The Consumption of Subcultures Through Mass and Alternative Media’s

I found this amongst my old university files. It was one of my favourite essay’s I wrote during my four years there. I hope you enjoy it.

For those who have read my 2010 Culture Media Society journal, they will know I came to the conclusion that the consumption of the media and culture plays a major role in how people think, what they question and what they believe when it comes to subcultures, folk devils and moral panics, representations and re-presentations of minority groups, subcultures and people consume and think about the consumption of culture itself. This essay will look at subcultures, mass and alternative media’s, globalization, and the role these mediums play in informing society on how to be/ information about a subculture with examples from the mass media and the subculture of emo and guido.


The term subculture has generated numerous definitions through the work of cultural theorists. Within the Dictionary of Sociology, Scott and Marshall (2009) describe subculture as “… a collective solution to, or resolution of, problems arising from the blocked aspirations of members, or their ambiguous position in the wider society.” Phil Cohen (1972) states that “subculture is a tool that some young people use for shaping [these] contradictory and confusing ideological forces in such a way that a young person has room to act and to live.” While subcultures according to Hall and Jefferson (1976) are “sub sets, smaller, more localised and differentiated structures, within one of other of the larger cultural networks”.

Localised subculture is not a term or subcategory I agree with however and of course can be challenged by the means of the internet and social networking. I am a strong believer of Phil Cohen’s definition of subculture and believe that subcultures are universal in that almost each subculture can be found in different cities, states, and countries, again accessible through mass media and the internet. For example, punk subcultures are not only prominent in Britain, but can be found in Australia, the United States and even Japan. Punk subculture is celebrated in countries like these every year with numerous festivals dedicated to the music and dress. The same can be seen with cosplay and anime subcultures celebrated in and outside of Japan. The notion of a subculture being localised is one that needs to be explained in great detail. There may be minor underlying factors that make a localised subculture different to the same subculture one city over, but these small factors do not make the subculture dramatically different to the others around the world.

Gordon Tait (1992) does not believe in the unification of subcultures as identification entities with his comment that “there is no unified culture, when language, dress styles, music and other cultural elements display a high level of cohesion and needs evidence.” If subcultures and unification in identity does not exist then what are people within groups, forums and websites doing? Are they all dressing differently, with different ideas, values and likes? In my opinion the answer is no and can be found through numerous forums and websites on different subcultures as will be seen.

There are numerous types of subcultures, each differing or slightly varying from a larger culture. The following diagram shows some of these subcultures, and how they are formed with their appreciation for certain activities or inspirations shown from cultural and social aspects of people’s lives such as music and sport.

It is simple to understand that subcultures are sub groups and sets of overall cultures, but how do they all start? I believe subcultures start from misunderstanding, the need to belong, similar interests and ideal values. The need to belong is a key factor to identity and how we see ourselves amongst or work and school peers and how we see view our lives and worth. As A. Cohen (1970) states in Subcultures: the Sociology of Subcultures “it is only in interaction with those who share his [her] values that the actor finds social validation for his [her] beliefs and social rewards for his [her] way of life, and the continued existence of the group and friendly intercourse with its members become vales for actor.” They may even start as a form of rebellion from the main stream or parent culture, but is not the main focus today.

These subcultures might have some similarities and overarching differences, but they are also connected in numerous, non culture related ways. Subcultures and commonly stereotypes and misrepresented by the media and the public through moral panics and are easy to connect to and find information on them through social networking, forums and websites on the internet.

Despite my knowledge in the field, I feel it is easier to acknowledge and sum up subcultures as a way people identify themselves as well as groups with similar emotions, feelings, interests, a need to belong and small segment of people in culture overall. I believe that a feeling of isolation is one of the main reasons why like minded people with very similar interests and feelings come together. I don’t think that they form groups to intimidate or scare the public, but to feel like they belong. I believe this is why they turn to magazines, the internet, social networking sites and forums to express their emotions and find people who feel the same, therefore creating a connection with people who understand them.

Mass and Alternative Media’s

As a practicing journalist, I have been a firm believer that the media is a multitude of platforms for communicating events and news to the general public to keep them better informed. It is done through television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and the internet through media run social networking pages and sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Matthew Nicholson (2007) states within his book Sport and the Media: Managing the Nexus that the “media refers to the means of mass communication, such as television, radio, newspapers and the internet. Importantly, within one form…there are many different types. Second, media refers to those people employed within an organisation such as a television station or newspaper, such as journalists and editors.”

Mass media organisations have the ability to be heard and viewed by large audiences in a nation, and therefore play an important role in the information the public receives. A diagram of the media is below and shows how broad and extensive the media can be.

Alternative media organisations are media services and organisations that reach only a limited amount of people due to its lack of finance, media experience and ability. Alternative media’s are generally community stations orientated towards minorities or specific communities and are therefore an alternative source of news and information to the mainstream / mass media. They are created and run for the good of the community and the people it serves rather than profit, and therefore allows for accurate information and representations of the minorities rather than for moral panics and increased ratings. A lack of understanding of different cultures and what they entail is a reason why alternative media’s exist.


