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Phish-Heads: Modern Society, Youth, and Identity (Undergraduate Honors Thesis)

Phish-Heads: Modern Society, Youth, and Identity (Undergraduate Honors Thesis)

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Published by mwesch
A short ethnographic analysis of Phish-Heads circa 1997, exploring why mostly upper-middle-class American youth would create a subculture emphasizing a consciousness marked by relativity, passivity, inquisitiveness, creativity, autonomy, anonymity, and a struggle to "belong" while maintaining "individuality."
A short ethnographic analysis of Phish-Heads circa 1997, exploring why mostly upper-middle-class American youth would create a subculture emphasizing a consciousness marked by relativity, passivity, inquisitiveness, creativity, autonomy, anonymity, and a struggle to "belong" while maintaining "individuality."

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Published by: mwesch on Mar 10, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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02/19/2013

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Phish-Heads:
Modern Society, Youth, and Identity
I
Paper submitted
for
Senior Honors ThesisKansas State UniversityApril15th, 1997
by
Michael Wesch
X
U4&&
Michael
L(
weschundergraduate,~6istant rofessor,
b
Sociology~raduateeaching Asst,
 
ForewordMembership Cards, Secret Handshakes, and
Super
Decoder
RingsLittle did I know to what depths of consciousness thisproject would end up taking me. It started off as merely acombination of laziness and trickery on my part.
I
had beeninterestedingoingtoseethisbandcalled"Phishwitha'ph'" since my friend/x-girlfriend told me about them almost two yearsago in the summer of
1995.
She told me about the laid-backatmosphere of thcfIhi.ppy-squL
an&
a
ie
+whiekyou
-
couldnotkeepfromdancing.Sowhenitcamedowntodecidingon atopicformythesisayearlater
I
thoughtabouthow muchfun it would
be
to follow this band ("what was their name again?Phish?"), meanwhile writing an ethnography of their subculture topass off as my thesis.
I
started writing in my head before
I
even showed up on thescene.
I
came up with titles such as "The Ethics of Being aRebel" and "Conforming Non-conformists" and a killer conclusionthat
I
thought was sure to stun the readers
--
These neo-hippieswhothinkthey're
so
"different"arereallyallthesame.
Notlong afterIarrived
on
tke
sane
*bug&
4
eakizecthat-I-
-
would have to abandon all my preconceived notions, catchy titles,and knock-out conclusions.I met up with the Phish Summer Tour
'96
on August
4,
1996,
in Red Rocks, Colorado.
I
planned to spend four days with these"neo-hippies" as both a participant and a researcher, plottingtheir daily activities at first, then taking part myself andWesch
1
 
strikingupconversationsthatIhopedwouldleadtothe discoveryofthemotivationsbehindtheiractivities. Eventually,
I
wantedtodetermine thegroup'scorevaluesand hopefullydiscoversometowhichtheyunconsciouslyadheretoas partofthe"mainstreamsociety" Ithoughttheywereagainst. However,what
I
thoughtwasasubversivecounter-cultureunited andstrivingforsomesort
of
freedomthattheycouldnotfindin "mainstreamsociety"wasnotthatatall.Asmyfirst intervieweesaid,"There'salltypesofPhish-heads.It'slike
a
microcosmofthewholething." Hewasright.Isoondiscovered
a
wholerangeofdifferent "types"ofPhish-heads,alltherefordifferentreasons.
I
alsodetecteddifferentlevelsofPhish-heads:someseemedtodevote theirentire lifetoPhish,otherswerejusttherefortheday beforereturningto"normal"life.
I
soonrealizedthatdescribingthePhishsubculturewasgoingtobemuchmore difficultthan
I
hadthought.Tocomplicatemattersevenmore,interviewingdidnotgoso wellfromthestart.When
I
asked,"Howdoesonerecognizea Phish-head?"
I
hopedfordetailedanswersreferringto everythingfromclothingtovalues.Unfortunately,such responseswerefewandfarbetween.Onerespondentstated, "We'retheoneswhopickournosesandwiggleourhandslike fish."Anotherresponded,"Wehavemembershipcards."Then anotherchimedinwithachuckle,"Whataboutthesecret Wesch
2

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