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Hardcore: Subculture American Style Author(s): Susan Willis Source: Critical Inquiry, Vol. 19, No.

2 (Winter, 1993), pp. 365-383 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343880 . Accessed: 03/12/2013 08:41
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Hardcore: SubcultureAmerican Style

Susan Willis

As a teacher of popular culture, I often have occasion to read and refer to Dick Hebdige's Subculture, a basic guide to Britain'sskinheads,teddy I I knew the book from cover to cover,and so I boys, mods, and punks. felt was surprisedto discover something I hadn't noticed in all my previous as an attempt to plot race and class readings. I had alwaysread Subculture in I relations style. What hadn'tremarkedis Hebdige'sequalconcern with the influence of the commodity on subcultural expression. Indeed, The Hebdige invariablyqualifies subculture with the term spectacular. notion of a "spectacularsubculture"suggests that all the energy and oppositionalmeaningsgenerated by subculturalgroupsin the production of style is reabsorbedand reified by the fetishisticqualityof spectaclein a commodified society. That culture enjoysa dialecticalrelationshipto the structuresof capitalismis a criticalconcept that has been wholly overshadowedby the prevailing school of cultural studies in the United States today, which celebrates the making of cultural meanings, in and of itself, as a radical form of politics. In this intellectualclimate, readerscan glean a book like for the empowermentof seeing "styleas a form of Refusal,"'or Subculture culture itself as a vast terrain "in dispute"(S, p. 3) where dominant and subordinategroups clash on a far more equal footing than they do in the economic sector. What's lost to the reader are the moments when
1. Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (London, 1979), p. 2; hereafter abbreviated S.
Critical Inquiry 19 (Winter 1993) ? 1993 by The University of Chicago. 0093-1896/93/1902-0010$01.00.

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Hebdige cautions that "no amount of stylistic incantation can alter the oppressive mode in which the commodities used in subculture have been produced" (S, p. 130). Subcultural groups may appropriate, use, recycle, and redefine cultural commodities, but their practices don't change capitalism as a mode of production. The spectacular designates the difference between cultural practice as a response to capitalism and political practice, which might have cultural dimensions but which aims at the transformation of capitalism. My aim here is to pose the question of subcultures today in the United States as a way of looking at some of the problems associated with the development of cultural theory in this country. While my comments are grounded in initial and by no means extensive observation of contemporary hardcore culture in the States (primarily in the Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina), this will not be a definitive ethnography. Indeed, there is a need for concentrated ethnographic research not only on subcultures but on youth commodity culture in general. I suspect that in the case of hardcore culture such research would yield a great deal of regional variation, regardless of the homogenizing influence of the media and mass-market commodities, because much alternative music culture is locally produced in clubs by bands that do not travel extensively. I want to caution that while I initiated this inquiry by referencing Hebdige's work on British subcultural groups of the post-World War II period, this will not be an attempt to translate or apply his analysis to subcultural expressions in the States today. Such a translation would not have been possible even in the seventies when Subculture was published, though this was a time when street corners from Berkeley to New York sported gloriously leathered, studded, and Mohawked punks very similar in appearance to those decking the streets of London. And translation is less conceivable today even though hardcore clubs in every community function as magnets drawing together a variety of skinhead and punk style groups. Cultural expressions are not transhistorical but are rooted in specific social and historical formations. The trouble with hardcore youths is that many reiterate styles from the past. Certainly style as an image can be communicated from one place and time to another (I need not underscore the significance of the global communications network). The question is why a particular style gets adopted out of the cultural memory reservoir and, further, how the adoption of style gives expression to a group's notion of its social reality. Thus, my appeal to Hebdige is meant to set the stage for the questions that I am grappling with. I'm not sure that the

Susan Willis, associate professor at Duke University, teaches courses in cultural studies. She is the author of A Primer for Daily Life (1992).

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youth-style expressions that I am considering here even constitute a subculture in the way Hebdige defines it. Much of what Hebdige says is rooted in the relationship of subculture to changes occurring in the British working class from the fifties through the seventies. Because class is the single most important factor in the definition of subculture, it is a problem that I cannot avoid and must confront if this analysis is to have any consequence on shaping cultural studies in the States. But the problems associated with spectacle and the commodity form are also important and, if anything, have grown in significance since the seventies, particularly in this country. My research suggests that the untranslatable difference between Britain in the seventies and the U.S. in the nineties has largely to do with the development of consumer culture coincident with suburbanization and specifically to do with the emergence of new class formations brought about by deindustrialization.

