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What Makes Subcultures Deviant Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2068 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This paper will look to answer the question 'What are subcultures and what makes them deviant?' It will then go on to examine and explore how subcultures became apparent and give descriptions of two different subcultures within society (specifically Punk and Rave). To conclude there will be a brief discussion regarding the specific subcultures, their members and the culture they belong to.

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In order to assess these subcultures it is first only right to define what a 'subculture' is. The definition given by 'Dictionary of Sociology, Abercrombie (et al) states a subculture is "A system of values, attitudes, modes of behaviour and lifestyles of a social group within a larger…society or organisation…. Most commonly applied to deviant or youth cultures that develop a culture opposed to the dominant culture".

Hall et al (1976) started to examine why and how young members of society felt the need to form groups.  Youth is a relatively new term for Britain, as it only really came into existence after the Second World War. Children were no longer sent straight out to work and the emphasis moved more from work to play and growing up with ease, "'Youth' appeared as an emergent category in post-war Britain, one of the most striking and visible manifestations of social change in the period" (Hall et al 1976,). Prior to World War 2 there was always a strong ideology, a way of life to which everyone conformed. They held similar values and common goals. The emergence of subcultures challenged this.

The majority of subcultures can usually be defined by specific music, with the exception of few, such as football hooliganism. The subcultures explored below can predominantly be distinguished by their music. It would be fair to assume that both the subcultures explored will have had some impact on today's university students. Either their own lives or the lives of their parents surely have been influenced by one of these subcultures.


In order to grasp what the punk subculture consists of it is imperative to understand where punk came from and the history surrounding it, as well as how its followers dressed, their ideals, music tastes and attitudes. There are different types of punk examples being Anarocho punk and Oi! Punk. The Punk philosophy addressed many issues including individualism, anti-authoritarianism, political anarchism, and free thought amongst others. Punk was embraced by individuals usually ranging in age from the late teen years to mid or late twenties.

Punks can be perceived as members of a deviant subculture due to many factors, for example their musical tastes, dress sense and political views to name but a few. Each of these issues are to be raised in their own right, below.

Within the United Kingdom (UK) the punk scene emerged in the late 1970's. As punk was somewhat of an 'underground' movement it is impossible to state when it arrived in the UK. Cahill (1988) states that "most would agree that it was sometime in 1975, Britain was suffering from a recession at the time, and in times of extreme hardship, people look for an outlet to their anger" Punk gave way for young people to make their frustrations known. They

Angela-Marie Gibson

had just gone through times of economic decline, so un-employment was rife; add to this the normal feelings that people of this age experience, punk seemed the answer. Marsh (1977) termed Punk "dole queue rock".

Punk saw bands such as the Clash, The Sex Pistols and The Ramones emerging into British society. Music of this kind was often very 'anti' or intolerant in its lyrics for example regarding parents or notions of love. Then there are other types of music to consider such as the Jam and Sham 69. The Jam are not immediately thought of as an Oi! band, but their lyrics contain political themes which is also applicable to many bands of the genre.

The members of the typical punk subculture made their allegiance clear in the way the dressed. A 'typical punk' could be seen sporting light jeans, leather jackets, Doc Martins, ripped t-shirts and, maybe, their dyed hair (some punks associated with Neo-Nazi movements had skin heads).

It could be argued that the social class of the people who made up the punk subculture were generally working class, but it has to be considered that punk also consisted of a minority of middle class students who simply enjoyed the punk look, but did not conform to all its trappings. The members of the punk sub culture in Britain are predominantly white.

The word 'punk' often goes hand in hand political views. Not all punks developed the same political standing but it should be mentioned that views such as anarchy and neo-Nazism are attached to the punk subculture. The National Front picked up such punk movements as Oi! and tried to use punk to their own advantage. One must mention musical influences such as Skrewdriver, who's lead singer Ian Stewart Donaldson was instrumental in setting up Blood & Honour - the activist movement widely linked with the National Front.

Punks could be seen as quite confused individuals as they wore clothing depicting the Union Jack, yet they sang along with The Sex Pistols and their lyrics of anarchy in the British society "it was an alien essence, a foreign body which implicitly threatened mainstream British culture from within and as such it resonated with punk's adopted values - 'anarchy', 'surrender' and 'decline'" (Hebdige, 1979, p64)


The rave subculture seems to be different to punk in the fact that its follows do not seem to be constrained by social class or political view points. Rave sprang to life and made its way from Ibiza to Britain in the late 1980's and early 1990's.. It is termed by the Guardian newspaper as "The fight for the right to party". Initially no one from this subculture was against any figures of authority; they basically wanted to experience a good time with their peers in an environment that had never been experienced before. This did however bring with it violence between the Police and the 'ravers' Collin (1997) is quoted as saying rave is the most spectacular and enduring British youth movement of the twentieth century. The origins of rave can be traced back to the United States of America and the gay clubs in Chicago in the form of 'House music'.

