Young people and media consumption: from mass culture to subcultures, ‘resistance’ … and beyond

Sticking it to Putin: the political and creative energies of youth culture

In 2012 the Russian anarcho-feminist punk band, Pussy Riot, became a global cause célèbre. Staunch critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government, the group made worldwide headlines when they performed an incendiary ‘Punk Prayer’ in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour as a protest against the Orthodox Church’s support for Putin’s election campaign. Subsequently arrested, members of the group were sentenced to two years in prison for ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’. But international politicians and celebrities rallied to their defence. In Britain The Times spoke for many when it denounced Pussy Riot’s imprisonment as evidence of Putin’s ‘determination to crush popular opposition’, and the newspaper hailed the band as ‘true and important figures of political protest’ (Tinies, 29 December 2012).

Pussy Riot’s protest was an episode of political importance. The event pointed to a groundswell of concern about a Russian regime sliding into autocracy. Beyond this, however, the mode of the group’s dissent was also significant. Pussy Riot’s embrace of punk music and attitude testified to the way distinctive styles, fashions, and music can pulsate with political and cultural energy. And, more generally, their protest was indicative of the way young people can actively engage with the media, using its forms, texts, and spaces to create their own cultures and identities.

This chapter explores debates about young people’s capacity to be creative and innovative media-users. It begins by considering the ‘mass culture’ critique of popular culture which — in its various liberal and radical incarnations — presented young people as passive consumers, helplessly manipulated by commercial industries. The various criticisms made of this approach are outlined, before discussion moves to accounts that see young people as more active cultural agents. Here, particular attention is given to the ‘subcultural’ theories developed in Britain during the 1970s, and their depiction of youth style as a strategy of ‘resistance’ to dominant power structures. Subcultural theory is critically appraised, together with the range of ‘post-subcultural’ theories - for example, the notion of‘scenes’ and the idea of‘neo-tribes’ — that subsequently emerged.

Issues of gender and sexuality are also afforded close attention, together with the consumption practices of ‘mainstream’ youth. Here, attention focuses on research highlighting the way young people actively engage with the media, creatively forging their cultures and identities through their tastes and modes of consumption. While the merits of this position are acknowledged, so too are its limitations.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >