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The Protean Quality of Subcultural Consumption: An Ethnographic Account of Gay Consumers Previous work on subcultural consumption presents structure

, ethos, and subcultural boundaries as key theoretical aspects. These concepts are critically reconsidered through examining and interpreting ethnographic fieldwork and the consumer accounts of 44 gay men interviewed during a study of a gay urban community. Original insights are developed in relation to consuming in a subcultural context. The findings include consideration of the following key aspects of sub-cultural consumption: (1) contested meanings of gay subcultural consumption, (2) consuming and constructing subcultural boundaries, and (3) negotiating individual distinction with consumption practices. Overall, findings indicate that the oppositional character of subcultural consumption is captured well by the proposed theoretical framework that takes into account contested meaning clusters; fluid subcultural boundaries; flexible subcultural, interpretive frameworks for consuming; and negotiation of individual tastes through subcultural consumption. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

The contemporary consumption landscape is visibly rife with consumers who have significant subcultural affinities: goths, punks (Fox 1987; Hebdige 1979), gays (Kates 1998), lesbians (Weston 1993), fundamentalist Christians (O'Guinn and Belk 1989), Harley Davidson enthusiasts (Schouten and McAlexander 1995), Star Trek fans (Kozinets 2001), mountain men (Belk and Costa 1998), and all manner of consumers forming local, national, global, and even cyber-collectivities. Past subcultural ethnographies emphasize consumption as a critical site where identities, boundaries, and shared meaning are forged. The present account theorizes about the variation of consumption practices found in the gay men's community. As such, it proved a very useful and productive ethnographic context from which to derive insights and construct theory relating to the internal diversity of contemporary subcultural consumption practices. Past studies have described visible differences among subcultural participants but, consistent with their own theoretical objectives, have not theorized them. Further, subcultures that revolve around consumption of particular brands (e.g., Kozinets 2001; Schouten and McAlexander 1995), styles (e.g., Fox 1987), or consumption activities (Belk and Costa 1998; Celsi, Rose, and Leigh 1993; Thornton 1995) have relevant associated issues of uniformity and authenticity. In contrast, contemporary gay subcultures are different from subcultures of consumption, with rich oral and written histories (e.g., Chauncey 1994; Weeks 1985), and they support a wide variety of dynamic contents, forms, and meanings. Thus, subcultural consumption studied here is portrayed as protean or kaleidoscopic in nature. The other relevant difference from past studies is that gay subculture is substantially more stigmatized in its history of oppression and marginalization by various institutions in society (Weeks 1985). For many leisure subculturalists (except perhaps for a few committed diehards), the subculture of consumption is a place to go on the weekends, an important hobby, or a youthful phase. In contrast, gay subculture endures, for many, as “a way of thinking … a set of ideas about politics, high culture, pop culture, society, religion, manners, fashion, and … sex … ideas inside of which a relatively small proportion of gay people spend their entire adult lives … and with which virtually every gay man has some sort of relationship” (Bawer 1993, p. 4). Thus, the present study focuses on a much more pervasive, permanent, but dynamic phenomenon in terms of the potential impact it has on consumers, its continuing history, and its political agenda (Weeks 1985). The majority of rave-goers, bikers, mountain men, and Star Trek fans step into costume (literally and figuratively) during weekends or special ritualistic occasions. Yet, for the gay men here, affili-ation with the subculture and the associated social identity issues are more consequential for consumption. THEORETICAL UNDERPINNINGS In this article I address and elaborate on the consumption implications of three key theoretical aspects of subcultural consumption explored in past consumer research: shared ethos, boundary maintenance, and hierarchical structure based on members' demonstrated commitment. Traditionally, subculture was conceptualized as a way of life expressing shared meanings and practices different from or oppositional to dominant, mainstream culture. Brake (1985,p. 13) notes that subcultures invent and inscribe widely recognized and easily interpretable consumer signs and style with commonly understood oppositional meanings. Subcultural style “indicates which symbolic group one belongs to, it demarcates that group from the mainstream, and it makes an appeal to an identity outside that of a class ascribed one.” This common definition of subculture informs much of the work in cultural studies and many contributions in consumer research. The first topic that requires reconsideration is the relationship between consumption and a subculture's internal ethos (i.e., shared cultural meanings that constitute the subculture). Previous studies on subcultures of consumption (e.g., Fox 1987; Klein 1986; Schouten and McAlexander 1995) portray subcultures as relatively

