Introduction to Youth Culture, “Punks”
Youth culture is unable to be defined across the boundaries in which ideological meanings permanently inscribe in particular cultural forms. (Giroux & Simon, 1989, p. 45) The key feature of a sub-culture is simultaneous to ‘make’ difficult tasks when there are obvious tensions and contradictions like punk culture besides music and fashion was deeply influenced by originality and plagiarism, anti-commercialism and commercialism, sophistication and dumbness and humor and seriousness. The best example is that of chosen ‘punks’ culture which emerged in 1976 in the UK and it was approximately coincidental with the rise in currency of the term Postmodernism within the intellectual culture.
Punk culture is mostly described by the general public, it would be better to say that mostly defined by youngsters as ‘punks’ hold a major influence on teenagers. It was due to the punks’ influences that reshaped the then interface between high art and popular music and was the first youth culture began to be conducted. The generally accepted view is that it originated in America, due to the existence there pre-1976 of bands such as Television and the Ramones and antecedents going back to the garage bands of the 1960s. Specifically, the start-point is usually given to be around 1973-74, and the place of origin is New York and the UK. (Giroux & Simon, 1989, p. 23).
If we analyze punks from a critical point of view, punk’s critique of the pop culture industry represents a significant constituency that gained some critical purchase upon, not only pop but also culture more broadly. It would be hard, however, if we compare punks’ to any other culture or make similar claims for any current movements within pop culture. The pop culture industry is too circumscribed today to enable any space to be made within it from which a critique of its operations might be mounted. If this critique is seen to be the most important aspect of punk then punk’s legacy can only be seen to exist in other areas of culture than in pop itself. One tendency that has recently been compared to punk is what is referred to as the ‘new’, or ‘young British art’, that has emerged in London over the past 10 years. (Brake, 1990, p. 43).
Sabin (1999) has compared Punk with the new British art scene which can be thought of as a kind of spatial and temporal mosaic, and no doubt she is right in claiming as punks’ are parallel to that ‘art work’ which is created on the margins of the mainstream art world; like the best of punk, though, it had no intention of staying there. For this generation of artists, punk exists as an inescapable cultural fact, part of what defines the parameters of cultural practice; punks’ movement is as important as any recent movement in art. (Sabin, 1999, p. 18).
Nevertheless, Subculture was groundbreaking and demonstrated how punk had transformed for good the perception of popular music. The conception of pop within Cultural Studies in the ‘post-modern’ 80s was to be at odds with punk, however, what took hold was not a continuation of punk’s negation of pop but an affirmative, populist theorization of pop itself.
Punks’ music is considered even vaguer than ‘authentic’ which tends to be applied to early and original versions of a particular type of music, which is often considered to be better than later ‘debased’ forms. Thus ‘country blues’ is considered more authentic, and therefore better, than Chicago, or electric, blues music. Early black jazz is more authentic than white jazz bands like the Dixieland Jazz Band, who in turn are more authentic (and better) than ‘big band’ jazz. (Sabin, 1999, p. 46) This view of authenticity assumes that there is a central ‘pure’ core in any given field, which is then dissipated by a series of less authentic, and therefore ‘lesser’ practitioners.
Pop’ is a multi-layered work and, as such, perfectly exemplifies the distinct ontology of art. On one level, the work takes as its ‘subject matter’ how it might be received critically. Produced at the cusp of the advent of the ‘young British art’ phenomenon, it presciently anticipates attempts to see it as a ‘revival of the prevocational strategies of Situationism relearned through punk’.
Like any culture, punk was a ‘production’, the final product created from a series of possibilities. However, this production, once monopolized by youth cultures, was borrowed from and used by other groups in the formation of new social parameters of dress and style. Starting with a range of dress styles, which evolved spatially at different rates before the amalgamation and fixing of a ‘punk dress code’, punk fashion was a process of discrimination and rejection. Discussed solely in terms of authenticity and symbolic resistance, punk dress loses the fluid boundaries that were constantly being redefined by members of the subculture. (Sabin, 1999, p. 152).
