Black and White


Subculture – Shock and Style

Subculture: shock and style.

Varieties of culture – visual, aural, artifacts, spaces.

Culture – ‘The term culture, in what is known as the “anthropological defini9on”, refers to “ a whole way of life”, meaning a broad range of activities geared towards classifying symbolically within a society’

(Sturken and Cartwright 2009: 3)

‘ Culture [and subculture] is produced through complex networks of talking, gesturing, looking, and ac9ng, through which meanings are exchanged between members of a society or group. Objects such as images and media texts come into play in this network of exchange not as sta9c en99es…but as ac9ve agents that draw us to look and to feel or speak in par9cular ways…’ (Sturken and Cartwright 2009: 3)

Subcultures tend to be groups of young people, with similar beliefs, skills, and interests. Something that ties them together and differs them from everyone else. They have a distinct difference from the main culture. Some form a resistance against the dominant culture. For example, the punk movement, they dressed the same, get different from the norm, they all believed in the same morals, and ethics, and they grouped to protest against the norm.


In 1970’s – the arrivals of punk, the first concrete punk rock scene appeared in the mid 70’s in New York. Bands like The Ramones, New York Dolls, Blondie and the Talking Heads were playing regular.

England youth were angry, rebellious and out of work. They had strong opinion and a lot of free time.

How are subcultures and creatively linked?

Avant-garde – the shock of the middle class. The avant-garde movement changes the norm in art. Impressionist artists arrived breaking the rules and changing the face of art.

The bourgeoisie – the wealthy class that became rich due to capitalism. The avant-garde artists wanted to shock them to show their displeasure at what society had become.

What once ‘shocked’ is now the norm. Once the shock has worn off the art and meaning become accepted and something new is needed to shock. For example, the work of Manet was considered shocking in the 18th century, but his work found its self on chocolate boxes a little while later. The pattern has repeated itself through out history and into modern times. The shock leads to an introduction into the mainstream.

Dada – literary and artist movement during Europe during World War 1. Anti-war artists used any public forum to metaphorically protest against the war. The Dadaists were fed up with society and wanted no place in it. However there work fell apart when it became acceptable and part of society. Dada gave birth to surrealism.

The artists too everyday items and re-appropriated them as art. Marcel Duchamp’s, fountain, is just a signed urinal, but as he said it was art, it now is. It is in the louver and worth millions.

It was not until the second have of the 20th century that subcultures played with style. Teds, Mods, Rockers, Punks and skinheads are all highly visible and noticeable subcultures. They have distinctive forms of dress, highly visible behaviors and a distinctive form of speech.

The rise of the subculture links to the rise of the teenager. Social change meant young people had money and time before they had to settle down into adulthood.

These subcultures caused social panic and were believed to be a dangerous problem. A threat to mainstream culture. Parents want their children be like them, and children what to be nothing like their parents. This caused conflicts and social unrest.

In the 1950’s the ‘teddy boy’ subculture arrived. It became the first visible subculture in the UK. It came from the rock and roll music brought from the states by the GIs during the war.

The 1960’s brought the Mods. The Mods were Britain’s first original youth subculture. The look developed from continental film. They were fashion conscious sharp dressers. Mods or Moderns emerged partly from the jazz scene and partly from the working class tradition of competitive dressing. Mods dressed like middle class businessmen. They wore Italian-cut, custom-made suits from Cecil Gee and teamed them with polo shirts (Fred Perry) and neat Vidal Sassoon haircuts. They also rode Vespa (Lambretta) motor scooters. Mods liked Black music and those who had grown up with newly settled West Indian neighbours adopted elements of Black styling and a taste for Jamaican Ska. They experimented with drugs. London Mod bands of the 1960s included the Small Faces, The Who and The Kinks.

Around the same time the ‘rockers’ subculture emerged as well. The Rockers enjoyed Rock and Roll, and their style consisted of jeans, boots and leather jackets. Rockers mostly favored 1950s and early-1960s rock and roll by artists such as Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Elvis Presley. They wore black leather and studs, had anti-authority beliefs. The Rockers lived for the present, with a scruffy, masculine, ‘bad boy’ image.

The rockers and mods clashed, due to conflicts in interests. The rockers disliked the Mods need to use drugs and found them inferior for this. This caused many fights and killings between the two cultures. This conflict is presented in the 1976 movie Quadrophenia. The movie depicts a summer spent by ‘Jimmy’ and his life as a Mod. Including a trip to Brighton, to fight the Rockers.

Mod culture progressed into skinhead culture through the introduction of Jamaican RudeBoy cultures. By the 1980’s the culture had a racist reputation and became known for violence. Today the skinheads are a notorious subculture.