Making Style, Making Distinctions


"Mom, you know I don't want to be taken for a redneck." This is how my fifteen-year-old daughter, Cassie, explained her choice of a black bomber jacket over a similar jacket in another color. In the South where conflicting youth-style groups often cohabit the same schools and frequent the same malls and clubs, the process of making social distinctions through style requires precise, highly nuanced choices. Complexity is compounded by the fact that the two hardcore groups-skinheads and punks-exist in the larger social context of southern rednecks, all of whom trade in many of the same cultural commodities. These are often derived from the military, as in the case of the bomber jacket. The one youth culture that sets itself off from hardcore and redneck is defined by those youths who wear natural fibers, batiks, and tie dyes, and who are thought guilty of eating granola. These youths are referred to as hippies by their hardcore peers. The vast differences between those youths designated as hippies today and the hippies in the sixties and seventies parallels the degree of difference that exists between today's skinheads and punks and those who shook London in the seventies. Hardcore is a music culture primarily consumed and produced in clubs. It is also articulated through CD and cassette consumption, college radio air play, and alternative market magazines. Many hardcore youths are fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen years old and would ordinarily be prohibited from attending clubs. However, many clubs have initiated alcoholfree, all-ages nights to cash in on teen markets. There is also a brisk trade in false IDs, manufactured by youths who design giant driver's license backdrops for photographic reduction and replication, and by printshops and Xerox shops that offer a "free" lamination along with the ID. Finally, many clubs admit teens accompanied by a "parental unit" as guarantee

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against alcohol consumption. Clearly, America's drinking laws run counter to the profitability of teen markets, making many clubs willing to bend the laws. Occasionally, hardcore breaks into the mainstream media; the Nirvana video, for example, aired on MTV and eventually hit seventy in the top 100 for 1991. The video depicts hardcore youth in the guise of cheerleaders and fans who turn a high school gym into a moshing free-for-all. Always eager to appear on the cutting edge, MTV subsequently put together a collection of video interviews and club footage to document the music and the moshing. Derived from slam dancing, moshing is an anonymous, degendered group stomp that includes individuals who fling themselves on top of a densely packed mob of moshers and who are subsequently tossed arm to arm above the pack. Some clubs include a moshing pit making it possible for the more zealous moshers to separate themselves from tamer moshers. The morning after a successful night of moshing begins with a bruise count, not unlike the way teens of another generation might have looked for a hickey. Moshing is one of the ways that teens have responded to coming of age in an era of safe sex. It provides intense body contact without intimacy. It also captures the violence of American society, not in the direct way that slam dancing did, but as a depersonalized group experience. Moshing designates a finely drawn distinction between a dance form and the mass audience stampedes that marked and marred an AC/DC concert with the deaths of teens suffocated and crushed under the anonymous weight of frenzied fans. As you may guess, my daughter Cassie is my way into ethnographic research. Cassie is a student, a swimmer, a family member, and above all a with style practitioner, whose primary interests and activities-along those of her friends-involve defining herself against the southern redneck population as hardcore but in opposition to hardcore's skinhead element. As one of four children who live at home, Cassie's style choice is partially motivated by the desire to differentiate herself from her younger and therefore loathsome siblings. Cassie's style, however, has much more to do with the way she positions herself with respect to consumer society and the options it offers. Because children are generally acculturated into the need to buy into a style, Cassie's adoption of a punk-derived look is not a wholly remarkable phenomenon in a household that includes other children who ascribe to a modified Mariah Carey / Barbie look, an equally modified black rap mode, and my own well-worn hippie image. The commodification of daily life has annexed the household to shopping mall and supermarket, making every family member a highly individuated consumer. Family members buy and prepare their own foods, fragmenting the household into different nutritional style groups: vegetarian, meat eaters, junk-food enthusiasts. All coexist with the household's other generationally and gender-defined identities. Even music consumption, which is one of the most potent markers of often conflicting style choices,

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need not rupture the family fabric provided each music consumer is privately hooked up to his or her own sound system. Because the household embraces a compendium of styles, no one style emerges out of the lot as recognizably subcultural. I recall that when I mentioned to my husband that I intended to research subcultural groups and would therefore need to follow Cassie around, he responded with honest incredulity, "Youmean Cassie's a member of a subculture?" Rather than an indication of fatherly inattention, his remark underscored the theoretical question of whether the process of making style based on consumption distinctions is sufficient evidence for the existence of subculture. In a larger sense, my husband's question bears on the consequences of the great expansion in consumer culture that distinguishes the way today's teens define themselves in contrast to those who provided ethnographic data for the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham (CCCS). Neither Hebdige nor the collective at CCCS, while recognizing the fundamental link between consumption and subcultures, could have foreseen the wholesale glut of commodities that seems to have overshadowed class as providing a means for reckoning one's place in capitalism. While all the permutations of hardcore style and much of the general redneck look set themselves off against mainstream middle-class taste, particularly as this is defined by the yuppie, J. Crew look, neither constitutes the sort of great "Refusal" that Hebdige saw in subculture's affront to British bourgeois propriety. For today's hardcore youth, the most highly contested ground of style distinction is not between itself and bourgeois trends but within the subculture itself and to some extent against nonhardcore but potentially recruitable rednecks. Dress is one means for marking identity territories. Eighty percent of a hardcore punk's wardrobe is likely to be black; the remainder is often white or grey. Skinheads also tend to prefer black. On the other hand, rednecks practically never wear black, but they do wear many of the same items of clothing favored by hardcore youths. Hair is a primary designator of style affiliation, but it is not altogether reliable, as many hardcore youths simply wear their hair long and scraggly like unkempt surfers. Amongst hardcore youths who proclaim themselves on the basis of hairstyle, skinheads are the most notable for their overall closely clipped fuzz. In contrast, hardcore youths of a punk orientation often clip only a portion of their heads. They might clip one side of the head, leaving the hair long on the other. This can then be dyed blue, violet, fucshia, purple, and green; the cosmetology of temporary hair color makes any shade a possibility. Some hardcore youths choose to clip only the back of their heads, from nape to mid-ear level. This style enables hardcore youths to pass because the remaining hair can be worn in a bob covering up the clipped section. Passing is important for hardcore youths who rely on jobs in sales (often in stores that cater to straight customers) or in service as babysitters and camp counselors, where getting a job and keeping it depends on how they present them-