The entry-level to punk was inextricably tied to bands and records and their corollary, the music press. With this emerged a dress code from raids on jumble sales and charity stores or bought through shops and mail order. Within Sheffield, punk clothing could be purchased from a range of establishments: leather jackets and trousers from Lewis Leathers, a motorbike-clothing retailer; Doctor Martens and army fatigues from army surplus chains. Catering specifically for punks were shops such as Promotaprint that sold mohair jumpers and PVC trousers and T-shirts, mostly made-up by the owner, inspired by what punks were wearing. (Giroux & Simon, 1989, p. 128) Clothing was also acquired from trips to shops such as X-Clothes in Leeds, which stocked bondage trousers, mohair jumpers, T-shirts, and Crazy Colour hair dye.
Through branded outlets punk fashion grew and mutated, sited within, and inextricably linked to, a much broader culture. The synthesis between real urban space as the site of commodity exchange, and style as a determinant of youth culture, was solidified within the networks of information that swam between them. As a result, punk clothing was rapidly commodified, and for both producer and consumer to differentiate them, this process was reflected in the evolution and mutation of punk fashions. (Sabin, 1999, p. 146).
‘Authentic’ punk which, often seems like high culture, is seen to undermine the dominant culture by working outside its paradigmatic formation. The ‘part-time punk’, ‘weekender’, and ‘poseur’ were themselves targets for potential exclusion from the ‘authentic’ culture. Working or unemployed, at college or school, the micro-climate’s punks inhabited, mediated, and shaped their individual experiences.
Since 1978, research and documentation on punk fashion have taken two paths. First, textual and visual histories centered on London, working within a framework of ‘avant-garde’ bands, designers, and their coteries, such as the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, and second, a theoretical reading of punk style as an ideological ‘resistance’. Both determine the punk style in a series of fixed iconographic images and cultural symbols, cutting a swathe through the urban landscape like a motorway.
The paradox that faced local politicians writing their 1980s policies for ‘young people and music’ was that the value of that music was usually taken to be the result of young people’s powerlessness. British pop had developed through the unexpected ways in which teenagers used cheap commodities for their imaginative purposes and carved out their own collective spaces. The ideology of ‘independence’, in particular, meant challenging the usual rules of public provision and acquiescent consumption, and developing a do-it-yourself infrastructure of unofficial (and often illegal) sales and promotion pirate radio, ‘blues’, bootleg tapes, sampled records, and so on. (Bennett et al, 1993, p. 19).
Some punks were feminists and many feminists played in ‘post-punk’ bands. Also, the ‘moment’ of punk motivated some women to play an instrument and made it easier for women who already played to get heard. However, the majority of instrumentalists in punk, left-wing and anarchist bands were male.
Media was responsible for exploding punk fashion thereby erupting into periodic ‘culture wars’, which often contested concerning symbolic ‘out’ groups: members of youth cultures, from 1920s flappers to 1970s punk and moral ‘deviants’, from sexual minorities to unmarried mothers. (Curran, 2002, p. 75) These battles marked out where the outer perimeter of the ‘acceptable’ lay. For traditionalists, these out-groups often symbolized a deeper moral malaise that required an appropriate level of societal response whether this be setting a ‘better example’, greater moral regulation of the young through education, tougher sanctions, or new punitive laws. To liberals, these outgroups were often victims of prejudice and a pretext for the extension of unacceptable authoritarianism. (Curran, 2002, p. 24).
Punks are always worst in education as all their ambition is towards fashion and music, they are not interested in studies or higher education. The media has always misrepresented the punks in terms of violence and extremism while police, on the other hand, have been encouraged the punks’ movement for all the musical progress they have made. Even prisoners in jail are influenced by the ‘punk culture’ and in situations where violence takes place in jail, to defend themselves, often the prisoner takes the form of ‘punks’ by joining another person of the same gender. According to Ristroph (2006) “Those punks who consider them feeble in prisons, seeks out and pairs with a man”. (Ristroph, 2006).
