Table of contents(17 chapters)
Part I: Subcultures
In May 2016, Aleks Eror’s op-ed article ‘Dear fashion industry: Stop making up bogus subcultures’ on the HighSnobiety website accuses the fashion industry of creating ‘quasi-subcultures’, such as Normcore, Seapunk and Health Goth to promote specific fashion trends via the Internet. Eror argues that these fashion subcultures do not exist in resistance to mainstream culture (as he understands subcultures), but instead offer the specific fashions and their designers cache for being associated with a counterculture and connecting with alternative trends. Setting aside Eror’s narrow understanding of subcultures, he raises questions of authenticity and the current state of virtual fashion subcultures.
Still, there is evidence of these subcultures online and growing in substantial numbers regardless of their inception. Furthermore, persons identifying themselves with these groups practice alternativity, which delineates their scenes, artefacts, and practices from those of mainstream Western society. I pursue questions of authenticity regarding these recent fashion subcultures who appear to emerge in close proximity to the launch of specific fashions. The author explores the ways in which these fashion subcultural experiences differ from known subcultures. The author investigates notions of constructed resistance and perceived alternativity and marginalization, as well as how that positionality manifests into a fashion subculture identity.
This chapter focuses on the problematic relationship between heavy metal and gender politics. While metal may be deemed as being an ‘alternative’ subculture, metal still ‘uses’ women in the same way as ‘normal’ society. Despite the nature of metal as counterculture, women’s images and morality are often inverted but not subverted and it is this nuance that we wish to explore: for example, the use of Mary, Mother of God, in ‘Amen’ by black metal band Behemoth, where though her image is a challenge to convention, she is still ‘used’ as emblems for male political ideology. In the textuality of heavy metal music, women appear as mothers (both good and bad), fetishised whores, mother earth and sexualised virgins. Where modern open sexuality is ‘praised’, anything less so is mocked. Though this ‘praise’ may come across as positive, it is nevertheless still ascribing morality/immorality/virtue to women’s bodies in a way that is not done with men. In this discussion, we will use examples of texts from metal bands who reference women, imagery associated with band merchandise as well as comments from the performers themselves (such as Dee Snider’s approval of the lyrics of ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ being associated with the Women’s March on Washington) to investigate the place of the female body in this cultural representation. By using textual critical analysis, we show that women in metal are still having morality written on their bodies, bringing to light the debatable nature of metal being deemed as ‘alternative’ when it comes to gender.
The author launched an online survey at a private English-speaking university in Kuwait to evaluate the status, value and importance of Japanese and Korean popular cultures in Kuwait. East-Asian culture is a subculture that is very widespread in the region because of Internet use and the influence of English-speaking education. The survey shows that this subculture can be understood as an alternative culture because it tends to contain a dissimulated critique of traditional Kuwaiti culture. Many students approach Japanese and Korean cultural products because they are in search of a coherent lifestyle founded on certain ethics. The Japanese–Kuwaiti cultural transfer implies a double resistance towards the local culture and towards American culture. The resulting marginalization is therefore two-fold. Resistance towards Western culture is here not based, as is often assumed in Arab contexts, on cultural closure and conservatism, but rather on the willingness to engage with an alien culture. This creates a paradoxical pattern of resistance to both the East and the West through adherence to another Eastern culture. The phenomenon can be understood in terms of globalisation as well as of anti-globalisation.
Glam metal of the 1980s represented a notable development in popular music at this time. A subgenre of 1980s heavy metal, glam metal combined elements of late 1960s and 1970s heavy rock, glam rock and punk rock, enriching both the visual and aural aesthetic diversity of 1980s heavy metal as a result. Moreover, 1980s glam metal bands such as Guns N’ Roses and Poison, Cinderella and Mötley Crüe, Ratt and Warrant, dominated the music video airwaves and sold out venues across the United States. Yet, for all its comparative individuality and widespread popularity, the vast majority of mainstream glam metal bands were marginalised by social action groups mainly, but not exclusively, because of misogynist-type themes that the bands represented in their aesthetics.
During the 1990s, scholars began scrutinising 1980s glam metal’s misogynist aesthetics, for example, Lisa Sloat’s (1998) analysis of glam metal’s sexist and misogynist themed song lyrics concludes that, ‘if exploiting women for sex sells, [glam metal] musicians will [continue] record[ing] songs which do so’ (Sloat, 1998, p. 299). Yet none of these accounts seem to be able to sufficiently unpack the idea that 1980s glam metal’s representation of misogyny was anything other than fundamentally egregious. An alternative reading of the aesthetics shows us how many of the bands creatively appropriated misogyny to idiomatically hallmark metal glam, thus differentiating the style from the broadly homogenous displays of machismo that generally defined the aesthetics of other 1980s heavy metal subgenres. In response then, this chapter should be thought of as a doctrine provactive, intended to elicit a debate about the need to look alternatively at how misogyny is/was used as an artistic aesthetic device, not only in 1980s glam metal, but throughout culture more widely.
