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History of subcultures

Related: history - subculture

History of subcultures in the 20th century

The 20th century was a time of social diversity and the rise of the individual. The world wars and revolutions which dominated the first half of the century put a terrible psychological pressure upon the vast majority of people. For instance the war conscriptions meant that enormous numbers of people were put into uniform and thus denied the freedom of individuality in their choice of clothes and hairstyles. In addition there was the threat of death and the loss of friends and loved ones. As a result the 20th century produced a breed of people frantic to live life to the full (before it was taken away) and to express individuality.

There seems to be a dynamic relationship between subculture and warfare. Society sends its young, healthy and strong to kill the young, healthy and strong of another society and subculture seems to be provoked through the social trauma which results. There also is a clear relationship between subculture and refugee or immigrant status. Since there is clearly a link between warfare and the creation of refugees and forced exiles a sociological pattern is discernable.

Richard Collier's 1984 book The Rainbow People describes a subculture of transatlantic-based wealthy hedonists. He says, "The era of the Rainbow People opened with the coronation of a prince called 'Tum-Tum' as Britain's Edward VII in 1902 and closed in 1975 with the death of Aristotle Onassis, dubbed 'Daddy-O' by Women's Wear Daily."

Wealth and class can be considered a subculture although the term is more usually associated with fashion or with resistance against social repressions. Other subcultures are connected with sexual orientation, religion and ethnicity. Travelling people such as the Roma tend to be universally a subculture. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_subcultures_in_the_20th_century [Dec 2004]

Pre-WWI subcultures [...]

In the period before World War I subculture was a small thing, social groupings of hobbyists or a matter of style and philosophy amongst artists and bohemian poets.

One continuing 20th century subculture was Nudism. The first known organized club for nudists, Freilichtpark (Free-Light Park), was opened near Hamburg, Germany in 1903.

Also in Germany, from 1909 onwards there was the beginning of a movement, mainly of young men and then also young women, toward freedom and getting back to nature. They wanted to throw off the strict rules of society and be more open and natural. They were called Wandervogel which can be translated as "hikers", "ramblers" or perhaps "freebird".

In Italy a popular art movement and philosophy called Futurism championed change, speed, violence and machines.

Hairstyles at the beginning of the century were not strict unless you were in a religious order or other controlled circumstances (the military or prison etc.). Both men and women regarded long hair as normal. Men and women had, after all, always had long hair, since prehistory. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_subcultures_in_the_20th_century [Dec 2004]

WWI subcultures [...]

Because of the (1914-1918) world war, though, everything changed. The wartime trenches had infestations of lice and fleas. Soldiers had their heads shaved. Consequently men with short hair appeared to have been at the front in the war, while men with long hair might be thought of as pacifists and cowards, suspected of desertion.

Some artists managed to avoid the war by sitting it out in neutral Switzerland. A group of artists in Zurich invented Dadaism as an anti-war, anti-art, art movement and a parody of the pro-violent attitudes of Futurism. They became politically active as an underground anarchical attempt to change society's trend toward self-destruction. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_subcultures_in_the_20th_century [Dec 2004]

Subcultures of the 1920s and 30s

In the 1920s American Jazz music and motor cars were at the centre of a European subculture of freedom and wild living which began to break the rules of social etiquette and the class system. Meanwhile, in America, the same flaming youth subculture was "running wild" but with the added complication of alcohol prohibition. Canada had prohibition in some local areas but the areas where alcohol was permitted provided an oasis for thirsty Americans coming over the border. Some smuggling was done and this escalated as the crime gangs became organised. In the southern states of the USA Mexico or Cuba were other possible destinations for drinkers. Thus a drinking subculture grew in size and a crime subculture grew along with it. Other drugs existed which could be used as alternatives to alcohol. When prohibition ended the subculture of drink, drugs and jazz didn't go away. Neither did the gangsters.

The nudist movement gained prominence in Germany in the 1920s, but was suppressed during the Nazi Gleichschaltung after Adolf Hitler came to power. Social nudism in the form of private clubs and campgrounds first appeared in the United States in the 1930s. In Canada it first appeared in British Columbia about 1939 and in Ontario nine years later.

