Two Subcultures

Punk Male by fluffy-steve at flickr.com

The two subcultures I’ve chosen to write about are hip hop culture and punk culture. Having watched a documentary in college on the rise of the Teddy Boy culture in Britain, British Style Genius – The Street Look – Part 1, I was struck by a number of characteristics that seemed common to Ted culture and to hip hop culture. Both seemed to emerge from a background that was at least borderline criminal – spivs in the case of Teds and American gang culture in the case of hip hop – and both seemed to be marked by tendency among their male adherents to denigrate their female companions. In the case of Teds, this latter trait was manifested in the documentary we watched in one particular comment about liking to have a dumb blonde on your arm, or words to that effect, while the sexually explicit lyrics in rap songs (which are apparently part of hip hop culture) about ‘hos’ and ‘bitches’ might be classified by some as outright misogyny.

The link between hip hop and American gang culture can be seen, for instance, on the website of ‘Mr Wiggles’, a South Bronx Puerto Rican, ‘raised on HIP HOP since the early 70s’: http://www.mrwiggles.biz  In the ‘Hip Hop History’ section of this website the connection with gang culture is made very clear: ‘In every aspect of HIP HOP culture there is a connection of some sort of gang influence’. The prevalence of gang culture is not left hanging in a vacuum by Mr Wiggles and he explains that ‘Growing up amongst, gang violence, drugs, poverty, police harassment, broken down abandon buildings, and bad schools added to this rebellious attitude that the youth had towards society’. It was also much more than a simple gang culture and had its own musical expression and visual artistic expression in the form of graffiti. Hip hop also developed its own slang. In the ‘Misconceptions’ section of his website Mr Wiggles doesn’t address the widespread perception of rap artists as being misogynistic, at least in the lyrics of their songs, so I’ll just have presume that with Mr Wiggles, at least, this is not a problem.

Punk culture came to prominence in the mid 1970s and is probably best personified in person of Johnny Rotten and his band, The Sex Pistols. John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, fronted the Sex Pistols from 1975 to 1978, going on to become lead singer with Public Image Limited. The Sex Pistols and their followers, along with many others who defined themselves as ‘punks’, created a subculture that went beyond music and was marked by eye-catching regalia and hair-styling along with a cultivated disdain for authority and convention that also tended towards political anarchism. There does not appear to have been any overt misogyny in the broad punk movement such as that in the hip hop movement. However, the revelation that ‘punk women frequently wrote words like ‘slut’ or ‘bitch’ on their bodies’ http://visualvitriol.wordpress.com/women-in-punk-an-essay-punk-aesthetic-uses-to-question-and-reclaim-the-female-gender/ might lead one to conclude, when viewed alongside Ted and hip hop culture, that anti-authoritarianism and misogyny are inextricably linked, even to the point of women internalising that misogyny. Or perhaps these particular punk women were engaged in irony as a form of rebellion.

To finish on one final observation, both hip hop and punk culture, along with Ted culture, was marked by a liking for metallic jewellery and adornment, and quite a lot of it compared to mainstream culture. I’m not quite sure what this says about the cultures in question or the people who were attracted to them. Nor am I sure why these groups often seemed to need to gather together in gangs or large groups in public. Perhaps a fundamental vulnerability? Perhaps not.

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3 Responses to Two Subcultures

  1. cm3guru says:

    Very good blog dude…
    Me likey ;o)

  2. CarolineO says:

    Adian while you are correct there is no doubt that modern day Hip Hop which is now mainstream culture is sexist to the point of misogynistic. It is important when you are looking at Hip Hop as a subculture to go back to its origins. It emerged in the 1970’s in New York. The activity was focused around DJs, soundsystems and Hip hop dancing at Block parties in the Bronx. This was a back lash against the Disco scene and the reality that a lot of young black youths were not allowed entry into the night clubs, the growing drugs problems and the social reality of the poverty at the time. While there would not have been many young women involved in DJing at the time there would have been plenty of B girls (hip hop dancers) and there would have been some female MCs. The original Hip Hop artists such as the Sugarhill gang and Public Enemy would have been extremly political and would even have been associated with the black panthers. What is also interesting is there was actually many similarities between Hip Hop and Punk the first being they both emerged around the same time and while many other subcultures up until now had been appropriating lots of different sources, both Hip Hop and Punk were about a DIY ethos and aesthetic that was orginal.
    You interpretation of the punk movement is correct Women were involved and there were some very strong feminist female punk groups such as The Slits which would have been as revered as the male groups.

    I do question the notion of misogyny and anti authoritarianism being intrinsically linked I think it is something that would need to be teased out much more than a comment here, but I am glad to see you are grappling with larger issues.

    on your final observation I sometimes think it can be explained slimply as a peacock mentality. Certain young people especially young working class men want to be seen as something amongst thier peers.

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