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selves to the parents of the children they care for. Along these lines, I might add that one of the most understudied areas of subcultural research is the economic infrastructure that enables teens to participate in subculture. This includes the development of teen employment opportunities, the development of family incomes, and the development of the economy overall. My hunch is that one of the reasons subcultures flourished in Britain during the post-World War II period is the existence of a socialized economy that provided a necessary infrastructure for teens who chose to occupy leisure time for the production of subculture. I will argue that the expansion of a teen labor market in the United States today provides the capitalist version of this necessary infrastructure that Britain achieved with the welfare state. In any case, I don't think subcultures can come into being in societies of scarcity, not because there wouldn't be enough commodities to make style distinctions, but because participants in subcultures have to be fed, clothed, and to some extent, housed; but they do not and cannot make a career out of their cultural practices. Teens in the nineties can look to the military as the single most widely advertized (on radio and TV) provider of housing, health care, education, and career opportunities. It's not surprising, then, that the most discernable style influence on hardcore and redneck cultures is the military. Teens shop extensively at army surplus stores, and they wear a variety of olive-drab apparel. Combat boots are common footgear amongst hardcore and redneck teens, although Doctor Martens are favored by many punks and skinheads. As Doc Martens now come in a variety of colors, punk-oriented teens will have another means for distinguishing themselves from skins. As might be imagined, combat boots and Doc Martens have a significant influence on the way hardcore youth walk and dance. Promoted as the "boots with bounce," Doc Martens are occasionally seen on the MTV and "In Living Color" dancers. Combat boots are better for stomping. Both can be used offensively or defensively in the moshing pit. Another component of hardcore style adopted from the military and also widely featured in redneck culture is tattooing. As with all the style ingredients derived from the military, tattooing undergoes a significant change in meaning when it is appropriated by hardcore teens. Many teens tatoo and pierce various body parts, with multiple ear piercings the most popular sign of hardcore allegiance. Such body art is one way that hardcore practices the deformation of its militaristic raw material. There is, however, a great deal of stylistic ambivalence with respect to the military amongst the factions that compose hardcore. Many skinheads use military garb as a way of replicating and affirming the military. Other hardcore teens mimic military style to ironically flaunt it. The great difference in the meanings produced around hardcore's use of military style resides in the subculture's divided opinions over the military itself. In the South, the military is a major employer of teens, many of whom do not have the educational skills to compete on the job market. That the military is a source

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of income for many families was made dramatically apparent for North Carolinians who contributed roughly one-tenth of the troops mobilized for war in the Persian Gulf. For many young women throughout the United States, war against Iraq opened doors to equal employment with men. Women gained the right to dress like men, train alongside them, fight as equals, even die like the men do. Young women in hardcore reflect the region's mixed feelings about the military. Those girls who understand that equal opportunity in the military means the right to participate in capitalism's genocidal wars tend to degrade military style by feminizing it. They might sport a long wool army coat worn open to reveal a consummate punk ensemble: sheer black blouse, black sports bra, black lacy tights, cutoffs, and huge socks spilling over the top of a pair of Doc Martens. However, hardcore includes equal numbers of girls who espouse patriotism and adopt a masculinist affirmation of the military in their dress code. Today's hardcore subculture can be dramatically distinguished from all the British manifestations of subculture by the great numbers of young girls who participate in hardcore and influence its style. Hardcore chix enjoy more socioeconomic parity with their subcultural male copractitioners than any other female component of a previous subculture group. If anything, teenage girls (subcultural or not) have more opportunity to be employed by the expanding sales and service industries than their male peers. This is in marked contrast to the position of girls and women during the era of the initial rise of post-World War II subcultural groups. Much of the ethnographic literature on teddy boy subculture neglected to mention girls or saw them as peripheral to the male-defined group. In their contribution to Resistance throughRituals, Angela McRobbie and Jenny Garber question the portrayal of girls in ethnographic research and challenge what they see as a masculinist tendency in all analyses based on such research. McRobbie and Garber critique the construction of women as marginal to subculture by suggesting that women appear to be marginal only if the analysis sees subculture in terms of male-defined activities (such as fights), male relationships, and male-defined sites (such as street corners). McRobbie and Garber's rereading of teddy boy subculture reveals a female-centered component of the subculture located in girls' bedrooms and organized around the consumption of music, pinups, and male teen idols. Because women in the 1950s were largely excluded from street corner activity, they were necessarily seen as marginal to subculture. Only by reckoning women in terms of their social construction as central to home and family can one begin to discern how young girls at that time participated in their reciprocal and somewhat autonomous production of subculture.2
2. See Angela McRobbie and Jenny Garber, "Girls and Subcultures: An Exploration," in Resistance throughRituals: YouthSubculturesin Post-WarBritain, ed. Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson (London, 1975), pp. 208-22.

