Our identity is constructed by, for example, the clothes we wear. Discuss the idea of a construction of identity within postmodernism using recommended texts.
During the postmodernist era there was great emphasis on the movement of philosophy and social science as well as new influential styles of architecture, design and fashion. It was the development of the modernist era, which in the late 1950’s received criticism for being standardized and no longer suiting peoples lifestyles. The Machine age was not suited to the affluent and creative people of this age and because of this postmodernism was created.
(___) In this essay I am going to explore how postmodernist values, art movements and architecture construct the identities and subcultures created within this era. Initially I will be looking at two authors Dick Hebdige and David Muggleton and then support this with examples of subcultures of the period and following the subculture as if filters through to becoming mainstream. According to Dick Hebdige subcultures occur in society as youth rebelling to the hegemony from the ruling classes.
“This process begins with a crime against the natural order, though in this case the deviation may seem slight indeed – the cultivation of a quiff, the acquisition of a scooter or a record or a certain type of suit. But it ends up in the construction of a style, in a gesture of deviance or contempt, in a smile or a sneer. It signs a Refusal.” (Dick Hebdige, 1979)
This outcome begins from youth being aware of the class conscious divide within their parents lives and do not want to find themselves in the same position this causes them not to conform to society meaning subcultures are created. Once the media is aware of the subculture and publishes it to the nation moral panic arises, this then leads the subculture to adapt to avoid the negative label and often transforms into a new subculture, or the initial subculture becomes socially accepted by the media and public ‘at the point where boys in lipstick are “just kids dressing up,” where girls in rubber dresses are “daughters just like yours” (Hebdige 2011) to restore hegemony. Hebdige also states that subcultures are not sustainable. This process of recuperation takes two forms, the commodity form and the ideological form. The commodity form is the use of the subcultural signs as mass-produced items public consumption and mainstream subcultures. This creates a blur between profitable exploitation of the newly produced goods, and creativity and innovation of the trendsetters. A key example is both mod and punk subcultures, which have filtered down to the high street and changed the meaning from the original and become ‘codified’.
The ideological form uses Bathes (1972) Identification model in which others can be trivialised, naturalised and domesticated. ‘Otherness is reduced to sameness’ or the other can be transformed into meaningless exotica, a ‘pure object, a spectacle, a clown’. In the case of Punks, the press and themselves dehumanised themselves giving them a persona unrelated to their life, which didn’t take into consideration families. Events like this where often published by papers such as The Daily Mirror. One headline in particular that had high significance was ‘THE FILTH AND THE FURY’ (2nd December 1967) Where Sex Pistols were interviewed on a ITV’s Today and caused outrage when they offended the host Bill Grundy, as well as using unpleasant language which caused an up roar with the viewers. The show was aired at 6:15P.M in the London area with an audience of adults and children. This caused massive publicity for the band, but it was something they thrived off and therefore is willing to exploit their rebellious side for a boost in commercial success. The mainstream culture has to take responsibly for adding the destruction of subcultures and their legality especially regarding this situation because the programme could have been cut to avoid further offence, as it was clear from the offset that the situation was getting out of hand. Once subcultures become mainstream they are produces for the mass market and sold on the high street, this would not have been possible without mass marketing and mass production of high quality good. Mass production was the idea of Henry Ford, where in 1914 he introduced the first production line and the eight our day paying $5 an hour, and by the 1930’s this was established across America. This wage enabled workers to afford the mass produced items, which were the result of his fabrications. (Harvey 1997) However toward the late 1960’s Fordism was struggling to sustain, and post-Fordism showed a new perspective of production, and consumer demands. Consumers began to develop their own identities and their own demands, which in turn lead to a wider need of products that where
designed and suited to their personal needs, including items of limited edition and luxury. Barbra Kurger makes a statement on consumerism with her advertisement for Selfriges Untitled (I shop therefore I am), 1987. This expresses the desire to make a statement, not only the sheer size of the billboard, which its design has been inspired by the postmodern city scape of Las Vagas, which is dominated by advertisement. But also the desire of the consumer to be off existence, and this is only achievable by being an active consumer and buying into brands to create a lifestyle which would determine their identity by what they purchase, and their material possessions and not what they think.
