July 2006 Archives

children of the night?

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The NY Times last Sunday reported a somewhat predictable tidbit on the rising popularity of goth amongst Latino teens in the Bronx:

"The Coven of the Grand Concourse"

Of course, the article is rife with references to Hot Topic, Evanescence, and "the occult," and the author can't help reminding us of the "dark side of Gothness" -- self harm, runaways, shopping in the mall.

Still, author Nina Malkin wouldn't be the first to observe that "[i]n America, Goths are usually thought of as white, middle-class and suburban." Spectacular subcultures like goth, punk and rave tend to emerge in industrialized countries among working and middle-class youth -- usually white and urban (and to a lesser degree suburban). In developing countries, the middle class tends to emphasize consuming in ways that reinforce their class status, conforming to certain standards rather than deviating from them.

It remains to be seen whether youth embrace subcultures like goth to "resist" social norms, rather than to create their own coherent cultural identities and social groups. But it would be interesting if Malkin has actually identified an emerging trend among the children of more recent immigrants to this country.

youth subculture on trial

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Nothing like a little moral panic to bolster your murder case -- remember Scott Dyleski, the trenchcoat-wearing teenager implicated in the bizarre murder of California resident Pam Vitale last October? He'll be standing trial this week, and apparently so will his alleged subculture, according to the
SF Chronicle:

Acquaintances have described Dyleski as a typical suburban kid who later began to embrace the Goth culture, dying his brown hair black and wearing a trench coat.
Jewett, a 24-year veteran of the Contra Costa County district attorney's office, is expected to introduce witnesses who will discuss elements of Goth culture and music as it pertained to Dyleski.

So what, exactly, does his taste in clothes and music have to do with his alleged criminal activity? Perhaps the prosecuter missed out on a recent study published in New Scientist under the succint title "Goth subculture may protect vulnerable children." Without getting into a long discussion of what constitues a subculture in the first place, it troubles me to have the prosecution buy into the same flavor of moral panic that seems to spur the news media so often when it comes to young people.

I'm just surprised they haven't tried to work MySpace into this somehow -- but maybe that's because this case involves a white youth with a predilection for trenchcoats and possibly violence, rather than a teen girl at risk from imagined predators.

Authentic Youth: Cultural Capital and Credibility in Digital Youth Culture

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(from a proposed paper on the role of digital media in the lives of young people)

For young people, commodity culture offers an important site for the production of individual and collective meanings. Digital spaces such as the internet provide an excellent arena for do-it-yourself culture and creative consumption, but are ultimately structured by the same logics that determine how popular culture operates more generally. Discourses of credibility and authenticity afford us a glimpse into how young people navigate the complex interplay of social networks, cultural commodities, and subcultures in a mobile, mediated society. Given the role of cultural engagement in developing social capital, digital media offer a means for young people to become more invested in their social and cultural worlds.

peer-to-peer culture

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i'm doing some research on youth and civic engagement for howard, which reiterates the longtime vogue of peer education when it comes to reaching out to young people. at the youth nonprofit i work for, youth-led social action is key, and we train young people to devise their own projects for social justice.

certainly, youth should be engaged directly, especially when it comes to the issues that affect them most. and young people may respond better to their peers than to adults who often represent external authority. but i find myself wondering about the widescale impact of our educational system, in which students are grouped narrowly by age. there's plenty of good research pointing to the role of the modern education system in producing "youth culture," a cultural space inhabited specifically by young people. this concept is so familiar to us now that it seems commonsense and obvious to emphasize the value of peer education -- and to worry about peer pressure.

but maybe it's not an ideal setup to isolate young people and educate them in large communal institutions, especially if it creates a hierarchy in which all adults are in some position of authority -- teachers, administrators, staff. while considering the positive effects of peer-to-peer influence and education, it might be worth critiquing the assumption that youth culture occupies a perennial and permanent place in society, rather than a historically specific one.

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