8 Feb 2008, 11:17pm
by jordan

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brass is the new… black?

retrofuturism has been gaining, well, steam lately, notably in the form of steampunk, a literary-genre-turned-nascent-subculture, which imagines a Victorian future that never was, of steampower, dirigibles, and brass gears. as a genre of science fiction, of course, steampunk is not new (from jules verne and jean-pierre jeunet to william gibson and neal stephenson, and most recently, the movie version of The Golden Compass), but it seems to be finding increasing articulation in tinkering/diy projects, installation art, and fashion. kinetic steamworks in oakland have made viable steampowered works of imaginative art like the Neverwas Haul and the Steampunk Treehouse, while various tinkerers have posted online about their steampunk-themed diy projects. legions of former cyber clubkids and gothic lolitas appear to be taking up steam fashion, from pinstriped corsets with pocketwatch pockets (a one-off from Morua Designs) and kneehigh punk rock granny boots, to ruffled collars and cuffs from designers like Steamtrunk Couture.

all of which fits in nicely with the profusion of circus-freak perfomance art and vintage aesthetics proliferating on the margins of popular culture in places like new york and california, among others, and lovingly documented on artsy alt culture blog Coilhouse. nothing, however, sounds the death knell of a new subculture more than well-meaning bougie media attention:

Steampunk Brings Victorian Flair to the 21st Century

i’m enough of a bob siegel fan-girl to find the coverage entertaining, but i find suspect the theory that steampunk is somehow a response to the impersonal mass-produced consumerism of the information age.

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dangerous fashion

in further video news, i’m not sure how i missed last week’s perceptive news report from WDAZ in North Dakota, but clearly, emo really is the new goth. and just like goth, emo began as a subgenre of punk music (emotive hardcore) that has morphed into a distinctive youth style complete with fashion codes (skinny clothes, floppy black hair) and alleged behavior norms (self harm, mopey poetry, morbid introspection). this current version of emo strikes me as difficult to distinguish from the darker side of indie/hipster style, and has become inseparably imagined alongside myspace and youtube, and similar digital sites of youthful social interaction.

the video is pretty predictable — new youth subculture poses risks to YOUR kids! be on the look out for skinny pants and tight sweaters in dark colors — they might lead to suicidal ideation! but the best part appears to be the newscasters’ misrecognition of internet humor sites as legitimate guides to emo culture. such as the “Insta Emo Kit” at Sykospark.net. they also report on a supposed “point” system, which they acknowledge may be more symbolic than literal — and of course, youth subculture often does rely on schema of cultural capital (specialized knowledge of scene norms, taste preferences, and slang) to confer status and credibility.

but as usual, hyping fears of the internet, self harm, and youth subculture does little to address the real difficulties many young people face navigating the educational system, media, and consumerism in a postindustrial world where they are frequently targeted by mass media and corporate interests, and where “youth” has become a dominant symbol for what’s new, hip, and desirable in mass culture.

I Must Be Emo – News Report

emo is the new goth?

according to Bones, Fox’s latest forensic drama and David Boreanaz vehicle, smug, angsty teens dressed in black and sporting lip-piercings are… emo? i suppose this is what i get for tuning in to mediocre primetime television (sadly, i have class when Veronica Mars airs on Tuesdays). last night’s episode turned on the classic plot twist where the most likely suspect, in this case, the spooky teen, is absolved of the crime in favor of the less obvious “normal” character, his pageant-contestant younger sister (the emo teen, on the plus side, was played by cutie Kyle Gallner, whose quirky character on Veronica Mars was not similarly redeemed).

it’s the character’s mother, however, that outs him to the audience as “emo,” and expresses her revulsion and despair at his sartorial choices. on the one hand, the show seems to be trying to keep up with the times and with current trends in youth culture. but on the other, the imagery of the angsty teen in black mostly serves to reproduce adult fears about youth as rebellious and violent, and doesn’t seem particularly grounded in “emo” style or affect at all.

31 Jul 2006, 12:48pm
by jordan

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children of the night?

The NY Times last Sunday reported a somewhat predictable tidbit on the rising popularity of goth amongst Latino teens in the Bronx:

The Coven of the Grand Concourse

Of course, the article is rife with references to Hot Topic, Evanescence, and “the occult,” and the author can’t help reminding us of the “dark side of Gothness” — self harm, runaways, shopping in the mall.

Still, author Nina Malkin wouldn’t be the first to observe that “[i]n America, Goths are usually thought of as white, middle-class and suburban.” Spectacular subcultures like goth, punk and rave tend to emerge in industrialized countries among working and middle-class youth — usually white and urban (and to a lesser degree suburban). In developing countries, the middle class tends to emphasize consuming in ways that reinforce their class status, conforming to certain standards rather than deviating from them.

It remains to be seen whether youth embrace subcultures like goth to “resist” social norms, rather than to create their own coherent cultural identities and social groups. But it would be interesting if Malkin has actually identified an emerging trend among the children of more recent immigrants to this country.

27 Jul 2006, 1:41pm
goth subculture youth
by jordan

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youth subculture on trial

Nothing like a little moral panic to bolster your murder case — remember Scott Dyleski, the trenchcoat-wearing teenager implicated in the bizarre murder of California resident Pam Vitale last October? He’ll be standing trial this week, and apparently so will his alleged subculture, according to the

SF Chronicle:

Acquaintances have described Dyleski as a typical suburban kid who later began to embrace the Goth culture, dying his brown hair black and wearing a trench coat.

Jewett, a 24-year veteran of the Contra Costa County district attorney’s office, is expected to introduce witnesses who will discuss elements of Goth culture and music as it pertained to Dyleski.

So what, exactly, does his taste in clothes and music have to do with his alleged criminal activity? Perhaps the prosecuter missed out on a recent study published in New Scientist under the succint title “Goth subculture may protect vulnerable children.” Without getting into a long discussion of what constitues a subculture in the first place, it troubles me to have the prosecution buy into the same flavor of moral panic that seems to spur the news media so often when it comes to young people.

I’m just surprised they haven’t tried to work MySpace into this somehow — but maybe that’s because this case involves a white youth with a predilection for trenchcoats and possibly violence, rather than a teen girl at risk from imagined predators.

Authentic Youth: Cultural Capital and Credibility in Digital Youth Culture

(from a proposed paper on the role of digital media in the lives of young people)

For young people, commodity culture offers an important site for the production of individual and collective meanings. Digital spaces such as the internet provide an excellent arena for do-it-yourself culture and creative consumption, but are ultimately structured by the same logics that determine how popular culture operates more generally. Discourses of credibility and authenticity afford us a glimpse into how young people navigate the complex interplay of social networks, cultural commodities, and subcultures in a mobile, mediated society. Given the role of cultural engagement in developing social capital, digital media offer a means for young people to become more invested in their social and cultural worlds.

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