Hebdige’s theory is a collectivist theory, which recognises loyalty of the collective, where as David Muggleton describes his theory of subcultures from an individualistic perspective. David Muggleton approaches the theory of subcultures from not only an individualistic approach, but also a Neo-weberist.
“Not everything can be explained by reference to economic factors alone. We should instead look within the enterprise of cultural studies itself, and to its theoretical agenda for the study of (sub) culture.” (Muggleton, 2006)
David Muggleton particularly focuses on subcultures during the postmodern era, with particular reference to style. Characteristics of postmodern style began to be the front-runner of design, many of these styles where an amalgamation of previous styles after the modernist era ended, on the 15th of July 1972. (Charles Jencks) When a block of public housing, designed on modernist values was demolished. This site was later a core of vandalism and crime which is seen as symbolizing the flaws of the Modernist movement. Muggleton comments on subculture in postmodernist surroundings as simulacra, with no original (Muggleton 1997). During this time creative fields including art, music and fashion became depthless and a display of postmodern pastiche, where political aspects including identity can be removed because ‘if there is no originality there is no authenticity’ (Stahl, 2003), His individualistic approach states that sub cultures are not created by working class protest, but by a group of individuals that
collaborate. In Inside Subculture: The Postmodern Meaning of Style Muggleton explores youth, and how they associate themselves with a labeled group. This is seen as a ‘restriction’ but is avoided when the group re-define themselves to be a group of anti-structure. These subcultures often express themselves through fashion and do not conform to the mainstream ideology. Within these style tribes, people are ‘characterized as much by ambiguity and diversity as by coherence and definition’ (Muggleton 2000, cited in Hodkinson 2002) Other subcultures linked to rebellious working class youth include Mods, Skinheads and Teddy Boys, which all are defined by their specific style. Mods where the ‘typical lower-class dandy’ (Goldman 1974), however Hebdige would argue that their origin was from an upper class background which enabled them to spend their money on looking stylish. In smart Italian orthodox suits paired with winkle pickers and customized with pop art styled union jack badges, their appearance was understated in comparison to the teddy boys. Which found themselves wearing Edwardian inspired suits accessorized with bolo ties and rock and roll quiffs. The skinheads evolved from mods, as they took two paths, one fashion following and the other ‘hard mods’. The fashion concerned ‘camp, Carnaby street mods merged into the fashion-conscious hippies’ and the ‘hard mods’ found themselves fell away from their ska and reggae and swayed towards the newly formed skinhead subculture. (Cohen, S 1972) Their social background was apparent as being proletariat so the conclusion can be drawn that class can define the split of the mod subculture, and the division was clear, initially by appearance. Skinheads had distinct haircuts, unlike the previous short, styled crew cut, they had shaved hair to be short, almost bald. The clothing was more casual, with polos, shirts and sweaters worn with skinny jeans worker style boots, often Dr. Martins.
‘The Skinheads undoubtebly reasserted those values associated with the traditional working class community, but they did so in the face of widespread renunciation of those values in the parent culture’ (Hebdige 1997)
From assessing the clothing worn in varying subcultures, it is possible to state that the clothes that they are wearing would initially identify these subcultures, and then after later examination, it is also possible to see
the class divide and the reasoning for rebelling .
If we look at Grace Jones’s identity in the postmodern era, it is clear that she reflects the movement at the time. Her androgynous style was an amalgamation of gender and racial stereotype. Her flattop haircut became popular with afro-caribbean men, while she also performed feminine and erogenous dances. Here she has created an image in a bricolage manner, which she is extremely aware of and because of this she creates an illusion of reality. Another key illusion of Jones’ career is the 1978 album Island Life. Jean-Paul Goude designed the cover of her album with her standing in the arabesque ballet position. This is something that only extremely flexible people can achieve, and Jones could not, but the illusion was created. This image, combined with the already overt style hoped to push Jones into pop culture as a singer and a gay icon.