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The women who participated in the Birmingham school's popular culture group basically maintained that girls throughout the period (1950-1970s) were more thoroughly anchored to home than young boys from the same households. For girls, transition to maturity roughly meant moving from one family-defined situation to another. While getting ajob might represent relative freedom, it was inscribed in the dominant conception of female employment as "an interruptionin the family based dominant career" for women.' On the whole, the Birmingham critics describe the period as one that reinforced the reproduction of the girl as wife/ mother in all its social institutions. While I don't want to suggest that today's teenage girls are the social equals of their male peers, the structures that confined women to family have loosened. Teenage girls may still see their life course as a journey from one family to another, but many envision a large detour along the way. One of the factors that contributes to the levelling of social difference between teenage boys and girls is their equal participation in consumer culture. Because subculture is articulated in consumption and because hardcore emerges at a time when teenage boys and girls are equal as consumers, the subculture gives expression to a full range of masculinist and feminized tendencies and styles. In their survey of Britain's subcultures from teddy boys to punks, McRobbie and Garber point to varying degrees of feminization in subcultural style. My hunch is that as a style (involving dress, language, gestures, body marking, and hair style) hardcore may well be the most feminized subcultural style to date. I would argue that this has to do not only with the fact that boys and girls are equally constructed as consumers, but consumption itself has been typically gendered as a female activity. Historically, this goes back to the inception of the department store as the site where bourgeois women, freed from the drudgery of maintaining a household by their extensive domestic staff, might congregate for the leisurely task of securing the household consumption needs. In considering the feminization of subculture, I would weigh equally the social changes that have allowed women to be active members of subcultural groups, and the expansion of the consumer market that makes it socially acceptable for boys to want to go to the mall. It's all right for teenage boys to take pleasure in trying on clothes, experimenting with different looks, buying and reading fashion magazines, even to perm and color their hair. It may well be that the feminized appearance of much of hardcore is nothing more than the look of the consumer. While hardcore dress style is open to feminization, hardcore music style is resolutely masculine. There are a number of hardcore female groups, unlike the era of the teddy boys when, according to McRobbie,
3. Rachel Powell and John Clarke, "A Note on Marginality," in ResistancethroughRituals, p. 226.

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"there [was] no single record of a girls' skiffle group."4 But as Cassie explains, "Chix just don't have hardcore voices." From my point of view, admittedly outside the culture and grounded in classic rock 'n' roll and blues, hardcore is typified by young white male belligerent and nihilistic chants. While there are black youths who mosh and participate in hardcore, this is on the whole a white-identified music. It is dramatically distinguishable from today's dominant black music form: rap. Nevertheless, some hardcore enthusiasts trace the origins of their music to West Indian ska, which is also a source for the development of rap. Notwithstanding a number of outspoken female rappers, most notably Queen Latifah, who have appropriated the music, rap originated as a predominantly male form. Rap, too, is a chant-but more aggressive, assertive, and challenging than hardcore, which to my ear occasionally sounds like a whine. While there are popular white rappers, such as Vanilla Ice who presents himself as white; and the newer group, the Black Teenagers, who are all white but present themselves as black, I know of only one black hardcore group, Bad Brain, whose members wear their hair in dreadlocks and slide into reggae when audiences become too wild. It may be that hardcore's absolute refusal to traffic in anything that smacks of pop music inhibits crossover. Or, it may also be that hardcore as a music represents a white male separatist response to the dominant rock music tradition in this country that, since the days of Elvis, has traded heavily in black music. What I find most perplexing about hardcore's relationship to race is the existence of black skinheads. Is it possible that the racist tendencies that surround skinhead groups in Europe and the attempts made by neo-Nazis to organize skin groups in this country are known only by someone like me who considers herself culturally literate and politically aware? The existence of black skinheads begs the question of hardcore politics. Selfhatred may be an aspect in the psychological armature of a teenage black who identifies with skinheads, but psychology has never been a complete explanation for culture. Nor is it possible to simply cast politics aside and argue that subculture today has devolved to the point where it's simply a question of style. The political is one of the codes that style articulates, and this is clearly a code whose meanings are in dispute.

Politics as Style / Politics as Class


In hardcore there are as many political persuasions as there are nuances of style. What's more, an individual's political affiliation does not necessarily correspond with a particular style. As a general rule of thumb, skinheads tend to be conservative, while punks are more progressive. However, I suspect this distinction varies from one region to another. In
4. McRobbie and Garber, "Girls and Subcultures," p. 214.

