Hebdige notes and questions

1. 6: culture’s “harmonious function” is a more conservative definition of culture. “The best and the brightest”. 2. 6: did Hoggart mean that textual artifacts have multiple meanings, or is his use of “meanings” in reference to the many artifacts? This subtlety is important as we see the crux of disagreements about culture. 3. 9: when Hebdige mentions the “arbitrary nature” of culture, he is specifically referring to Ferdinand de Saussure’s notion that language is wholly arbitrary. A sign (in linguistics, this means that a discrete unit of language such as a word, which Saussure labeled a “signifier” is related to a “signified,” or concepts) is arbitrarily constructed by those who use them. For example, there is no necessary connection between the word “tree” and the physical phenomenon that we know as a tree. In Spanish, the same concept is signified by the word árbol. The different words show how the signifier is arbitrary, but the meanings associated with the words may also be arbitrary. The “tree” example may not work here, but think of the word “cool”. In both English and Spanish, that same word might mean something related to an object’s temperature. However, in English, we have another idiomatic understanding of “cool” as meaning “hip” or “interesting” and so on. That meaning is rather new and may go out of fashion (or may already have), but the relation to temperature has been around for some time and probably will continue to carry that meaning. My point here is that Hebdige argues, through his reading of Barthes, that culture is also arbitrary, and this was a somewhat radical notion at the time. 4. 9: study of “culture” is about the “whole of everyday life”. So, not just the “best and brightest”. 5. 10: CS as “the study of a society’s total way of life”. Important distinction here as Hebdige is beginning to move us from Society as a monolithic concept to society as a “subculture”. 6. 10: Thompson’s new definition of “culture” as building from Williams’ “theory of relations between elements in a whole way of life” by adding “the study of relationships in a whole way of conflict”. Further lending critical weight to Hebdige’s understanding of “subculture”. 7. Ideology: Thinkers in the marxist tradition (of which most of the thinkers in this section, including Hebdige, would locate themselves) often concern themselves with ideology, which are always hidden relations between various phenomena. 8. 12 – 13: discuss this notion of physical structures as embodying institutional values. What have you noticed about DU that supports or refutes Hebdige’s claim? 9. 16: revise commodities to forms of dissent, “oppositional meanings”. 10. 17: “style” is the expression of subcultural resistance to oppressive powers. It is a “struggle within signification”. In other words, the ways in which culture is produced and displayed (style) is how subcultures communicate within and with themselves. It is safe to say that the powers in charge will see these

representations as dissonant. Keep this in mind when/if we watch The Filth and the Fury. 11. 18: analyze style for the hidden maps of meaning. 12. 19: perhaps not a definition but some characteristics of punk style: claims for illiteracy, profanity to the extremes. 13. 101: “signification need not be intentional”. This is an important point to consider in meaning-making. What the creator intended is not necessarily important. How the product is read is of more interest. In literary analysis, this is known as the “intentional fallacy”. In other words, it is impossible to know what an author intended because only the author has access to her or his intentions. We can, however, understand how meaning is made and interpreted by others. 14. 102: dissonance. 15. 103 – 4: bricoloage is a bit abstract, so let’s look at one common theme of early punk: the safety pin. At its superficial level, the safety pin is not a sign imbued with subcultural meaning. It is a reality of most punks’ situation. Typically come from poor background so the safety pin makes clothes last longer. However, the safety pin did have some other meanings that were not expressed through language. 1) Outright defiance of “accepted” fashion. 2) expression of individuality. 3) Conversely, expression of a shared experience. 4) Demonstration of bricolage itself—the intentional crafting of meaning through different units, perhaps pinning an anarchy symbol to a corporate logo. 5) Pins as jewelry defies typical aesthetic look while displaying a willingness to defy no matter what the cost (pain to oneself in this case). 16. 106: more definition of “punk”: Take seemingly incongruent forms to create a style that disrupts meaning. Take, for example, the swastika, a common symbol appropriated by punks. One reading (a reading that Rhombes will challenge in Ramones) is that punks considered the swastika to be the most offensive image that they could display, especially in a post-war England that was less than 40 years removed from the Battle of Britain and fears of Nazi invasion. The theory here is that punks, for themselves at least, emptied the swastika of its Nazi meaning and transformed the symbol for its own uses. 17. 109 – 12: more components of punk style. 18. 110: no “authentic” punk could ignore the power of performance. 19. 111: punk was an early attempt by the British working class to resist the dominant codes that they experienced. Boredom and the exhaustion of factorymade symbols was their calling card. It is important that the experiences of US punks were significantly different than their UK counterparts, but we’ll get to that when we read Rhombes. p. 111 also gives us a discussion of alternative press, of ‘zines. 20. 112: the 3 chords story may not be true. 21. 112: “new wave” was another term for “punk” at the time.

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