In the art world, the spritual home of most subcultures, the surrealist movement was attempting to shock the world with their games and bizarre behaviour. The surrealists were at one and the same time a serious art movement and a parody of other artforms and political movements. Surrealism had been developed by Andre Breton and others from the thinking in the Dada movement. Based in several European countries, surrealism was going to run into serious trouble when the Nazis began to take over. Subcultures and "degenerate art" were almost completely stamped out and replaced by the Hitler Youth.

In North America the depression caused widespread unemployment and poverty, causing many young people to feel like dead end kids. The phenomenon of the dead end kid was taken into fiction and put on the stage and screen where it proved an enormously popular image with which people could identify. Films featuring The Dead End Kids, The Bowery Boys, Little Tough Guys etc were popular from the 1930s to the 1950s. See external link: The (Unofficial) Bowery Boys' Page (http://boweryboys.bobfinnan.com/).

The Dust bowl disaster forced large numbers of rural Americans from Oklahoma and elsewhere to move their entire families to look for some alternative way to continue living. This got them labelled as "Okies" and treated very poorly by the authorities in other states they moved to. The refugee situation was recorded in folk songs (many of them by Woody Guthrie) and in a novel, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and a subsequent movie of the book. The movie starred Henry Fonda. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_subcultures_in_the_20th_century [Dec 2004]

Subculture of the 1940s [...]

Avant Garde artists like Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp and Marc Chagall had to flee Europe following the outbreak of World War II. They arrived in the United States and began to make contact with each other. Modern art's new home was in New York City. A subculture of American-based surrealism and avant garde experimentation became the new centre of the art world.

In the 1940s American fashion was still gangster oriented. Gangs gravitated largely around immigrant and racial cultures. In California hispanic youths developed a fashion recognised by their distinctive zoot suits. The girls dressed all in black and were called Black widows. The zoot suiters use of language used a lot of rhyming and trick words like so-called pig latin (also known as backslang). The whole thing, including Afro-American, Cuban, Mexican and South American elements and bits introduced by Slim Gaillard like McVouty oreeney was collectively known as Swing or Jive talk. See external link: Dictionary of Swing (http://www.savoyballroom.com/exp/context/savtalk.htm)

The entry of America into World War II was heralded by a new legislation which made zoot suits illegal becuse of the extra cloth which they used up. This led to the Zoot Suit Riots.

In Europe black-marketeers prospered under the rationing. Clothing styles depended on what could be begged or acquired by some means, not necessarily legal. There were restrictions everywhere. When the Americans arrived in Britain, black-marketeers did deals with GIs for stockings, chocolate, etc. Inevitably, subculture continued to have an image of criminality and the brave, the daring, the milieu, the resistance, etc. The black market in drugs thrived just about anywhere.

British black-marketeers were sometimes called Wide boys.

After the second war the zoot suit craze spread to France in the form of the Zazou youths. Meanwhile the intellectuals in France were forming an existentialist subculture around Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus in Paris cafe culture.

In post-war America folk songs and cowboy songs (also known, in those days, as hillbilly music) were beginning to be more popular with a wider audience. A subculture of rural jazz and blues fans had blended elements of jazz and blues into traditional cowboy and folk song styles to produce a crossover called western swing. This type of music was able to spread across America in the 40s thanks to the prevalence of radio. Radio was the first almost instantaneous mass media and had the power to create large subcultures by spreading the ideas of a small subculture across a wider area.

A new jazz subculture formed from the rebellion of some musicians against the melodic stylings of swing. Their rebellion produced Bebop and the early players of it included Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. The subculture which formed around this kind of jazz was the beginning of Hipsters and the Beat generation.

