Rocket's Gorgeous in the City

Monday, November 21, 2005

Subculture: What are they thinking?

Most parents of teenagers, or "tweenagers" (previously known as children) are baffled by the way their offspring choose to dress themselves, the music they choose to listen to, and the way they behave.

Alright, so there's nothing new here. Parents and their kids have always had different cultures, partially because the parents can't believe that they were ever so young and naive (they were) and partially because fashion moves on.

But for the parents of young people who are members of a subculture, their decisions can be simply baffling.

Put simply, why do children refuse to conform to social norms yet seek to be exactly what the subculture requires of them?

Back in the old days, before subculture arose, rebellion was a clumsy matter, taken one stumbling step at a time. A risque haircut would be followed by a pair of torn jeans. The teen would question the assumptions of his or her parents, yet have no basis to form a new philosophy. Slowly, the rebelling teens would learn what they could get away with and find new compromises, new ways of relating to the world. Eventually, they would meet at a middle ground, and thus their generation would forge its own identity.

In my parents' day (the late 70s and early 80s) the world was becoming a larger place. Television and migration were speeding up the circulation of ideas. Looking through the photo album, one sees pictures of a teenaged My Dad with various cute Japanese girlfriends (good choice Dad) and a beard that would make ZZ Top question their masculinity. Mum, on the other hand, is seen as a long-haired flower child, playing guitar for Jesus. Since it was all rather crude and improvised, they were more mainstream than alternative: Dad could get good jeans, tear all the labels off them, add a t-shirt and go have a seance and Mum would plait her hair, choose florals at the conservative clothing shop and sing soprano in the Church choir (guitar close on hand).

In many ways, they are just like their parents, but dressed differently and doing things their own way. In most ways, I'm just like my dad... it would be fair to say that my mother and I are very well acquainted but barely know each other. My personality is much like my dad's, my interests mirror his, but my subculture is very different.

My dad was a hippy. I'm not sure what the hippies were like in Southern Victoria, but I get the impression they weren't particularly political or innovative by the time dad was hanging out with them. Like today's hippies, they were more or less just kids amusing themselves and taking it easy.

I'm a scifi glamour girl. I don't know if we really have a name; I don't think so. During the X-Files I was a bit goth (but glitter goth if you catch my drift) and after that I went very Star Trek glamour (K'Ehleyr and Lwaxanna are my heroes). During the Matrix I wore a lot of shiny black stuff and during Star Wars and my Dune phase, I tended to get a bit mythical in my wardrobe. My interests follow technobabble, Eastern philosophy and whatever I've just learnt in physics and maths lectures.

I was the only person like me in my little school, but I knew exactly what I was doing.

Subculture gives young people the opportunity to be empowered in their choice of identity. While they are experimenting with their self-identity, they can try on an entire community, engage with it and behave appropriately. They can see what they like and what they dislike about their chosen community and from that basis, they can move into a more personal self-image.

Most parents assume the conformity to a subculture is a completely passive process, where the teen observes a fashion and mindlessly imitates it. In my experience, this is actually not true. Teens have enough personality to decide whether Avril Lavigne or The White Stripes more accurately reflects their experience of life and musical taste. The decision of which TV shows to watch and what clothes to wear are also chosen by the individual aesthetic.

After observing and identifying with subculture, most teens fit naturally into a subculture which will be their first point of reference for self-definition. After engaging the world from within this subculture and seeing how their image can be altered to meet various external requirements, the teen is supremely prepared to interact with the world. By observing dress and manner, kids can immediately identify who is likely to be similar and who is likely to be different. They can fit in with the group of people who are most like them, and not feel alienated when they have an unusual personality.

With the Internet, kids can be the only member of their town to join a worldwide subculture. It gives them strength and courage that they might otherwise never learn. It also gives them a sense of perspective and the subjectiveness of their own values. Goths have one philosophy, punks have another - neither believes that one group is more informed or correct: it's simply a matter of taste. Adults with a proper understanding of subculture might be the first generation to accept that although people are "different", this difference is nothing to be feared: they could be the first generation to bring about a change for peace and acceptance.

So although your kids might look a little foolish, remember that they are learning to fit into a very different world, one where the Internet and globalism gives them a worldwide social net, one where the dizzying flow of information can only be dealt with by limiting the reception, and one where the young identity is still being formed. As they become more comfortable with themselves, they will learn to adapt to a broader social net, just as their parents did. But subculture will remain an important and defining part of our society. I just hope they all keep speaking the same language.


  • At 2:17 PM, Blogger shrover said…

    So long as the girls don't wear hipsters with the g-string showing. Please girls, enough is enough.

    People Who Need To Be Glassed have nominated the storm troopers who killed Aayla Secura in Revenge of the Sith. I fully agree. Green or not, she was some fine Jedi.

  • At 11:34 PM, Blogger Rocket said…

    It's not the girls' fault. I blame the designers at Supre. You can't get cute non-hipster pants for less than $80!

    Actually, you sometimes can at Westco, but it depends. And they're not as exciting.

    The best pants come from Stocks but whatever size they are when you try them on has no bearing on what size they will be after you wash them. Not worth the substantial cash. I get mine from Cue. You're looking at $90-$120 for a simple pair of pants. But it's worth it.

    If I could pay $1000, I'd buy a Carla Zampatti suit. I plan to do so frequently when I'm a successful businesswoman. They scream "respect me!"

    But here I go writing another essay on power-dressing. Stupid public servants ugly ugly ugly town. I'm working up another rant solely on neckties.

  • At 9:54 AM, Blogger shrover said…

    I have any number of fetishes about women's business suits. They're great. A good suit is smart, flattering but indeed commands respect. A nice balance between my predisposition to treat women as sex objects and my awareness that I have to be subtle about it.

  • At 4:29 PM, Blogger Rocket said…

    I'm convinced business dress has evolved specifically to be sexy. If a person is both sexy and dressed for work, it says "Alpha! Right over here! Pay attention!"

  • At 10:51 PM, Blogger shrover said…

    Yup. Agree. They somehow embody the reality that power and intelligence are immensely arousing in a woman.

    Of course, not that I respect them as anything other than strictly professional individuals. Ever.


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