‘Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It is not a lamp, but a “lamp”; not a woman, but a “woman.’ To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor life as theater. ‘(Sontag )
Jones shares in an interview for an Australian current affairs program Day by Day in 1985 that she likes being both masculine and feminine, which suggests that she can, like Sontag states ‘see things in quotation marks’ as she is not both masculine and feminine but her persona explores elements of both sexes. Jones does not see her masculinity as masculine itself, but an attitude and a trait that she has picked up from being around male family members, which has helped to form her identity that to her she does not find shocking. Her identity through style is not defined on screen she seems closed and reserved, while wearing plain black clothes that cover her apart from her face, and sunglasses to hide her expression Jones does not seem as confident as she does when performing. In the interview she also says “ I am schizophrenic, (laughs) I have different moods” which suggests that he is unsure of her identity and one way to express this is through her music. Other famous females such as Joan Rivers blur boundaries between genders; she featured as a guest host on The Tonight Sow Staring Johnny Carson, which
combines a late night talk show and stand up comedy. Within her comedy Rivers combines masculine aggression as well as feminine traits, and insults towards herself. After performances in Greenwich Village, New York, which is known for its Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender community, she became known in the gay scene and held a reputation there, which she still does. Madonna also associated her 1990’s song Vogue with the African American transvestites dance, voguing. It began in Harlem in the 1960’s involved flicking to a page in Vogue magazine and re-creating the pose. From this a style of dance was created using all of the poses. It was Madonna’s video that bought this dance and with it subculture to the mainstream and since has been seen in other artist videos such as Lady Gaga. Throughout the video there are many aspects of camp, including women wearing masculine suits, lavish decorations. This gives positive public reception and demonstrates that the public has a wider acceptance and open-mindedness towards women wearing typically ‘male’ clothes. This only initially became apparent well into the eightieth century, where cross-dressing was previously more distinct on the male half of bougorsie classes. (Brennikmeyer 1963).
‘A complex of loosely defined theatricalism, Camp imitates the hyperbole of musicals and popular movies as well as other visual extravagances like overstated décor and fashion, and especially cross-dressing. In its verbal forms, it favours quotation, mimicry, lip-syncing, gender inversion, trenchant put-downs, and bad puns’ (Van Leer, 2005)
From quotation of a quotation, Madonna quoting the African American dancers, which others then later quote, which is visible to the public and is mimicked by the mainstream. With reference to Hebdige’s theory mentioned previously both the commodity form of the subcultural elements and the ideological an acceptance of extravagant camp style has been born, that was previously unknown and disapproved of.
Brennikmeyer, I. (1963) The Sociology of Fashion. Winterhur, West Germany: Verlag P. G. Keller.
Cohen, S. (1972). Folk Devils and Moral Panics. MacGibbon & Kee
Goldman, A. (1974). Ladies and Gentleman, Lenny Bruce, Panther.
Harvey, D. (1997) The Conditions of Postmodernity. London: Blackwell Hebdige, D. (1997). Subculture the meaning of style. London: Routledge. Hebdige, D. (2011). The Fashion Reader (Chapter 24) Oxford, Berg. Hodkinson, P. (2002). Goth. Identity, Style and Subculture. Oxford, Berg. Muggleton, D. (1997). The Post-Subculturalist, S. Redhead, D. Wynne and J. O’Connor (eds), Muggleton, D. (2006) Inside Subculture: The Postmodernist Meaning of Style. Oxford: Berg Stahl, G. (2003) The Post-subcultures Reader, Oxford, Berg.
Van Leer, David. (1995) The Queening of America: Gay Culture in Straight Society. London and New York: Routledge. http://www.art21.org/images/barbara-kruger/untitled-i-shop-therefore-i-am-1987
Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York
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