In 1947, the same year that Jack Kerouac made his epic journey across America which he would later describe in On the Road and the same year as the occurance at Roswell, New Mexico which was claimed as a UFO crash, there was an incident involving a motorcycle gang at Hollister, California. A story about the incident was published that year in Harper's Magazine and would be developed (6 years later in 1953) as the Marlon Brando film The Wild One. A year after the incident the Hells Angels (without the apostrophe), formed in 1948 in Fontana, California. The name Hells Angels had been used as a movie title by Howard Hughes ten years before. The Hells Angels began as a motorcycle club looking for excitement in the dull times after the end of the war. They became far more notorious as time went on. Motorcycle gangs in general began to hit the headlines. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_subcultures_in_the_20th_century [Dec 2004]

Subcultures of the 1950s [...]

The Existentialists had a profound influence upon subcultural development. The emphasis on freedom of the individual influenced the beats in America and Britain and this version of existential bohemianism continued through the 1950s and into the 60s under the guise of the beat generation. Beards and longer hair returned in another attempt at returning to the image of peacetime man and the normality which had existed before the two wars. At the same time, as a result of American post-war prosperity, a new identity emerged for youth subculture: the teenager.

Jazz culture was transformed, by way of Rhythm and Blues into Rock and Roll culture. At the same time, jazz culture itself continued but changed into a more respected form, no longer necessarily associated with wild behaviour and criminality.

From the 1950s onward society noticed an increase in street gang culture, random vandalism and graffiti. Sociologists, psychologists, social workers and judges all had theories as to what was causing the increase to urban trouble but the consensus has generally tended to be that the modern urban environment offers all the bright lights and benefits of the modern world but often provides working class youths with little in reality. This theory and others were parodied in the musical West Side Story (based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliette) in song lyrics such as Jet Song, America, and Gee, Officer Krupke.

As American rock and roll arrived in Great Britain a subculture grew around it. Some of the British post-war street youths hanging around bombsites in urban areas and getting drawn into petty crime began to dress in a variation of the zoot suit style called a drape suit with a country style bootlace tie, winklepicker shoes, drainpipe trousers, and Elvis Presley style slicked hair. These youths were called Teddy boys. Their girlfriends would usually wear, for a night out dancing at the palais, the same sort of poodle skirts and crinolines their counterparts in America would wear. For day-to-day wear there was a trend toward girls wearing slacks or jeans. At the time the idea of girls wearing trousers and boys taking time over their hairstyle was socially shocking to many people.

British youth divided into factions. There were the modern jazz kids, the trad jazz kids, the rock and roll teenagers and the skiffle craze. Coffee bars were a meeting place for all the types of youth and the coolest ones were in Soho, London, England.

In Britain, the political side of the Beat Generation was the anti-nuclear movement led by CND. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_subcultures_in_the_20th_century [Dec 2004]

Subculture of the 1960s [...]

In the 1960s the "beats" or "beatniks" grew to be an even larger subculture, reaching such proportions that they spread around the world, and developed subcultures of their own. Subcultures within subcultures. That was the extent of cultural fractiousness in the 60s. The beat scene included Radicals, Peaceniks, Mods, Rockers, Bikers, hippies and, eventually, the self-parody thing: the freak scene.

The term mod had different meanings depending which side of the Atlantic you were on and so did radical. Subcultures were still usually about living life to the full and wild behaviour but in the 60s there was the Vietnam war to protest about, rebel against and avoid getting drafted into. The hippies' big year was 1967, the so called summer of love.

There were subcultures which were also political movements, for instance the Black Panther Party and the Yippies.

University students around the world had always been a minor subculture but, by the mid-60s, had become a major one. In Paris, France in May 1968 a student uprising brought the country to a standstill and caused the government to call a general election rather than run the risk of being toppled from power.

Also during the 60s was the beginning of Hacker culture from the increased usage of computers at colleges. Students who were fascinated by the possibilities of computers, the telephone and technology in general began figuring out ways to make the technology more freely available or accessible.

Another subculture of the 60s was the Rude boy culture in Jamaica and, latterly in the United Kingdom. The rude boy subculture influenced some elements of the British mods, which then developed into skinheads around 1969. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_subcultures_in_the_20th_century [Dec 2004]

Subcultures of the 1970s [...]