After the extreme turn of the late 1980s and early 1990s of metal music, three northern England-based bands – My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost from Bradford, and Anathema from Liverpool, commonly referred to as ‘the Peaceville Three’ – went on to pioneer the musical style which came to be known as death/doom. Mid-1990s have seen these bands’ stylistic shift into a more gothic rock-influenced sound. This Paradise Lost-led shift gave birth to the style gothic/doom. Around this deviation, these bands also started to employ a different sense, or rather a sense, of locality in their music: Paradise Lost started calling themselves a Yorkshire band, instead of specifically Bradford; Anathema shot a video for their 1995 song ‘The Silent Enigma’ in Saddleworth Moor (historically part of West Riding of Yorkshire) in Manchester; and later, My Dying Bride became more and more ingrained in the Goth culture of Whitby, including releasing an extended-play titled The Barghest o’ Whitby (2011), a Dracula-inspired trail guide, and frequently appearing in festivals in Whitby. This ethnographic research with both musicians and fans further suggests the involvement of the North in making and perception of gothic/doom. Applying Michel de Certau’s idea stating that ‘every story is a spacial practice’ within the context of northern England landscape, gothic/doom metal style emerges as an act of northernness. The author proposes to discuss how this act is performed within these bands’ oeuvre and how it is perceived from the listener perspective using interviews with people from around the world, and musicological analyses of significant songs from the repertoire of this trio.
Part II: Bodies
Over the last decade, there has been a substantial rise in the popularity of tattooing in the UK, and a subsequent increase in tattooed female bodies. As explored by Walter (2010), key for the women of today is that they have a choice, to conform to stereotypical constructions of femininity, or resist them. However, tension lies in the ways that these choices are already constrained by socially imposed boundaries. In exploring constructions of tattooed female bodies, a stratified sample of 14 tattooed women were interviewed, with the transcripts being analysed using a discursive–narrative approach. Reflexivity forms a key part of the analysis, as I research a tattooed woman, with some of the insider–outsider intersections informing the analysis. Here, the discourse of unwritten rules and social norms is explored, with a specific focus on how tattooed women construct ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ choices in respect to the tattoos they and others get, the expectation and the normalisation of the pain of getting and having a tattoo, and finally, the generational difference in respect to how tattoos are accepted and understood.
The act of becoming ‘heavily tattooed’, with its historical association with deviant subcultures, continues to carry a social stigma and evoke negative sanctions. This is especially so for women, who must also contend with gender norms within the highly masculinised tattoo subculture. For women, the experience of becoming heavily tattooed comes to represent an embodied resistance to normative ideals of beauty, against which the participants construct their own alternative gender and beauty philosophies. Besides gender norms, the tattoo world has specific ethos which divides the serious subcultural member from those more casually connected to it. The physical parameter of the subculture finds people gathering in tattoo studios and at tattoo conventions, as well as consuming tattoo-oriented media, such as magazines and television shows. This study draws on in-depth interviews with 36 participants across the United States who consider themselves serious tattoo collectors. From their stories, we learn about the importance of participating in this leisure activity and how becoming heavily tattooed impacts their sense of self, gender and identity.
This chapter analyses the presence of Russian feminists and female LGBTIQ+ activists within US-American mainstream media. In the course of a multimedia discourse analysis, it briefly raises questions of who becomes featured and how, to argue that current debates marginalise Russian queer female, trans*gender and intersex voices, compared to those of male queers. One exception to this trend is the case of the journalist and activist Masha Gessen. Together with Nadya Tolokonnikova of the protest group Pussy Riot, Gessen seems to represent Russian queers and feminists within US media. Although marginal, compared to the presence of US feminisms, especially popular culture figures such as Beyoncé Knowles-Carter or Lady Gaga, the two women become frequently featured within US news media and beyond. Frequently, those articles, interviews and discussions of their work open up a debate, or rather comparisons, between US values and Russian values, questions of modernity, progress and civilisation. Equally often, the female Russian dissidents are pictured as ‘Putin’s victims’ – the female versions of David fighting against Goliath – by focussing especially on their physical vulnerability and their female bodies. In this vein, feminism is constructed as inherently ‘Western’, while the bodies that carry out such feminisms and most of all their country of origin is entirely ‘othered’. Comparing the (self-)representations to other voices of female Russian dissent within US media, the author critically discuss the Western gaze of US mainstream media, its victimising strategies and homonationalistic construction of US identity and US nation in rejection of a ‘backward’ homophobic Russia.
In early 2017 I was watching YouTube, and being bounced around by its algorithmic recommendations. One suggestion appearing down the side bar column of jpegs was MARROW, from Anohni’s 2016 album Hopelessness. It figures a black background and foregrounds an ageing, smiling, bejewelled woman lip-syncing to the song. She is the American artist Lorraine O’Grady. Watching it felt odd, as if something was `out of place’.
Anohni speaks through her, using ventriloquist tactics to displace her own body and O’Grady’s voice. This interested me. It was the first time I had been presented with the body of an ageing woman without knowing what she looked like in youth (unlike Madonna or Aretha Franklin for example). And it was the first time I had seen lip syncing done in such an eerie fashion. The tactic is used on other music videos for tracks taken from the album where ageing women and women of colour are centre stage.
