Smells Like Teen Spirit

For Constellation and our final essay this year we were divided into 8 big groups, each with its own theme, so to speak. From Transparency with Mahnaz Shah, to Constructing Movements in Art and Design with Andy Broadey, to Sonic Arts with James Kent and After Modernism with Jon Clarkson. The option that attracted me the most was Smells Like Teen Spirit with Cath Davies (whom I immensely admire) which is all about subculture studies.


The first week’s lecture was all about introducing us to our future work process and pushing us into creating a weekly routine of research and text analysis. Cath also took the time to remind us how to analyze images with the help of columns – one for description (everything we see in the image), a second for connotations (what each thing means and what the combinations imply) and a third for research (the academic studies we need to look into and reference in order to support our claims from the previous column). This clean and structured approach to analysis really appeals to me as I feel I need more structuring in my work process. In that lecture we applied the Column Analysis to an image from Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour from 1990.

The second week we started focusing on Key Concepts in Subcultural Style. We talked mostly about symbolic marking (Woodward, 2002), the visual manifestation of difference, and the active organization of objects – the notion of construction. We put it all to the test by looking into Old Skool B-Boy style in 1985 and Hip Hop style, the Zoot Suit  from the 40’s, and then the Ted style from 1950 and its revival in the 70’s with the Sex Pistols. The connection between the three being the concept of rebellion and rule breaking and the refusal to be a part of the system.
Key point was: New meanings emerge because bits which have been borrowed or revived were brought together into a new and distinctive stylistic ensemble. (Clarke, Hall, Jefferson, 1975, p110)


In week three we talked about resignification of objects and dress. We followed that into the Punk subculture.  Key concepts in the lecture, all taken from Hebdige’s article on Subcultural Style and Punk were subcultural bricoleur, semiotic guerilla warfare (Eco, 1973), characteristics of the punk style and the ideological statement expressed within these stylistic qualities, and style as homology. After some time analyzing the texts and talking on those topics, we gradually went back to analyzing imagery. Cath showed us pictures of a page from Sniffin Glue, posters and fanzine covers, leaflets and the Jamie Reed cover of God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols. We dissected the image into the three columns that I mentioned before and we were left with a pretty good example of resignification.
I believe this lecture was not just interesting and educating but also somehow unpredictable which I think made it all the greater. The only thing it was missing was just some good Sex Pistols or The Clash music and something burning. Two thumbs up. (Honestly, right after I got back home, I put on God Save the Queen and listened to punk rock all night.)

So far so good. I already have an idea on the topic of my final essay, and now I need to focus on finding the proper images for the official analysis. From there my spring holiday will be spent in writing and the time that’s left will be for polishing my essay.


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