Thursday, April 17, 2014

On Subcultures


This was written for a class about gender and fandom.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a subculture as “an ethnic, regional, economic, or social group exhibiting characteristic patterns of behavior sufficient to distinguish it from others within an embracing culture or society.” The term was first used in an academic sense by David Riesman in his 1950 book The Lonely Crowd, where he distinguishes a subculture from the larger culture that it is part of because of its active rejection of the majority’s values and the commercial media’s messages.

In his 1979 book Subculture: The Meaning of Style, Dick Hebdige posits that subcultures undermine and challenge hegemony in an indirect manner through their usage of style. Subcultures appropriate common, everyday items and give them double meanings that only members of the subculture understand; he gives the example of a tube of Vaseline’s significance to the gay community. This appropriation of style is a form of resistance to the mainstream culture, thereby maintaining the vitality of the subculture.

Hall and Jefferson believe that subcultures are squarely in opposition to the media, and that the media is only an outsider and reporter on subcultures. Thornton disagrees, stating that subcultures rely on the media in order to effectively become a subculture. She says that they do not begin on an independent level and just become movements on their own accord; instead, the media is part of the process of the formation of subcultures.