In the 1970s the hippie, mod and rocker cultures were in a process of transformation which temporarily took on the name of freaks (openly embracing the image of strangeness and otherlyness). A growing awareness of identity politics combined with the legalisation of homosexuality and a huge amount of interest in science fiction and fantasy forms of speculative writing produced the autre with an attitude freak scene. There was a lot of talk about "revolution", most of which was, undoubtedly, a lot of talk.

At some stage, though it's unclear when, some of the hacker/computer nerd subculture took on the derogatory word geek with pride, in the same way the freaks had done. Computer usage was still a very inaccessible secret world to most people in those days but lots of people were interested in computers because of their appearance in science fiction. The dream of one day owning a computer was a popular fantasy amongst science fiction fandom which had grown from a minor subculture in the first half of the 20th century to a quite large contingent by the 70s, along with horror fandom, comics fandom and fantasy freaks.

Since the freak scene was connected to the political ideas of the alternative society the bands on the freak circuit didn't please the bank balances of the pop industry very much. A band like The Edgar Broughton Band or The Pink Fairies would play at a free festival, not on Top of the Pops. Legend has it that Hawkwind, a space rock band on the freak scene had refused to play on Top of The Pops when their first single Silver Machine "accidently" went into the UK Singles Charts. The music/fashion/subculture which the pop industry created as a commercial alternative to the freaks was glam rock. Glam was a continuation of the trendies of the mod culture in the 60s which appealed to the androgynous trend of the seventies.

At the same time there emerged a new subculture called skinheads. The "skins" or skinheads were anti-aesthetic, pro-basic, fiercely working class tough youths. They had the image of homophobia and racism and this image was often true although, paradoxically, they loved black Jamaican reggae, ska, and bluebeat.

Skinheads mainly began from 1969, as a development from the hard, headcase type of mods but, by the mid-70s, some crossover was happening between skins and the freak scene. This developed into the punk rock culture which became apparent from about 1975 onward. Punks managed to be both hardcases and tongue-in-cheek at the same time. The concept of Anarchism became fashionable.

Disco became a really significant centre of subculture from about 1975 onward.

When punk was happening some of the progressive rock elements took it as a challenge to live faster, harder and tougher than punk. They kept the long hair of the freak scene, adopted the black leather jacket as virtually a uniform and took on the name heavy metal (which is a phrase from the writings of William S. Burroughs).

The continuance of hippie ideas of spirituality and mysticism was in the New Age movement, which increased in size and influence.

Mods made a comeback in the 1970s as a post-punk alternative mod phenomenon, inspired by rock band The Who and the British film Quadrophenia.

In 1979 the Usenet was created as a medium of communication over the, still very primitive, internet of the time. The Usenet and the BBS subculture would become increasingly significant over the next few decades. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_subcultures_in_the_20th_century [Dec 2004]

The 1980s [...]

At the beginning of the 1980s some of the followers of punk rock began to be bored with it and wanted to make it more stylish and introduce elements of glam. By 1981 this trend had become New Romantics and the music was synthesiser electro-pop.

New Romantics tended to be slightly camp and fay of behaviour regardless of whether they were gay or not. There was a bisexual vibe generally, regardless of the individual's actual sexuality. The clothes style was a return to the freak scene's roleplay of fashions from previous eras or imagined future ones. It was like using fashion to create a time warp. According to the music press at the time there were some alternative names New Romantics wanted to call themselves. One was Futurists and another was the cult with no name.

There was an unsuccessful attempt to manufacture an artificial subculture around the pop group Adam and the Ants. Supposed to be called Antpeople this remained merely a fictional subculture and didn't catch on in reality.

Post punk and post hippie elements continued and a particular type of anarchist-pacifist subculture centred around the records being put out on the independent Crass label by Crass themselves and other bands including The Poison Girls. Crass records was a very independent operation enabling bands with an extremely raw sound to put out records when the major labels might not have bothered with them. Crass also organised gigs around the country for themselves and other bands and campaigned politically for the anti-nuclear movement and lots of other causes they believed in.

