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Subcultures and Cultural "Equality"

Wed 11 Nov 2015 In: Politics and Religion View at NDHA

What are 'subcultures' and what role do they play in contemporary LGBT politics, communities and self-perceptions? Let's examine these in turn. When he wrote the pivotal book on the subject, ironically named Subcultures (1979), British sociologist Dick Hebdige signaled a more nuanced leftist social and cultural perspective on youth subcultures. Under the conservative marxist Frankfurt School of the fifties, youth and other subcultures had been condemned needlessly as reactionary consumerist dupes of the postwar capitalist economy. Refreshingly, Hebdige broke with all that and asked how individual young men and women used fashion, music, subcultural fan media, specific forms of initiation and entry, modes of transport and venues to create new social identities and exhorted the British left to use this information to reach out to these new working class youth subcultures- teenagers themselves and their various tribes- mods, rockers, punks, goths, house music ravers, metalheads and so on. It wasn't solely youth subcultures that he was interested in, however- his opening paragraphs made reference to French gay 'bad boy' author Jean Genet and one time that he was caught with a tube of vaseline in his jeans pocket, indicating that it had been used for lubrication within anal sex. The vaseline tube therefore had subcultural significance to Genet and his police counterparts as a specific artefact that was used within the gay subculture for specific purposes. Although Hebdige concentrated his attention on youth subcultures and later, fashion and design periods in British consumer history, there's nothing to stop wider application of the concept to other subcultures than those of youth. Let's examine some of them and see. With the Rugby World Cup over and done with until 2019, do the All Blacks qualify as a subculture? Well, yes, they do. Black ensemble sports kit, player and commentator jargon related to game routines, particular modes of expression (hakas), large scale fan media (numerous rugby magazines, newspaper segments, websites, television sports coverage and even a Rugby Channel), and circumscribed entry parameters. One becomes an All Black if one attains a particular level of proficiency and excellence at rugby union and therefore becomes eligible for selection. Thus far, an out New Zealand gay man hasn't served in that capacity, although given that Ian Roberts and Keegan Hirst have come out within the rugby league code, and Gareth Thomas came out after switching from rugby union to league, it's probably only a matter of time until residual organisational homophobia declines sufficiently to permit someone to come out while engaged in achievement at the pinnacle of New Zealand sporting activity. In no other country did an out former professional rugby international (former Black Fern Louisa Wall, now Labour MP for Manurewa) introduce and insure passage of marriage equality legislation! So, yes, professional rugby is a subculture, albeit a large and popular one when it comes to media attention and fan acclamation, as anyone can recall if they stayed up to watch most of the games. From popular subcultures like the All Blacks and rugby worship, let's shift our scrutiny to conservative Christianity. The differences couldn't be more obvious. However bombastic and shrill Bob McCoskrie might get over Family First's echo chamber news page, all he is really doing is recirculating US Christian Right propaganda, tactics and strategy, which is absurdly easy to deconstruct. Fundamentalist Protestants, conservative Catholics, Mormons, Pentecostals and other conservative religious subcultures have particular elements that render them easily identifiable. Fundamentalists switch to proof text autopilot if they're faced with too hard a question. Pentecostals accuse you of being "demonically possessed" and try to "exorcise" you. Conservative Catholics have distinctive crucifixes and rosary beads at hand. Mormons dress in white shirts, ties and trousers, with name badges. Kitsch t-shirts, awful fundamentalist musak, and even worse subcultural fiction are de rigeur within their particular subcultures. Apart from Pentecostals, New Zealand Christian religious observance is shrinking overall. Unfortunately, this can cause heartache and pain if you're an LGBT Christian who faces ordination discrimination within a denomination whose institutions have been taken over by fundamentalists, such as the dying Presbyterian Church of New Zealand. Fortunately, there are other choices if one's original denomination proves backward- Anglicanism and Methodism are more welcoming. To other LGBT community members, questions are asked why LGBT Christians (and active LGBT members of other religious traditions) still participate within such institutions, given their homophobic past and present. From rugby to conservative Christianity to goth musical subculture. The goth subculture resembles Hebdige's classical model more than the other two I've selected. However, it may well be more permeable to LGBT involvement than other music and fashion subcultures. Goths dress in black, customised vintage clothing or converted fetishistwear and are fond of melancholy music and literature. Goth males engage in 'soft' masculinity, which means that there is greater opportunity for gay men to participate. If femme lesbians like the idea of specific dress and display, so might they. There was a half-hearted attempt at 'moral panic' related to whether or not goths were 'responsible' for youth suicide given their depressive music and fashion choices, but it disintegrated rapidly. Goths like dressing up in black accoutrements and there is a strong artisan ethos within their subculture, which also marks overlap with a traditional gay male occupational category, work within the fashion industry. While the All Blacks may eventually incorporate one or more gay players of sufficient prowess and athleticism, and while conservative Christians and LGBT individuals usually inhabit different social networks, goths are more inclusive. Which raises some interesting questions about LGBT involvement in New Zealand subcultures past and present. One wonders what stories there are to tell out there. Recommended: Dick Hebdige:Subculture: The Meaning of Style: London: Methuen: 1979. Dick Hebdige:Hiding in the Light: On Images and Things:London: Routledge: 1988 Paul Hodkinson:Goth: Identity, Style and Subculture:Oxford: Berg: 2002. Craig Young - 11th November 2015    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Wednesday, 11th November 2015 - 10:23am

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