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North Carolina where the general political climate has keptJesse Helms in office for decades, it might be difficult to find a left skinhead. However, in Toronto, a city that affirms multiculturalism and currently supports a socialist government, friends report a number of politically active, Marxist-inspired skinheads. When I first began the process of trying to figure out the politics of hardcore, I came upon Elinor Langer's important investigative essay on the neo-Nazi movement in this country.5 Writing for The Nation, Langer traced Tom Metzger's attempt to bring hardcore skinheads into his WAR organization (White Aryan Resistance). While Metzger's organizers, phone hot lines, and pamphlets seem to be targeted at West Coast skinheads, I asked Cassie if she thought skinheads in Durham might be affiliated with a neo-Nazi group. "Mom, they're just little patriots!" Cassie's response demonstrates how politics are read by teens as another style code. Patriotism is the stylistic expression of a political affiliation, which in North Carolina may include the KKK or the Christian Identity movement that has brought many ordinary redneck believers into the religion of white supremacy. However, patriotism can also signify no more than a generalized ideology, boosted by the Gulf War and grounded in the family. The term Cassie and her friends use to define hardcore's other dominant political philosophy is anarchist. While patriots belligerently espouse American values, anarchists take every opportunity to piss on the government and anything that smacks of Americanism. I find it interesting that in their choice of terms, anarchists refuse to identify themselves with the left in this country, even though many of their positions constitute a left cultural politics. Neither is their choice of a namesake grounded in an understanding of European anarchism. Rather, it designates a political style affiliation. This suggests that the American left is not available to youth today even as a style. Anarchists, however, might tell you that since the hippies already occupy that style affiliation, it is contaminated and can't be reclaimed. The distinction between patriot and anarchist is ideological, and in hardcore ideologies are styles whose codes of meaning are manipulated and disputed as are the elements of fashion and the brands of music. This helps explain why skinheads, punks, and even Tom Metzger can be ecology-minded. It also helps explain the existence of black skinheads. Blacks can be patriots. They serve in the military and contributed in disproportionately high numbers to the Gulf War. If patriots are skinheads, blacks can be skinheads. The great achievement of American democracy is its erasure of fundamental social and economic inequalities
5. See Elinor Langer, "The American Neo-Nazi Movement Today," TheNation, 16-23 July 1990, pp. 82-108.

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and its promotion of a culture where difference is perceived as a variation in style or opinion. Having just argued that hardcore expresses politics as style, I want now to argue that hardcore also articulates the politics of class. However, just as conservative and left politics cannot be equated with the distinction between skinheads and punks, so too is it wrong to assume that skins and punks represent distinct and different class positions. British skinheads of the seventies may have been 100 percent working class, but according to local anarchists, "the skinheads from Chapel Hill come from the richest families." Indeed hardcore draws youths equally from middle- and working-class families. Because hardcore doesn't appear to represent the response of a particular class to its material existence, it doesn't seem to qualify as a subculture in the terms mapped out by the Birmingham school. The cornerstone of British subculture analysis is class, and the privileged site for understanding the practice and formation of subcultures is the working class. The teddy boys, the punks, and the skinheads were all seen as historically specific responses by youths to the traditional workingclass practices and values that they were born into and against the dominant system of bourgeois social relations that subordinated them. This is not to say that the critics at CCCS thought the middle class incapable of generating a subculture; after all, the hippies were drawn largely from the middle-class student population. Nevertheless, their research suggests that the invention of subcultures is most common amongst the socially subordinate. In this respect, the common feeling amongst the contributors to Resistance throughRituals is that subcultures are not ideologies per se but arise out of people's responses to their real conditions of existence. While they represent responses enacted in style at the level of the imaginary, the Birmingham group maintained that subcultures could not be taken to represent "solutions" to the terms of a class's social and economic existence. As they put it, "though not 'ideological,' sub-cultures have an ideological dimension; and, in the problematic situation of the post-war period, this ideological component became more prominent."6 I think this statement goes a long way towards explaining the ideological component of contemporary U.S. hardcore subculture (particularly the conflicts in the ideological dimension). Translated into current economic trends, what the British described as "the problematic situation of the post-war period" means the steady depreciation of middle-class standing that has thrown many members of the class out of their jobs and homes. This has been paralleled by an expansion in working-class consumption, making it appear that the two classes have merged in a common experience of a life-style. Now that 80 percent of the wealth in this coun6. John Clarke et al., "Subcultures, Cultures and Class," in Resistance through Rituals, p. 47; hereafter abbreviated "SCC."

