ultimately will not disturb traditional values. Really nice people that are being represented unfairly. 

- Hebdige suggests that the press set up this perceived threat as away of neutralising something that could not be conceived by the petit-bourgeois therefore has to be ‘domesticated’   

21st Century Demonisation

Particular youth groups in britain following the London Riots. 

The Hoody becomes the symbol of the demonised aspect of society. 

This whole association with a garment that is to do with lawlessness. It starts as a protective piece of clothing to stop them being identified but also acts as a badge to be unidentifiable within that group. 

Teddy Boys

Long coat moves from the rich in the first image ------ into mass production on the middle image -------- and then by the working class in the last image. 

Roger Mayne (1956)

Girls might get into trouble on the street (get pregnant) 

Chris Steele-Perkins / The Teds (1979)

Racists give Nazi salute in London (1980)

Gavin Watson - Skins (1980's)

This is England (2006) Shane Meadows. 

In the film the new kid on the estate transforms himself into a british skin. Taking on the style and ethics of the group. 

An indidual who has been aliented from his family. His dad was killed in teh war. his mum in single. 

The journey from a young man to a young teenager. 

It's investigation between the skin head style and the politics. 

Working Class UK in the 1980's. 

Combo comes out of prison to split the group up trying to nurture the kits. 

The concluding scene where Combo beats Milky up. 

The violence comes from Milky inviting Combo to his house to eat 'traditional' family foods. 

Further Research / Contemporary Subcultures 

•McRobbie, Angela (1977) Girls and Subcultures
•Hebdige, Dick (1979) Subculture: the meaning of Style
•Borden, Ian (2001) Skateboarding, Space and the City
•Mc Donald, Nancy (2001) The Graffiti Subculture
•DeMello, Margo (2000) Bodies of inscription: a cultural history of the modern tattoo community
•Ganz, Nicholas (2006) Graffiti Woman, Thames and Hudson

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