Subculture

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Dick Hebdige's `Subculture: The Meaning of Style` explores the ideologically pregnant conflict between popular mainstream and sub-cultures.

Style can constitute a symbolic dissent of the hegemonic order of society, a subconscious expression of marginalization within the social common sense (2). Objects, practices and elements of style can be read critically just as canonical cultural works and practices can be deconstructed to reveal the power structures that underlie and inform them (8). Early on in his introduction to culture, Hebdige mentions a conflict internal to cultural studies between classical and anthropological notions of culture as either a standard of excellence or a whole way of life (6-7). Despite semiotics promise of reconciliation, the resulting disagreement within cultural studies over which conception produces the more fruitful line of critical inquiry remains unresolved in Subculture (7,10,139).

Hebdige does however explore the process by which cultural standards of excellence are preserved in the face of the challenges of counter-, sub- and multi-cultural ways of life. He discusses one of the media's roles of cultural intervention, in both providing would-be subcultures with material symbols and their interpretations, as well as a means by which society represents, interprets and assimilates those subcultures (85).

"The mass media are more and more responsible (a) for providing the basis on which groups and classes construct an image of the lives, meanings, practices and values of other groups and classes; (b) for providing the images, representations and ideas around which the social totality can be coherently grasped" (Hall, 85).

The media not only play a crucial role in the formation of subcultures, but also their dissolution (92-99,130). Subcultures are naturalized and assimilated by two overlapping methods, the commodification of subcultural forms, and the ideological redefinition of deviant behavior by dominant groups (94).

"Subcultural deviance is simultaneously rendered explicable and meaningless in the classrooms, courts and media at the same time as the secret objects of subcultural style are put on display in every shop and chain-store boutique. Stripped of its unwholesome connotations, the style becomes fit for public consumption" (130).

This process of hegemonic recuperation of control over cultural meaning is inevitable as subcultures communicate through appropriated commodities. It also reveals how traces of political and historical relations, like race relations, can be read of the surfaces of these subcultures, reflecting the way in which larger sociopolitical conflicts are diffused in the culture (65).