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Punk: Punk Theory

A guide to materials related to punk music and related genres

Punk Theory

Notes on Dick Hebdige's Subculture the Meaning of Style (1979)

One thing that Hebdige does right is to state the manner in which the subcultures he describes appear to build on the working class behaviors and beliefs extant in England from the period after the Second World War. However, his chapter, "The Function of Subculture", fails to state that many of the subcultural behaviors he mentions are merely mutations of earlier working class norms. For example, “the mods were negotiating changes…which [were] defined against the familiar locales of the home, the pub, the working man’s club, the neighborhood.” However, the mods were really just replacing rock for jazz, amphetamines for beer and scooters for football. The social forms, patriarchy and the rest remained.

Punk was a nascent art form at the time Hebdige wrote Subculture. “Punks were not only directly responding to increasing joblessness, changing moral standards, the rediscovery of poverty, the Depression etc., they were dramatizing what had come to be called ‘Britain’s decline’ by constructing a language which was, in contrast to the prevailing rhetoric of the Rock Establishment, unmistakably relevant and down to earth." This sort of fawning praise belies the misogyny and occasional racism of early punk. Moreover, it was seen as anything but down to earth by most of the Queen's subjects.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Hebdige’s chapter is the fact that he makes reference to a “seemingly spontaneous eruption of spectacular youth styles [which] encouraged some writers to talk of youth as the new class”. This new class according to Hebdige is based on substantial consumer capital being exchanged by these youths. This consumerist assertion concerning a new social class speaks heavily to the capitalist space in which Hebdige is writing, but also illuminates his materialist bias. Much like Marx, Hebdige tends to center his analysis on issues of class rather than taking other, equally important variables (such as race and gender) into consideration.



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