I am a firm believer that culture is the overall term for numerous elements of life that are relevant to a particular nation, ethnicity or group of people. It can include food, language, dress, music, ideals and values [as seen in the diagram below]. Culture is therefore a general term for the symbolic and learned aspects of human society.

Culture from my point of view is the same as that of Edward Tylor (1871) who referred to culture as “a great complex of knowledge, belief, art, morals, law and custom” (Scott & Marshall, 2009).

According to the World Book Encyclopaedia (2010), culture is “a term used by social scientists for a way of life. Every human society has a culture. Culture includes a society’s arts, beliefs, customs, institutions, inventions, language, technology and values. A culture produces similar behaviour and thought amongst people in a society.”

Consuming Media and (Sub) Culture

Consuming and consumption, particularly of information to me, has always been the partaking, being informed of, viewing or witnessing a particular item, event or value that is important to an entity of culture.

The Collins Australian Dictionary (2009) states that consume means “to engross or obsess, to use up or to eat or drink”while consumption means “the act of consuming or the state of being consumed.” Consuming and consumption, particularly of information to me, has always been the partaking, being informed of, viewing or witnessing a particular item, event or value that is important to an entity of culture.

Numerous platforms of media allows for audiences to consume cultures and subcultures. We live in a world where people can consume culture through the media and the internet due to the wealth of culture at a person’s finger tips. The internet has allowed people to use a search engine to find just about anything they want including music, fashion, languages and religions. The ability to consume different cultures and media’s is far easier nowadays than without the internet, television, magazines and forums. The following diagram depicts the ways I believe people can consume culture through the media.

Consumption is not fully effective without the use of globalization, importing and exporting of numerous cultures. Of course, this is not to say the introduction of different cultures into a mainstream society can’t increase interest in other cultures, and thus globalise it and its products. John Storey (2003) states in the book Popular Culture as Global Culture that globalization is “the name given to the complex relations which characterize the world in the 21st century. It refers to the relentless global flow of capital, commodities, and communications across increasingly porous territorial boundaries.” In other words, we experience globalization in the clothes we do and don’t wear, the music variety of music available to listen to, to the television programs and films we watch at the cinemas or on TV.

Storey’s definition only relates to the consumption of culture, but is still very relevant in making people aware of different cultural products and is able to be explored within the mass media through the internet, websites and forums. This leads the person to consume more of a different culture or cultural product they may not have otherwise have done or become a part of.

Living in a multicultural society allows for a greater acceptance, understanding, interest and learning of a culture than people may otherwise have not known. It can therefore be seen that globalization plays a major role in the consumption of culture from media formats.

The importing of Japanese culture and anime into Australia for example, has allowed many people the ability to part take and consume a different culture (known as otaku), their values and their artwork that we may not have otherwise been able to. This can also be seen in subcultures or ethnic groups.

Consuming Subcultures in the Mass Media

Subcultures are not only a part of life, but a part of mass and alternative media’s. With this, means the ability to distort or discover the meanings of subcultures or ethnic cultural aspects of life or the commercialisation and commodification of such entities. The role of the media and its workers is to inform and educate the public in not only important topics, but the less important topics of human interests and aesthetics particularly in lifestyle and the discovery of a person’s identity. As Thornton (1995) states,“the difference between being in or out of fashion, high or low in subcultural capital, correlates in complex ways with degrees of media coverage, creation and exposure.”

Exposure from the media is through numerous entities as mentioned before and seen in diagrams above. The role of fictitious television and news programs in the consumption of subcultures and cultures is fairly minimal in my opinion due to the representations and moral panics often ensued from them (see my previous post for the journal entry).

The following video depicts subcultures and assumptions in the mass media, with the example of the subculture ‘Guido’ on American crime TV Show Bones:

It also has the ability to introduce subcultures to society, but at a minimal and somewhat un-realistic effect within youth television and reality shows.

How can you define reality TV? Annette Hill (2005) states in her book Reality TV: audiences and popular factual television that “reality TV is a catch all category that includes a wide range of entertainment programs about real people. Sometimes called popular factional television, reality TV is located in border territories, between information and entertainment, documentary and drama.”

‘Reality’ shows best known for their work with subcultures and minority groups is cable channel Music Television (more commonly known as MTV) where the situations and events in the programs are somewhat over dramatised and perhaps then, a constructionist approach to representation. A constructionist approach to representation (Lacey, 2009) is the mis-representing of some aspects of a subcultural or minority group while leaving others intact. Shows like Jersey Shore, Surf Girls and Maui Fever are good examples.

Magazines have the opportunity to both inform and misinform consumers of a given subculture depending on the genre of the magazine itself. Specialists magazines have a more accurate and credible tone to the work with the creators and writers of the content being heavily educated in the field. This is unlike general pop culture magazines such as Dolly or Girlfriend, where the overarching theme to the magazine is what is deemed ‘hot’ or ‘in’ at the time rather than an in depth look into the field and what it means to be a part of such a group.