Firstly it is imperative to ascertain what it is we are examining. Initially this paper will look at the clothes, attitudes and beliefs of the members of the rave subculture as well as the history that surrounds it.

This specific subculture is closely connected with illegal drug taking and (initially) illegal venues where young people could join together to dance, party and take drugs. The countries licensing laws at this time where such that traditional nightclubs closed at 1 or 2 am. The members of the rave community wanted to party on into the night, hence the venues that hosted these events being illegal.

It could be argued that the term' rave' was first seen in Britain in the 1950's and was seen again briefly with the Mods. However, it was the illegal warehouse parties that gave rave the reputation it possessed in the early to mid 1990's.

Rave appeared whilst Britain was approaching a state of great consumer spending and the short housing boom of the late 80's was underway. In Government Margaret Thatcher was

striving to ensure the British public got her strong messages regarding a capitalist society. She was attempting to portray her vision of every man being responsible for himself, On the 23rd September 1987 she was famously quoted as saying there is "no such thing as society" www.margaretthatcher.org.

The followers of rave could be spotted in their unique clothing attire. This mainly consisted of layered clothing (which could easily be removed once they get hot), young children's dummies, glo-sticks, whistles and smiley faced t-shirts. The males can be seen sporting tracksuits or baggy jeans whilst the females took to wearing bikinis and short neon coloured dresses. They often related everyday things to drug abuse and depicted this on their clothing. Slogans such as 'Can I have an E please Bob?' were printed on t-shirts. They showed Bob Holness (famous for his long reign as host of blockbuster) holding an ecstasy tablet. It is argued that at most, if not all gatherings that this subculture attended illegal drugs would be rife predominantly ecstasy, amphetamine, cocaine or LSD.

In 1994 the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act was passed. This Act was influenced directly by the events at Castlemorton, where an estimated 40,000 revellers spent a week partying at an

event held at the common. Castlemorton was "the final nail in the coffin of the unlicensed event" (South, 1999) The Act specifically defines "music" to include "sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats." This gave greater powers to the Police to act upon raves. The most publicised changes in the Act are Sections 34-39, 54-59 and 60. These changes gave the Police the power to stop an outside

gathering of more than 100 people. There was highly publicised conflict in the late 1980's between Police and members of the rave subculture. This, coupled with the knowledge that ravers embraced illegal substances would lead many to think that the followers of rave have

little or no respect for the police or the law. Over 60,000 youth's marched against the Criminal Justice Bill changes. They were all not from the rave subculture, but they all had the common belief that the changes were not just.

The views of the rave sub culture may be seen as polar opposites to that of punk. Followers of rave put emphasis on peace, love, openess, unity and respect for each other. This is argued to be down to the effects of the drugs the ravers participate in.

The rave subculture has moved on vastly since the early 1990's. The rave subculture now takes place in most towns and cities every weekend in legitimate venues that adhere to licencing laws. It is now called club culture and is part of everyday life for many. The members may have adapted their clothing to more mainstream atire. It could also be said that it is the rave subculture that has 'normalised' drug use once again for the youth of Britian. It has certianly brought illegal drugs to the forefront. Faces such as that of Leah Betts will be engrained on the minds of many British citizens, predominantly those is their 30's.

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To quote Cohen (1972) "...deviance is created by society… social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance and by applying those rules to particular persons and labelling them as outsiders." So, if a person does not share the same morals and belief systems as the majority that then makes them deviant, therefore they have no option but to seek solace in the arms of a subculture.

Looking at these subcultures I conclude that it could be argued they were influenced by the rising number of family breakdowns. Could it be that the youth of these eras were looking for a

sense of belonging, and the rave and punk subculture gave them what they craved? The leader of the country at the time (Margaret Thatcher) was thought to be trying to in still into the British

people that society was not important - maybe subcultures fulfilled its followers with a sense of

belonging and security? If the people were being lead to believe that wider society was not as important as it had been then can a subculture really exist, as there is no 'common goal' or 'majority rule'.

It also must be pointed out that with the vast amount of media coverage both of these subcultures received from the newspapers and television it could also be argued that they were the 'norm' they had so much coverage that to attach a deviant label to them is wrong. Maybe due to the fact that we have only seen these deviations from the norm over a relatively short period of time (Post World War 2) it is still inconceivable to some members of society that freedom to express ourselves should be embraced, not shunned?



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