Postmodern Youth Culture

This essay I am going to discuss contemporary youth culture, and how fashion and appearance are being used to communicate a certain identity. My main focus will be on trying to explain how they are characteristic for the post modern are and how they are distinct from “authentic” subcultures. Furthermore I will look into the central role consumption have in post modern youth cultures. When discussing these different ideas, I have chose to look into two contemporary youth cultures; the hipster and the clubbers.

Fashion and appearance are about showing who we are.

Kratz and Reimer (1998) state how fashion is a cultural phenomen that we use to communicate to others our identity. This identity could be social and cultural, it can be showing belonging to a certain group, and distance to another group, or it can be the different identities we have in our everyday lives (kratz & reimer, 1998). Historically this identity was essentially about social class and economic capital. Fashion was used to show of wealth, and the upper classes used it to differentiate THEMSELVES FROM THE LOWER CLASSES.

(Bocock, 1993).

When the youth subcultures started to develop in modern times this changed. In his book on subcultures Hebdige (1979) identifies how the function of fashion now changed. Instead of representing hegemony, and making it more noticeable, fashion was challenging it. In the concept of style as communication in relation to subcultures Hebdige (1979) proceeds to point out how style is used to show deviance and work as a function to differentiate. He argues, by drawing on Eco (1973), how fashion can be viewed as socially constructed codes, and by wearing a specific outfit, you communicate a certain character.

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Subcultures distinguished themselves from this by creating their own codes, or breaking the ones that already existed. They used fashion to express their distinctive identities, to show resistance against the dominant culture (Hebdige, 1979). Post modern youth cultures are still using style to differentiate themselves and to show what groups they want to be related to, and to who they seek distance but, the concept of resistance is gone (Muggleton, 2000) What is similar in the postmodern youth cultures and the authentic outh cultures are the wish to be differentiated from the mainstream society, to be a part of the alternative (Hebdige, 1979; Thorton, 1995). In thortons(1995) work on clubcultures she writes about the contrast between “us” – the hip, alternative world, and “the others”- the mainstream. This difference is being explained by the concept of subcultrual capital. Subcultrual capital is the knowledge you got whitin areas of importance to your subculture. It is about knowing what is “hip”, for example how to dress, what to listen to, where to hang out, etc.

In eyes of the members of the subculture, the people belonging the mainstream have low subcultural capital (Barker, 2000, drawing on thorton, 1995). The issue of class is raised in connection with subcltrual capital. Even though subcultures refuse the standardised class system, and are trying to achieve classlessness, subcultrual capital creates a kind of class system. The more subcultrual capital you have, the more respect you get with in the subculture, and the higher “class” you belong to (thorton, 1995). This concept of subcultrual capital is applible to the hipster culture.

Since the hipster culture builds on the interest for the non-mainstream, “indie” culture and fashion, the distinguishing between “us”- the alternative and “them”- the mainstream is very important. It can even be argued that this is one of the main aspects of this culture. Having high subcultrual capital within the hipster culture would for example be to know about culture, politics, independent art and music. As Arseal and Thompson (2011) argues in their work, that it is all about the field of indie consumption.

This field being about consuming what is not considered as mainstream, but independent, being everything from fashion, film, food and music. This consumption is being used to communicate a specific identity, an Identity that says how the consumer belong to “us” and are distinct from “them”. It is not be denied that fashion is the most visible act of consumption, therefore also the most visible way to communicate thru consumption (Miles, 1998). Hipsters communicate thru fashion by not following the catwalk trends, the main trend within this culture is wearing vintage and thriftshop inspired clothes, often in unexpected combinations.

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Referring back to the codes of fashion, and how subcultures broke these codes, Hipsters can be said to do the same (hebdiges, 1979). This culture are trying do differentiate themselves from everything that they see as mainstream. It is clear that this craving after differentiation are a well know aspect within postmodernity, which could be explained by the impossibility to do so because there are no longer any rules, everything has already been done (Appignanesi & Garrat, 2004; Muggleton, 2000)

Drawing on this statement about postmodernity, It can be claimed how “indie” now have become mainstream, especially when it comes to fashion and style. Even though almost all subcultrual style did at some point become mainstream, the difference is that when that happened the innovators of the style, the subculture, turned away from that style. Today Kratx and Reimer(1998) argues how trends seem to last much longer, how “subcultures” stick to them, even after adopted by the mainstream.

An example on how indie fashion has become mainstream is how retailers sell the indie hipster look, American Apparel and urban Outfitters being the prime exampels. They are highly inspired by the indie hipster look, both when it comes to the fashion they sell, and how they advertise. American Apperal have for example an “indie” look to their ad campaigns. (see figure x). They differentiate themselves from the “glossy” part of the fashion industry by using vintage photography and models in “relaxed” poses.

Haddow (2008) makes a rather bold statement when saying that: “In the end, hipsters are sold what they think they invent and are spoon-fed their pre-packaged cultural livelihood. ” (p..? ) There is little doubt that consumption is an important part of youth cultures construction of social identity, but Haddow (2008) makes the statement that these consumers are being passive (Miles, 1998). Bennet (1999) argues in his work on clubcultures that this act of passive consumption are one of the main reasons to why youth cultures today not longer are a subculture, but more a consumer group.

Further more Arsel and Thomptson (2011) explains how the “hipster” culture are built on the on the marketplace hipster myth. “Marketplace myths are commonly conceptualized as cultural resources that attract consumers to a consumption activity or brand” (Arsel and Thomptson, 2011. N/A) They argue how consumers are being driven by a marketplace myth to buy into a specific field of consumption. In this case how the “hipster” are buying in to the indie market. It is mportant to point out how Arsel and Thompson(2011) are differentiating between the authentic indie consumer and the hipsters “…that simply want to be part of a fashionable scene” (N/A). The hipster consumption are being defined as the opposite as identity based consumerism, and are being said to devalue the authentic indie consumption; “Wannabe consumers purchase a prepackaged, commercialized hipster ensemble rather than immersing themselves in a do-it-yourself process of aesthetic exploration and discovery” (ibid, 2011: N/A).

Also Haddow (2008) draw this conclusion about the hipster culture, when pointing out it is a “target marked that consumes cool rather then creating it” (N/A) While there is evidence to support this view, authors also argue how consumption within youth today is active. Barker (2008) draws on both Fiske (1987) and Willies (1990) when he discusses this. He argues how thus the choice available today, youth are active when choosing what to consume and adding a symbolic meaning to the consumption. (need to connect the two paragraphs together)

HERE, MUGGLETON IS TALKING ABOUT AN IDEA OF A POSTMODERN SUBCULTURAL PARTICIPANT. HE ACTUALLY FINDS THAT HIS REPSONDENTS DO IDENTIFY WITH A NOTION OF AUTHENTICITY. BUT THIS IS HIS PROJECTION ABOUT A POTENTIAL IDEAL. Muggleton (2000) state that: “there are no rules, there is no authencity, no ideological commitment, merely a stylistic game to be played” (p. 47). This lack of ideological commitment, lack of resistance and solely focus on style are argued to be the main difference between postmodern youth cultures and authentic subcultures.

Arsenal and Thompson (2011) draw on this when speaking of how the word “hipster” has been used “…as a synonym for fashionable counterculture, largely denuded of any connotations of social protest or deviance. ” (N/A) It cannot be denied that post cultural (MODERN) subcultures don’t show the same resistance that authentic subcultures did, but it should be born in mind that they are not completely stripped of political engagement. Barker (2008) also raises the question of what resistance actually means in a postmodern world.

Thornton (1995) establishes in her work on clubcultures how it follows the authentic subcultures when it comes to the resistance against the prejudices many people in the mainstream society have. Race, class and sexual orientation are not an issue within clubcultures, this is an attitude also shared within the hipster culture. Hipsters are known to have a radical politic view, and a pro- organic attitude (Walker, 2008). (not sure to keep this) Even though both clubbers and hipsters are against the mainstream class system, class is still a issue, Hebdige (1979) argues that subculture consists of working class youth that do not agree with the dominant social standards, and that feel neglected in the society. It is notable when looking at hipsters that this is not longer the case. This culture are upper middle, and middle class, trying to “adapt working class estetich” (haddow, 2008).

The same tendency can be seen within clubcultures, as Thornton (1995) explains how youth with public- school backgrounds, adopt working class accents. ) rewrite/ needs to come earlier) In his article “Hipster: The Dead end of Western Civilization” Haddow (2008) presents a strong view on the youth culture of “Hipsters”. The title alone shows the connection to postmodern theory. As postmodernism speaks of the end of history and culture (appignanesi and garret, 2004), Haddow(2008) represent the “hipster” as the end of Western civilization. He points out how this is a culture consisting of bricolage; “An artificial appropriation of different styles from different – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. (N/A) Bricolage had also been used within authentic subcultures, such as mods and punks. , but in a different way. Barker (2008) points out, by referring to Hebdige (1979), how bricolage then was “dynamic and creative”.

For example how the punks took accessories and clothing items that has usually been associated with the business world, and turned them into items of a complete different meaning to express what the punks stod for (heddige, 1979). Furthermore Barker, (2008) argues that the differences between then and now, is that bricolage NO LONGER MEANS anything, the look is just about the look, without any epth. This can be seen in how Haddow (2008) argues in how hipsters use bricolage, that they take bits and pieces from subcultures in past. Fletcher (2009) argues that this is being used without any meaning, but just for the sake of looking good. Globalization is another factor that has a considerable impact on postmodernism. Youth cultural style, is not different from country to country anymore, which has much to do with today’s technology and interactive communication (kratz and reimer, 1998).

Today fashion is heterogeneous in the way that different fashions are more distinguished after what part of a city you are from, not what country. (ibid, 1998). Speaking of hipster culture, this is easily seen in how the hipster culture is mainly said to be coming from Lower east side/Williamsburg, US, but how it is exactly the same in East London, UK. Thorton(1995) also speaks of globalization within clubcultures. Clubbers acted, dressed and thinked more or less the same, careless if they were from UK, Germany or Canada.

As seen thru the exampels of the hipster culture and clubcultures, it can be seen how they both are youth cultures borne in the area of postmodernism. They are both results of consumption, bricolage and globalization. Postmodern youth cultures can not be said to be ass aberrant and resistance as the subcultures in modernity, but they are not completely stripped of authencity and meaning. The main issues when speaking of postmodern youth culture, or post- subculture, are that the authentic members and the mainstream followers are being seen as one.

If this were a subculture, the early adapters would have moved on, which they haven’t. Both hipster and clubbers have tried to do something different than the mainstream society, the challenge with today’s postmodern society is that it is impossible to do something completely new or be completely different. Hipster culture may have become mainstream, and it can not be called a subculture, but it does not mean that it is a “negative” youth culture. Hipsters, at least the authentic ones, usually have a higher cultural capital than “mainstream” youth, as well as many of them are more engage in politics.

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Postmodern Youth Culture. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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