Both magazines and television are one dimensional with interactivity between the audience and the creators, unlike online platform’s such as the internet forums and social networking pages which allow for interactivity and a more proactive approach to the subculture. This links to Thornton’s (1995) feelings on defining subcultural ideologies within the public and the group where she states “subcultural ideologies are a means by which youth imagine their own and other social groups, assert their distinctive character and affirm that they are not anonymous members of an undifferentiated mass.”

The internet has become an almost infinite source of knowledge, all at a person’s finger tips and can therefore lead them to consuming and accessing cultures and cultural information they might not have otherwise known about. The internet also allows for alternative media’s such as websites, social networking group pages and forums dedicated to these different cultures [see images below]. User generated content such as the group pages, forums and blogs allow for interactivity with more people who share the same interests, and thus consuming more of culture and its entities.

The internet not only gives people information at the push of a button, but challenges the argument that cultures are localised and not a broader community. This of course is a positive to the argument of globalization, with Storey (2003) stating that “the movement of people and commodities around the globe, bringing the global into the local, clearly challenges the idea that locality can fix the boundaries of a culture.”

The use of these media’s is able to give audiences a wealth of knowledge if they choose to take it. Storey (2003) is pro globalization and states, “globalisation offers the possibility of cultural mixing on a scale never before known. This can of course produce resistance to difference, but it can also produce the fusing of different cultures and the making of new and exciting forms of cultural hybridity.” Not only that, but globalization of cultures and cultural products through the media has allowed for the opportunity to educate and understand minorities. Storey (2003) has spoken of cultural hybridity and information in regards to globalization where he states that “globalisation is producing two contradictory effects, sameness and difference – that is, a sense that the world is becoming similar as it shrinks… but also that it is characterised by an increasing awareness of difference.”

The globalisation and publicizing of subcultures has negative aspects to it however, particularly within highly known subcultures like Emo.

Negative aspects to globalization relate to the significant values of a subculture being aesthetic to others. As Sercombe (1999) states in ‘Boots, gangs and addictions: Youth Subcultures and the media’, the consumption of subculture can lead to a decrease in meaning as more people consume it; “this is the perpetual problem with the commercialisation of a subculture. The symbols of the subculture depreciate the more money you make from them… so the icon becomes a mainstream commodity, [and] as it does, the symbolic content is washed out.” This is seen in many teenage pop culture magazines with features on ‘the hottest look out’ or ‘stay in trend, be a scene kid’ where some readers take the visual aspects of the subculture, but do not respect or understand the symbolic meanings behind the culture in question.

Globalization and commodification of subcultures can also lead to backlash as ‘true followers’ of the subculture bully and harass those deemed as ‘fakes’ or ‘wannabes’ who are trying to become informed of and figure out if they belong to that subculture. The image below is a screen shot of a forum from which displays the fight subcultural enthusiast’s have against the heavily influential audiences still trying to find themselves and where they belong.

The following is a music video by the band Weezer and their retalliation to the mainstream media and what society is told to do. It is a song that not only talks about consumption and society, but uses some of the most watched youtube phenomenon’s many people in society  have consumed:

From what has been seen above, the media plays an important role in the delivery of information, whether from major organisations or minority groups and alternative media’s. Given that we as a society heavily consume media (whether subtly or intentional) allows us to be informed more than ever. This does have its downsides in inaccurate information but is something that needs to be fixed. Mis-representation from main stream media’s and general pop culture magazines is where I believe the problem of negative globalization and thus consumption starts. The need for more user generated content such as blogs, websites, forums and YouTube video’s where people are able to gain information from is vital for the meanings of subcultures and keeping them true to their original meanings.

List of References

Cohen, A. (1970) ‘A general theory of subcultures’, in Subcultures: the Sociology of Subcultures, The Glendessary Press, Berkeley

Cohen, P. (1972) ‘Subcultural Conflict and Working Class Community’ in The Subcultures Reader, Routledge, New York

Hall, S. & Jefferson, T. [eds] (1976) “Subcultures, cultures and class” in Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-war Britain, Routledge, London

Hill, A. (2005) Reality TV: audiences and popular factual television, Routledge, Oxon

Lacey, N. (2009) Image and Representation: Key Concepts in Media Studies, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan

Nicholson, M. (2007) Sport and the Media: Managing the Nexus, Elsevier, New York

Sercombe, H. (1999) ‘Boots, gangs and addictions: Youth Subcultures and the media’, in Australian Youth Subcultures: On the margins and in the Mainstream, Australian Clearinghouse for Youth Studies, Hobart

Scott, J. & Marshall, G. (2009) A Dictionary of Sociology, Oxford University Press, New York

Tait, G. (1992) ‘Reassessing Street Kids: A Critique of Subculture Theory” in Youth Studies Australia, Australian Clearinghouse for Youth Studies, Hobart

The World Book Encyclopaedia (2010) World Book Ci-Cz, World Book Publications Inc, Chicago


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s