A Journey Through Theories of the Intersection of Music and Culture
Dick Hebdige in his groundbreaking and inﬂ uential book Subculture: The meaning of style gives a beautiful account of the impact, meaning, and subversive nature of a variety of subcultural groupings. Punks, Mods, Skinheads, Rastas are all tackled by Hebdige mainly at the level of style and mainly through the lens of a variety of structuralist Marxism that incorporated versions of Saussure and Barthes’s semiotics, Gramsci, Althusser, and Marx’s take on ideology and Hegemony, and Kristeva’s subversive use of language and positioning. His prose also uses many literary reference points,
particularly John Genet and his take on the turning of objects into codes of refusal or the reloading of their cultural signiﬁ cation. A tube of Vaseline is described by Genet as a key transgressive signiﬁ er that represents his gay identity and refusal to adhere to mainstream moral codes. Hebdige goes on to describe the way in which mundane objects become a ‘form of stigmata’ and ‘tokens of self imposed exile.’ These objects become sites of the tension between mainstream culture and subordinate cultural groups who are defying the dominant cultural order. A safety pin, a quiff, a scooter, or a pair of Dr. Martens boots, they can all represent a refusal or a gesture of contempt. For Hebdige, there seems to be the acceptance that this is what these codes ultimately do represent; they are just a gesture.