Using the idea of a place that it is ‘out of time’, in that the music videos are set in a blank space and the lip- syncing upsets the idea of a single sutured speaking author, the chapter explores the idea of `queer temporality’ by using Judith Halberstam’s 2005 work. It suggests that the music videos are potentially transgressive in their presentation of a non-normative and fractured bodies. It uses work from ageing studies (Baars, 2012) and trans-ageing (Moglen, 2008) to suggest the transgressive potential of Anonhi’s music videos in how they position transgendered voices and ageing bodies.
In this chapter, the author critically examines the relationship between sociology and the identities/experiences of disability and ‘mental illness’ (referred to throughout as distress). The author argues that despite sociology having an ethos of social justice and frequently producing critical accounts of inequalities – such as anti-racism and gender equality – it nonetheless uncritically reiterates the marginalisation of disability and distress. As such, sociology not only reflects the increasing ‘medicalisation of everyday life’ and shores up the essentialist discourses of genetics and neuroscience, but also consigns research and knowledge production about disability and distress to the medical sciences. The author challenges these sociological conventions and highlights the ways in which both disability and distress are socially structured, embodied experiences. The author argues that a sociological account of distress and disability are important not only in and of themselves, but also because they highlight the ways and means to challenge essentialism, inequality and the ever-narrowing definition of what is considered a normal or acceptable part of human experience. Furthermore, vibrant streams of user-led research, activism and practice-interventions – resulting in widespread social, legal and identity transformations – have emerged from the experiences of disability and distress. These user-led perspectives highlight the importance and potential of knowledge produced from the margins, not only for those experiencing disability and/or distress but also for the ways in which we perceive, theorise and research the social world more broadly.
Part III: Spaces
Authenticity is a key issue in any study of subcultures or groups who define themselves as alternative. I will discuss three different stages of research about ‘alternative’ women, with interviews conducted in the late 1990s, and then return interviews with some of the original participants in 2010 and 2018. At all three stages of data collection, the participants were at pains to place themselves as distanced or marginalized from the mainstream, by choice, articulated in various ways. At the same time, they placed themselves as being authentic or at the centre, with people they termed as part-timers, newbies, tourists and weekenders existing on the periphery and at the margins. How do they measure their place in the hierarchy, and whose hierarchy is it? The chapter asks, what is authenticity in alternative subcultures, why is it so important that such marginalized groups are authentic (to themselves, as well as to outsiders), and how do they achieve it. The chapter also explores how ageing and gender impacts on the participants’ identities as alternative women.
For some, gender remains a mechanism of marginalization within mainstream popular culture because of expectations concerning what femininity and masculinity entail. This marginalization refers both broadly to the way girls/women are marginalized as well as the marginalization of those boys/men who fail to conform to societal gendered expectations. If alternativity is synonymous with resistance to this mainstream popular culture it would be logical to then assume that alternative spaces could provide opportunities for pursuing alternative understandings of gender. But to what extent does empirical work support this proposition? Are alternative spaces created or used in ways which envision gender differently to hegemonic discourses concerning femininity/masculinity? Or do normative gendered beliefs and practices prevail? This chapter will critically explore these questions through a number of alternative spaces, drawing out key themes and emerging gaps. This exploration will take the subcultural work of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies as its starting point, acknowledging the limitations of such work in theorising gender within alternative spaces, before exploring what empirical work across a number of subcultural spaces ‘offers’ in relation to gender. Before concluding the chapter will, more briefly, consider a relatively more recent consideration of online alternative spaces.
The term Canterbury Sound emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s to refer to a signature style within psychedelic and progressive rock developed by bands such as Caravan and Soft Machine as well as key artists including Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers. This chapter explores Canterbury as a metaphor and reality, a symbolic space of music inspiration which has produced its distinctive ‘sound’.
Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, particularly observations and interviews with music artists and cultural intermediates (Bourdieu, 1993), we suggest that the notion of the Canterbury Sound – with its affinity for experimentation, distinctive chord progressions and jazz allusions in a rock music format – is perceived as a continuing artistic and aesthetic influence. We interpret the genealogy of the Canterbury Sound alternativity through discussions focused on the position of the ‘Sound’ within contemporary heritage discourses, the metaphorical and geographical implications of place in relation to popular music, and cultural longevity of the phenomenon.
What does it mean to be alternative? What is alternativity, and how does it relate to other attempts to make sense of those on the margins? In the first part of this chapter, I will undertake a history and philosophy of alternativity, from deviance through subcultures to neo-tribes. This will focus partly on popular notions of alternativity, and partly on academic attempts to understand it in various disciplines and subject fields. In the second part of the chapter, the author will focus on how alternativity has been explored in two specific subject fields – leisure studies and popular cultural studies – to make the claim that both subject fields have failed through different means to get to groups with the idea of the alternative: leisure studies have failed through a lack of theory, and cultural studies have failed through a lack of empirical research. In the final part of the chapter, I will attempt to reconcile leisure and culture, and I will sketch out a new theory and empirical programme of alternative leisure that returns to the idea of subculture as counterculture.
- Publication date
- Book series
- Emerald Studies in Alternativity and Marginalization
- Series copyright holder
- Emerald Publishing Limited