August 24, 2012
Skinheads, A Development (Part 2)
Today I continue my look at the Skinhead sub-culture and its connections to punk rock. While growing up in the late 80s and 90s, I always kept my hair shaved extremely short in a sort of military buzz cut. It was easy to manage, dried quickly, and all I needed was a pair of clippers to cut my hair. It also saved money on haircuts since my grandma had a set that she used on my grandpa. Both my grandfathers and my father and brother sported the same cut. I never thought anything of it until I got older and heard strangers commenting that I looked like a skinhead. This was way before I had ever heard my first punk rock track. I was just a poor white kid living in a poor rural area. Well, let’s get back to the narrative. As the punk scene shifted to the US it began to change as it came into contact with American racism.
The emergence of the Punk rock scene in the United States in the 1980s and 1990’s with such British imports as The Clash and The Ramones coincided with a growing rebellious and increasingly frustrated working class youth in America. As Dr. Susan Willis writes in her article Hardcore: Subculture American Style, “the difference between Britain in the seventies and the U.S. in the nineties has largely to do with the development of consumer culture coincident with suburbanization and specifically to do with the emergence of new class formations brought about by deindustrialization”. The reactionary Right and the established white supremacy groups saw promise in these new “Hardcore Youths” (aka Skinheads). The American Punk scene would soon blossom and face similar challenges as the British punks, skins, and Oi! Rockers had recently dealt with.
The American Punk rock scene emerged during a time of internal dissention, turmoil, and challenge to the traditional American values and culture. New styles of music and fashion were in vogue during this period and the Punk rock genre offered a refreshing break from the highbrow fashion and New Wave pop rock. The American skinhead response was simple. They cut their hair even shorter, dressed even more in plain colors, especially black. Increasingly, as Willis discusses, the use of military attire became the preferred avenue of fashion expression. “Many skinheads use military garb as a way of replicating and affirming the military. Other hardcore teens mimic military style to ironically flaunt it.” Along with this trend toward militaristic clothing came a change in the way the skinheads looked upon the world around them. Jack Moore states that the re-occurring themes in Punk rock reflect the skinhead outlook on life. These are, “pride in substance (mainly alcohol) abuse, love of violence, feelings of oppression, disdain for society, and concurrently the desire for revenge”.
These feelings of oppression and the desire for revenge were existent in the early British skinhead scene, but in America they began to be “fleshed” out much more soundly than before. Moore argues that the inherent racism in American culture brought about this change in the skinhead scene from being merely a music based, working class fashion inspired recreational engagement to a highly politicized and racialized subculture of the white supremacists. For a subculture known for their ability to create much noise, this change was an oddly quiet one. Moore states that, “In the 1980’s American skinheads were rarely heard about, and if they possessed strong anti-minority hostilities, the American public was ignorant of these.” During the 80’s the first major split in the American Skinhead movement occurred. In my next post I will continue with a look at the de-evolution of the American punk/skinhead movement into the racist morass that it has become.
Image Credit: Christos Georghiou / Shutterstock