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try is controlled by 1 percent of the population, the distinction between the middle and working classes may collapse to a greater extent. For most people, the real distinction is between employed and unemployed. The contraction of business, company buyouts, shutdowns, and overseas transfers are now hitting the job security of people in management. I don't want to suggest that the middle and working classes now form one big class united in opposition to the wealthy, but I do maintain that the precarious position of the middle class as a whole, witnessed by the fall of many of its members into unemployment or their reabsorption into the labor force in seven- and eight-dollar-an-hour jobs, produces grounds for more communality with the working class than has been the case in the past. If the ideological component of hardcore subculture has "become more prominent," it has largely to do with the difficulty many teens have, in the late 1980s and now in the 1990s, in seeing themselves as members of a particular class, or making a clear distinction between the middle class and the working class. Cutbacks in federal monies to the states combined with middle-class tax backlash has undermined public services and institutions. The most affluent members of the middle class opt to save themselves and their families by buying into the private sector, particularly private education. This puts the great majority of the middle class and the whole of the working class in the position of having to sink or swim with a public educational system that has been decimated by budget cutbacks. For most teens in public schools the big difference is not between middleand working-class backgrounds but between public and private education. A working-class teen who sees his father lose a twenty-dollar-an-hour job, as many did in Durham when Standard Brands bought out and shut down the American Tobacco Company, is apt to have the same bleak sense of the future as a middle-class teen who sees his father squeezed out of a supervisory position with GTE, as recently occurred when that company merged with Northern Telecommunications. Moreover, any sense of security that teens might have once attached to a college education no longer prevails. Every teen can point to a substantial number of college graduates currently working as waitresses, sales clerks, and temps. While I'm suggesting that a significant number of middle-class and working-class teens share a common outlook and the common experience of eroding social services, I want to argue that they are more fundamentally united by the fact that they constitute a common employment pool. A great many teens from middle- and working-class backgrounds work at the same after-school and weekend jobs. Whether black, white, male, or female, they are the minimum-an-hour sales clerks and fast-food producers in the nation's service industry. Because most live at home and pay only minimally into their family's upkeep, their pay can be readily converted into instant consumer gratification, making this an avid group of consumers. For some, this will be life's one period of plenitude. Socialized in a culture where having ajob and disposing of an income establishes a degree of

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independence from family, most teens want to work. That they actually constitute a labor lumpenproletariat is born out by the fact that some states, including North Carolina, allow fourteen-year-olds to work for a wage. The economic conditions that I have been alluding to have consequences on how we define social class. As I see it, there are two ways to interpret class with respect to the restructuring of capitalism that has shaped the Reagan/Bush era. Neither of the following interpretations can be definitive because we are witnessing a transitional period whose consequences for social relationships have not as yet been fully registered and enacted in the social sphere. The fact that youth hardcore culture includes so many social discontinuities suggests a period when social relations are being reshuffled. People who might previously never have come into contact instead find themselves thrown together in the same labor pool and social circumstances. One of the ways to interpret class with respect to the social discontinuities present in the subculture would be to posit a new emergent class. The tremendous expansion of minimum wage labor jobs in the service sector, coincident with the contraction of jobs in both skilled labor and managerial levels, has created a lumpen class distinct from the traditional working class. This is a dispersed work force, a transitory work force, and, sometimes, an occasional work force that has no consciousness of itself as a class, but whose members can be seen to occupy a common position with respect to the relations of production. To date, the class is largely, but not exclusively, comprised of teens. However, many middle-aged women and elderly men also fall into this pool and compete with teens for jobs in fast food and sales. If prevailing trends continue, the class may absorb numbers of other workers, making teens just one component amongst many others. There is some precedent in recent Marxist theory for positing the emergence of new social classes. Not long ago Barbara and John Ehrenreich touched off a hot debate when they argued for a new class comprised of professionals and managers (the PMC). They maintained that the PMC began to emerge as capital accumulation enabled the expansion of intellectual and managerial personnel, creating a great body of workers with a distinct-although fluctuating-relationship to the two traditional classes of capitalism: workers and owners. The Ehrenreichs' position was challenged primarily by Stanley Aronowitz who found no grounds for commonality between professionals, whom he saw maintaining opposition to capital, and managers, whom he described as complicitous with capital.7 My aim is not to join the debate on either side but
7. See Barbara and John Ehrenreich, "The Professional-Managerial Class" and Stanley Aronowitz, "The Professional-Managerial Class or Middle Strata," in BetweenLabor and Capital, ed. Pat Walker (Boston, 1979), pp. 5-45.

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rather to suggest that the possibility of emergent social classes is itself a fruitful area of investigation for Marxists. The consequences for economic and social theory ought not be pegged on the status of the PMC. The most obvious factor that impedes our conceptualizing the teen lumpen as a class is the age of its members. I want to argue that this is an economic group, not a biological group. If teens are thought of only in terms of age, then it's easy to imagine that their employment is something they will grow out of as they take their places in the traditional working and middle classes. However, if teens compose a work force that has emerged to meet needs produced by deindustrialization in capitalism, and if they are in the process of being joined by other displaced workers, then aging out of low-paying service jobs may no longer be the case. Where many analysts see the reshuffling of alliances in Europe as an indication that capitalism is undergoing something of a sea change, I would speculate on the emergence of new class formations as a better indication of transformations in capital. However, there is another way to consider the lumpen employment pool: to see it as the new face of the working class. From this point of view, the restructuring of capital does not give rise to new social classes but would rather facilitate a greater disparity between workers and owners. This interpretation would see the conditions of teen employment as precursors for the erosion of the working class as a whole. Wage cutbacks, the loss of benefits, and a significantly diminished standard of living could throw down all workers into what has traditionally been considered lumpen circumstances. I don't think it's necessary to sort out the class question in order to see hardcore subculture as a response made by youths to their material conditions. Whether hardcore teens contribute to a new class in formation or the new look of the working class, their response registers recognition of common uncertainty and disadvantage, if not class consciousness. From this perspective, the divergent politics espoused by skins and punks represent two ideological responses to a common economic condition that cannot be resolved by either response. It is as if the different subcultural manifestations studied by the Birmingham school-each roughly separated by a decade but all clearly rooted in the working class-were here generated out of a complex, transitional, perhaps newly forming class, whose internal contradictions are such that they give rise to simultaneous and conflictual cultural responses. In considering the extremes of subcultural style, the critics at Birmingham maintained that the "highly ritualised and stylised form [of subcultural expression] suggests that they [are] also attempts at a solution to [a] problematic experience: a resolution which, because pitched largely at the symbolic level, [is] fated to fail." They went on to argue that "the problematic of a subordinate class experience can be 'lived through', negotiated or resisted; but it cannot be resolvedat that level or by those means" ("SCC,"p. 47). The social and eco-

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nomic realities that the Birmingham critics designate with reference to the "problematic" of the working class can today be readily used to describe the teenage lumpen of this country. As they put it, working-class youth faced "unemployment, educational disadvantage, compulsory miseducation, dead-end jobs, the routinisation and specialisation of labour, low pay and the loss of skills. Sub-cultural strategies cannot match, meet or answer the structuring dimensions emerging in this period for the class as a whole" ("SCC,"p. 47). Would this description not fit the majority of teen employees in this country today regardless of their class of origin? The Birmingham critics use strong words that ought to be taken to heart in an era such as ours when cultural criticism is dominated by the runaway celebration of making meanings as a form of politics. It is important to review the history of cultural criticism, beginning with CCCS where the emphasis was on class and where culture was understood as a dialectical response to a group's material conditions. Studies produced by CCCS use many of the buzz words and critical tactics that today have come to predominate in the burgeoning field of cultural studies. These include the process of appropriating the commodity signs of dominant culture and redefining these so as to make new, challenging, and resistant meanings. However, the process of making cultural meanings never eclipsed the group's primary concern, which was to demonstrate how cultural practices refer back to capital and offer a means for understanding the system as a whole. The dialectic between cultural response and the material conditions of a class receded in Hebdige's popularized version of the Birmingham school's work. Here the politics of publishing enters into the canonization of particular critical texts over others. CCCS's work, collectively authored and published by Hutchinson, has fallen by the wayside by comparison to Hebdige's Subculture, taken up by Methuen at a time when it began to claim its hegemony in the field of culture criticism. The difference between Hebdige's book and CCCS's work is one of emphasis. While Hebdige anchors his descriptions of punks, mods, and teds in workingclass experience and the relationship of the class to West Indian blacks and the black music tradition, his analysis transforms the dialectic of class and culture into a "struggle between different discourses, different definitions and meanings ... a struggle for possession of the sign" (S, p. 17). I don't refute any of Hebdige's observations. Indeed, I agree that the production of style involves "bricolage," that meanings can and do articulate "revolt," and that style can be read as a collection of signs bound together in "homologous" relationship. However, I would not maintain that interpreting the semiotics of subculture constitutes a political understanding of subculture. Furthermore, the tendency to see culture as discourse rather than dialectic has developed to a point where the great majority of critics writing today no longer pay even lip service to the material conditions of class.

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Much of the recent criticism in the United States represents a hollowed out appropriation of Michel de Certeau's The Practice of EverydayLife. This is a rich book whose complexities have been overlooked by the majority of de Certeau's disciples, who tend to mine the text for its key words like poaching, coping, making do, strategies, and tactics.8 These epiphenomena, lifted out of the body of de Certeau's thought, have become theoretical ends in themselves. A recent essay by Constance Penley provides a case in point.9 "Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and Popular Culture" is Penley's application of de Certeau's notions to the K/S Star Trek phemomenon, characterized by women who produce pornographic rewritings (or reedited videos) of the popular TV series wherein Kirk and Spock are recast as homosexual lovers. Clearly K/Sers provide possibilities for cultural critics intent on advancing the making-meanings school of criticism. Indeed, almost every commodity-defined group or practice does so, often involving provocative sexual dimensions. I would argue that much of cultural criticism has been captured by the spectacularity of the culture itself. Critics, like the skins and punks, see themselves manipulating the cultural sign system so as to make new meanings for each other. Penley's analysis is complete within the limits set by this form of criticism but incomplete when evaluated in the light of questions unavailable to the celebratory school. Indeed, Penley uses all the stock de Certeau terms such as bricolage,making do, and Brownian Motion, which she tells us "describe[s] the tactical maneuvers of the relatively powerless when attempting to resist, negotiate, or transform the system and products of the relatively powerful."'0 K/Sers are primarily women who work in the service sector and who have used their access to the new information production technologies to deform and transform dominant male sexuality, thus rendering themselves a degree of pleasure. This is true, but it should not be the end of the analysis. The problem with Penley's use of de Certeau is that it cannot provide a way of conceptualizing the limitations imposed on the range and types of meanings that people make because these are necessarily rooted in the contradictions of capital. Besides, there is no simple translation between people's imaginative tactics and the way their lives are materially defined. Questions like why the women do not posit themselves in the scripts or use the imaginary as a way of exploring their own sexuality are not available in the context of a criticism that sees people making do with what exists. The criticism sees practice as inevita8. See Michel de Certeau, The Practice of EverydayLife, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley, 1984). 9. See Constance Penley, "Feminism, Psychoanalysis and the Study of Popular Culture," in Cultural Studies, ed. Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula Treichler (New York, 1992), pp. 479-500. 10. Penley, "Brownian Motion: Women, Tactics, and Technology," in Technoculture, ed. Penley and Andrew Ross (Minneapolis, 1991), p. 139.

