Updated: Aug 28
Millennial Woes on Telegram: “What subcultures were in Britain prior to 1945? This is a genuine question. I'm trying to work out whether the presence of subcultures is ever not a sign that the society's mainstream is being dismantled.” The term “subculture” only dates to about 1922, and it only took off in the 1960s—in fact, it fell off in the 1980s and then revived in the 1990s; certainly, as a teenager, the term “subculture” seemed very current. The term is itself inherently leftist, a counterposing to kultur—the barbaric substratum that the right defends. The left wants to fracture the kultur.
The term was originally developed by a Chicago university school that excluded biological explanations from sociology—it only accepted institutional and cultural explanations, the lead sociologist in this project was, predictably, Jewish. Later, the term “subculture” was taken up in Britain by academic Marxists from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham—and it is in this sense that the term “subculture” revived in the 1990s. The CCCS was influenced by Althusser and Gramsci—as represented by the picture above, it asked question along the lines: “How does advertisement under post-Fordist capitalism, here for Hunts lemonade, exoticise non-white labour moved from the periphery to the metropolis? Is not ‘the exotic’, as represented by the working-class turbaned man, already present in the metropolis—despite the tropical advertisement for a white woman on an exotic holiday?” And so on and so forth.
The CCCS fed into the Communist Party of Great Britain’s theoretical magazine, Marxism Today, then, under a Eurocommunist editorial line, enjoying a renaissance—its focus on “cultural politics” influenced New Labour’s media strategy in the 1990s. The purpose of “subculture” in this context being to break “capitalist cultural hegemony” through encouraging people to identify with deviant phenomena (punk, goth, LGBT) made respectable through cultural laundry via the academically endorsed concept of the “subculture”, now a “site of resistance” to late capitalism—itself characterised as inherently “heterogeneous’.