In American urban environments a form of street culture using freeform and semi-stacatto poetry combined with athletic break dancing was developing as the Hip hop and Rap subculture. In jazz jargon the word rap had always meant speech and conversation. The new meaning signified a change in the status of poetry from an elitist artform to a community sport. Rappers could attempt to outdo each other with their skillful rhymes. Rapping is also known as MCing, which is one of the four main elements of Hip hop: MCing, DJing, graffiti art, and breakdancing. From the early to mid 1980s poetry culture in a broader sense caught the same kind of energy as rap and so began the first of the Poetry slams. Poetry slamming became an irregular focus for the latest wave of poetry aficionados.

After the New Romantic fashion broke and had been around for a lot less than the five years they talked about the trend moved on. There was a brief abortive fashion which was called Urban vagrants but which failed to become a true subculture. Urban vagrants was too artificially manufactured by the media. One thing which actually became a real subculture was Goth. Gothic culture developed naturally enough, without too much media forcing. The goths are a culture of fetishism and gloomy romanticism with sado-masochistic tendencies. They have continued from the mid-80s to the 21st century with their roots reaching backward to the gothic-romantic movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

A subculture relishing free enterprise capitalism sprang up in the mid 80s and were branded by the tabloid press with the name of Yuppies (the first two or three letters intended to mean either Young Urban Professional or Young and Upwardly mobile and the remainder to sound like hippies).

Wine bars gained popularity over the traditional pub as a meeting place in Britain of the 80s. Wine bars in fact gained such popularity that many pubs converted part of their premises to a wine bar style. Along with this trend was a resurgence of jazz, especially in the forms of Jazz funk and Smooth jazz.

The free festival movement was still going in the 80s and, in fact, expanded to create different types of events. free parties and raves began from the mid-80s and became a flourishing subculture. The music was electronic dance music which was a development of electronic music pioneered by Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and others, taken by way of progressive rock bands like Hawkwind, filtered through the sounds of dub-reggae and the electro-pop bands like Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode and given a different twist via The Art of Noise and early hip hop and recycled psychedelia. Towards the end of the 80s rave culture had diversified into different forms connected to music such as Acid House and Acid Jazz and would continue to diversify into the 90s. Rave culture thrived from the mid-80s to the end of the century and beyond.

The Usenet and BBS subculture had developed an element called Slashdot subculture which involved its own forms of ettiquette and behaviour patterns both social and anti-social and the phenomena of trolling, spamming, flaming etc. The computer subculture was also influenced by fictional subcultures of the future to be read about in cyberpunk literature. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_subcultures_in_the_20th_century [Dec 2004]

The 1990s [...]

The 1990s saw mostly a continuation of existing subcultures from the 80s. The music and clothes changed more than the sense of identity associated with the cultures. Dance music continued. Raves continued. Pop continued. Hip hop continued. Rock continued. Goth continued. Punks and Hippies were back. Sixties styles like Mod bands and psychedelia were revived and recycled. There were, within rock and dance music, some variations like grunge within rock or drum and bass within dance styles but these and others were just musical styles, not radically different mindsets representing actual subcultures. Even the term Generation X or Gen X refers to a condition experienced equally by previous generations and presented in a published form by journalists and novelists as if it were a new phenomenon.

The main new development of the 90s was on the internet. As the 1980s ended and the 90s began Tim Berners Lee created HTML which made possible the World Wide Web. The web allowed internet subcultures to grow from tiny numbers of geeks, to big global online communities. These communities are as diverse in their preoccupations as any other subcultures. There are online gaming communities, online forums, online projects of all kinds, serious or frivolous.

As always, coffeehouses are a gathering place for subcultures. In the 90s some new ones sprang up offering internet access with the coffee: Internet cafes.

In the 90s there was an increase in anti-globalisation protests. These had been taking place since the 1970s but the World Wide Web made it possible for isolated groups of the anti-global movement to get into close and regular contact with each other. They became more of a single community of protest and developed an international alternative media. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_subcultures_in_the_20th_century [Dec 2004]

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