The development of late capitalism, the advance of consumer culture, and the increasing proliferation of media technologies in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, created the contexts for a different understanding of youth cultures. During this period of time, female and male youth engaged in productive cultural practices that could be analyzed beyond the narrow CCCS focus on consumption and leisure. Although style remained important for youngsters, girls and boys accessed inexpensive media technologies such as tape recorders, mimeographs, computers and video cameras, and appropriated infrastructures of cultural production and circulation such as mail, clubs, and subway trains. As young people engaged themselves in active and productive media activities they developed entrepreneurial youth cultures (McRobbie, Gaines, Kearney) in where the boundaries between everyday practices of production/consumption, labor/leisure, work/play, and education/entertainment blurred. Furthermore, by actively producing and distributing their own media, by being active communicators of their own culture, youth was able to organize themselves into scenes and networks that expanded beyond the physical limits of their cities and towns.
Hip Hop culture, with all its different forms of expression across music, writing, and dancing, provides an interesting example of the kind of productive cultural production made by young people. In the case of hip hop, although girls have been able to take part of the different practices as DJs, rappers, breakdancers, and graffiti writers, most of the cultural production has been executed by boys. Originating in the postindustrial context of New York City, hip hop culture was developed by African American and Latino youth living in very rough social conditions of isolation. These young people were able to develop their own cultural and local identity transforming the limited materials and spaces they had available. Those resources, although limited, where very powerful when they were transformed by the creative endeavor of youth. For instance, rappers and DJs recorded and copied their work in cassette tapes that they were able to distribute in their neighborhood first, and then across the whole city. Likewise, graffiti writers used the urban transportation system as a canvas to “broadcast” their stylized signatures and art pieces. As Austin explains, writers “transformed the city subway system into a kind of communications network that supported an alternative economy of recognition and prestige.” (242)
Besides using the turntable as a productive technology, pioneer DJs such as Grand Master Flash and Afrika Bambata transformed stereos, microphones, and amplifiers, in order to create massive sound systems that were used to throw public and open parties in parks and schools. Those parties were not only public performances in where their media creations were showcased but also functioned as important spaces for the construction of a scene and networking. Furthermore, the activities of media creation in hip hop culture, revealed, as Kelly has demonstrated, that for African American urban youth the practices of play challenged the dichotomy between work and leisure. By promoting their DJs crews, styles and parties, producing their songs and remixes, and performing, hip hop youngsters found financial opportunities in the blurred realm of “play-labor” (Kelly).
In hip hop culture, the relationships between youth made-media and youth culture have been positive. On the one hand, they have helped to articulate an identity and an elaborated style. This identity, as Rose has noticed, “is deeply rooted in the specific local experience and one’s attachment to and status in a local group or alternative family.”(34) The alternative families or crews have been forged with intercultural bonds and have provided support and insulation. On the other, as an entrepreneurial youth culture, the media produced by youth, have turned out to be also a source of economic support to the development and sustainability of the hip hop culture scene (Kelly).
In contrast, the relationships between mainstream and youth-made media in hip hop culture have been contradictory. Some of them are mutually exploitative as the ones created by DJs who sample, mix, and scratch commercial records available in the mainstream market. Other times, as in the “selling out” relationships, hip hop artists sign for a commercial label and agree that professional adults produce and profit from their creations. The pardaoxical relationships with mainstream mass media sometimes could turn into “moral panics” about the content of hip hop songs (e.g. drugs, crime, sex and violence). This relationship sometimes has functioned as publicity and legitimacy for the hip hop artists. By capturing the attention of the mainstream media, youth cultural producers could increase their visibility in the city and be recognized by a wider audience.
(to be continued)
Austin, Joe. (1998) Knowing Their Place: Local Knowledge, Social Prestige, and the Writing Formation in New York City. In Austin, Joe and Michael Nevin Willard. Generations of Youth: Youth Cultures and History in Twentieth-Century America. New York: New York University Press.
Gaines, Donna. (1994) “The Local Economy of Suburban Scenes.” In Epstein, Jonathon S. (ed). Adolescents and Their Music: If It’s Too Loud, You’re Too Old. New York: Garland.
Kearney, Mary Celeste. (2006) Girls make media. New York : Routledge.
Kelley, Robin D. G. (1997) “Looking to Get Paid: How Some Black Youth Put Culture to Work.” Yo’ Mama’s Disfunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America. Boston: Beacon. 43-77.
Rose, Tricia. (1994) Black noise: rap music and black culture in contemporary America. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press : Published by University Press of New England.
Watkins, S. Craig. (2006) Hip hop matters : politics, pop culture, and the struggle for the soul of a movement. Beacon Press: Boston.