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bly restricted to the givens provided by the culture: a preexistent text, the information technologies, and male domination. What this sort of criticism cannot begin to consider is how these women's response articulates the way they, as information processors (both in their jobs and in their practice of K/S), live the contradiction between the private ownership and control over information and technology under capitalism and the tremendous diffusion of information in people's lives, which seems to constitute a democratization at the level of use. Criticism derived from de Certeau simply takes capitalism for granted as if it were a global circuit board upon which subordinated energy-bleeps hop about appropriating, poaching, and putting together meanings. That culture enacts people's desire to solve the way capitalism shapes their lives is a concept that has been largely lost to cultural studies in this country, replaced by a facile, celebratory criticism guaranteed to score high on the undergraduate satisfaction index. Nothing is lost to the analysis when the cultures devised by for that matter hardcore teens-are understood as efforts K/Sers-or pitched largely in the symbolic order. One can still reckon with the permutations of style and the meanings articulated in style as I have done in tracing the conflicting styles that emerge out of hardcore's masculine/ feminine, punk/skin, and patriotic/anarchistic adaptations of a military code. One can still contend with the way a group's meanings respond to the system of beliefs and practices that shape its social context. One can still see cultural groups appropriating the commodities and signs available to them to make imaginative, challenging, scandalous, or resistant meanings. So, while nothing is lost to the criticism, much is gained when it is understood that no response articulated in culture can resolve the contradictions against which the culture exists as a response. This is not a pessimistic view. Indeed, I would argue that the celebratory school of criticism, notwithstanding its emphasis on the vitality of meaning production, is grounded in a deeply pessimistic outlook where culture and capitalism become synonymous. Daily life in late twentieth-century capitalism is a terrain of struggle, whose rich outpouring of cultural inventiveness marks the intensity of unresolved contradictions. The development of hardcore as a subculture is one way that teens express the contradiction of a system that degrades them as workers and flaunts them as consumers. The problematic of hardcore is the problem of capitalism.

Postscript As I see it, culture is the ensemble of practices and ideologies that define our relationship to capitalism. The analysis of culture is most useful when it provides a means for apprehending something about capitalism itself. This is particularly the case today when in the absence of strong

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social movements that might otherwise mobilize critical understanding of capitalism, culture has emerged as the most available site for recognizing class distinctions roughly along the lines mapped out by Pierre Bourdieu. The problem with culture-and cultural studies-in the United States is the tendency to see culture as autonomous, inflected or influenced by capitalism, but not its dialectical articulation capable of revealing the contradictions and relationships fundamental to capitalism. The predominant trend in cultural studies is to focus on a particular phenomenon-such as hardcore's feminization of military fashion-and to isolate this practice in terms of its consequences for a politics of gender, while failing to recognize that all of hardcore's often conflicting style-practices engage larger social and economic structures, many of which are not available to subcultural practitioners in a conscious political way. This is capitalist culture. Failure to articulate the dialectic between culture and capital condemns criticism at worst to pure description and at best to reformism. Perhaps I'm out of date in aiming for a criticism that keeps alive the desire for transformation. In any case, this is a country that promotes itself as classless and democratic, while in reality the richest 1 percent of the population is more wealthy than ever before and the poor more impoverished and more numerous. As privatization drives an economic wedge between the social elite and the majority, hardcore has emerged as one group's response to its uncertain present and bleak sense of the future. Hardcore is the outrageous and visible cultural expression that articulates the invisible and growing numbers of fourteen- and fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds who migrate in and out of dead-end jobs. As Cassie puts it, "Work is the pits, but I need the money," money to consume in order to be subcultural and not just a faceless social security number. The method I've elaborated here posits the personal as a means for grasping the political. Of course not everyone has a household of multigenerational culture users to serve as guides into different areas of research. Nevertheless, we have all suffered the raw edge of contradiction in intimate, familial, and work situations, and this can impel us to turn a moment of personal affront or insight into a first step towards a more theoretical and political understanding of our relationship to larger social forces. The problem with the personal is that it, like culture, very often becomes an end in itself, thus generating either a very private and confessional discourse that has meaning only for a few, or the more generalized sentimental stories currently in vogue on National Public Radio. Cassie enabled me to apprehend aspects of capitalist culture in a historically concrete and geographically specific way that I might otherwise have known only in terms of political theory. She is unique and at the same time emblematic of her subculture as a whole. Her remarks and her style constitute a social practice that, like snapshots, include aspects of the larger reality, but cannot in themselves be taken for the whole. Cassie may emerge for the reader as memorable, but she is not the star of this essay.

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Rather, she is its anchor to a concrete practice. Nor is hardcore itselfnotwithstanding its impressive style features-the point of this essay. My primary concern is to understand culture as social practice and to define criticism as the process that articulates the relationship of culture to capitalism.

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