It was during punk that the ‘sex wars’ went over the ground, that the battle for territory on stage, on the street, and in the workplace began to pierce the mainstream. (Sanders, 2005, p. 34) The orthodoxy was that punks hated hippies. In the era of sexual permissiveness, ‘sexual liberation’ had been a big con, just a way of getting women into bed more easily. (Sabin, 1999, p. 167) Punks objected to what they saw as hippie idealism and native, the ‘grow your own hi’ approach that failed to take account of the rigors of late-twentieth-century urban life.
It was the 60s and early 70s counterculture movement, however, that opened up pathways for punk feminism. In 1970, for instance, Germaine Greer put the politics of female sexuality firmly on the agenda when she guest-edited the special ‘Cuntpower’ issue of the underground magazine 0z. Included in the issue was a women’s liberation manifesto, a piece on female masturbation, and instructions on how to make your own ‘Cuntpower’ bikinis, and a Greer polemic on the power of ‘cunt’ confrontation. No longer were women to remain ‘chaste guardians of their husbands’ honor’. In a characteristic clarion call, she wrote: ‘Cunt is knowledge skirts must be lifted, knickers must come off forever. It is time to dig cunt and women must dig it first’. (Brake, 1990, p. 187).
Adopted late in the cycle of punk fashion, its iconic status is a reflection of its ‘shock’ value, a visual, highly charged version of punk, which could be sold to both the tourist and the media, by posing for the camera.
Punk cultural experience defines the real rural and urban spaces, the site shop, nightclub, school, text, and image accommodated the evolution, and manifestation, of a new youth cultural code, through a process of active consumption. Now, it depends upon the youth how they take and make use of this consumption and in what manner they perceive such ‘cultures’, positive or negative.
For example, Asian British – Too many British, Asian youth do not fit into any of the popular images typically associated with youth culture or subcultures, such as punks, hip-hop artists and rappers, hippies, skinheads, punks, graffiti writers, low riders, ravers, or suburban ‘mall rats’, with the exception, perhaps, of gang members. (Zhou & Lee, 2004, p. 10) For a long time, Asian British youth have been neglected or at best homogenized into a social group widely celebrated as the ‘model minority’ while decoratively stereotyped as ‘nerds’ or ‘geeks’.
Today, youth generally refer to those between the ages of 16 and 24 consisting of those young people who are at the stage in their life cycles where they strive to find their own spaces, make their own choices, and form their own identities, while at the same time deterred by certain norms, rules, regulations, and social forces from accepting the myriad responsibilities that accompany full adulthood. The same rule applies to punksters. They have their thinking, own methodology, and a unique way of living which distinguish them from the rest of the fashion world, thereby making them an icon of uniqueness. If they perceive them pessimistically, with an ambition of acquiring attitude and style with educated morals, punk succeeds. However, in most cases where they do not consider education and quit school, they fail. Punks today buy into this image where they are uneducated and being an iconic code, they serve as a medium for the expression of a particular youth cultural lifestyle.
Bennett Tony, Frith Simon, Grossberg Lawrence & Shepherd John, (1993) Rock and Popular Music: Politics, Policies, Institutions: Routledge: New York.
Brake Michael, (1990) Comparative Youth Culture: The Sociology of Youth Cultures and Youth Subcultures in America, Britain, and Canada: Routledge: London.
Curran James, (2002) Media and Power: Routledge: London.
Giroux A. Henry & Simon I. Roger, (1989) Popular Culture, Schooling and Everyday Life: Bergin & Garvey: New York.
Ristroph Alice, (2006) “Sexual Punishments” In Columbia Journal of Gender and Law. Volume: 15. Issue: 1.
Sabin Roger, (1999) Punk Rock, So What? The Cultural Legacy of Punk: Routledge: London.
Sanders Bill, (2005) Youth Crime and Youth Culture in the Inner City: Routledge: London.
Zhou Min & Lee Jennifer, (2004) Asian American Youth: Culture, Identity, and Ethnicity: Routledge: New York.