seamless configu-rations of compatible cultural meanings. For example, Klein (1986) describes the bodybuilding subculture's meanings of machismo and strength, while Schouten and McAlexander (1995) analyze the Harley Davidson subculture as a composite of machismo, freedom, and American patriotism, values associated with conventional American society but mag-nified in subcultural ethos. Although this theoretical formulation is appropriate for leisure subcultures explicitly revolving around particular brands or activities, the present context is based on a stigmatized moral order and questions the framework's transferability. Further, in the postmodern consumer research literature, the cultural meanings that inscribe consumption practice are portrayed as countervailing (Thompson and Haytko 1997), fragmented (Firat and Ven-katesh 1995), and distinctively shaped in specific historical and social contexts (Geertz 1983; Holt 1997; Miller 1987). Drawing from this literature, this article reconceptualizes the subcultural moral order (or ethos) as a protean array of shifting, malleable meanings, open to change, challenge, and internal opposition. Second, Brake's assertion above about subcultural demarcation is implicit in influential studies within the consumer research literature (e.g., Belk and Costa 1998; Celsi et al. 1993; Kozinets 2001; Schouten and McAlexander 1995). To varying degrees, these studies emphasize the reflexive, oppositional characteristics of subcultures, the ways members use marker goods to demonstrate acceptable behaviors and those who belong, and the ways these meanings are expressed in consumption practices. Yet the strict delineations accomplished by boundary-maintenance activities are challenged by Fine and Kleinman (1979), who critique the influential structuralist assumption that assigns distinctive cultural meanings to a geographically and demographically delineated community that reproduces its norms and traditions over time, similar to ethnic subculture (see Bouchet 1995). Recently, subcultural ethnographies have also questioned the strict demarcations drawn by subcultural members and ethnographers alike. For example, Thornton (1995) problematizes the division between subculture and mainstream, noting that maintaining this division is consumers' way of creating discursive distance between themselves and the larger social world of media, parents, and middle-class sensibilities while claiming adult status. Thornton's account of young rave consumers also demonstrates the ways that media, far from being oppositional to subcultural activity, are instrumental to its formation and maintenance. Similarly, Kozinets (2001) emphasizes the critical role of media for disseminating and institutionalizing consumption meanings. Consumers' and marketers' actions render these boundaries transient, permeable, and mutable, serving as interactive processes between the subculture and the so-called external or dominant society (see Barth 1969; Costa and Bamossy 1995). In this spirit, addressing minority-based ethnic subculture, Bouchet (1995,p. 79) emphasizes the “ever renewed codification of cultural differences between neighboring groups” that results in a malleable and constructed sense of meaning and identity (see also Costa and Bamossy 1995). Thus, those marker goods previously considered indicative of deviant subcultural identities and meanings are sites of contested meaning, potentially diluting their semiotic potency and oppositional status. In this article I explore the ways that consumption still plays an important part in boundary maintenance of subcultures, providing insights into subculturalists' capacity for constructing reflexively understood symbolic boundaries, a topic that requires some theoretical revisiting. Finally, theory offers insights into the hierarchical structure of many subcultures. Fox (1987), in her study of a punk subculture, elaborates on a simple concentric structure based on the outward level of commitment to the punk ideology. Hard-core punks, for example, were at the core (or top) of the local hierarchy, due to their radically altered appearance, drug use, and presumed adherence to punk's norms. This hierarchy is explicitly echoed in Schouten and Mc-Alexander's (1995) study of Harley Davidson's subculture of consumption, with higher status conferred on senior members who participate heavily in biker activities and those who display visible indicators of commitment such as tattoos, club clothing, and motorcycle adornment. These studies impose etic labels (such as “ core” or “authentic”), suggesting that subcultural structure is objectively based on uncontested criteria (e.g., adherence to appearance norms) without considering the possibility that structure might be fluid, contested, or negotiated. Therefore, one may well challenge the assumption of an unproblematic status hierarchy created through demonstrating conformity and commitment. In this latter regard, while addressing questions of subcultural hierarchy and authenticity, Thornton (1995) raises the issue of localized cultural capital in her study of rave-goers. Framing subcultures as contested spaces where young people vie for status and position, she conceptualizes subcultural capital as a local variant of cultural capital confined to an alternative social space or hierarchy (see Holt 1998). However, Thornton's study was based on a popular leisure activity among youths, leaving open the question of how status is negotiated through consuming in a more oppositional and historical minority-based subculture. Further, she does not address the question of how subcultural capital is unevenly distributed among insiders, leading to distinctive consumption practices. Despite the extensive work on subcultures in and out of the consumer research discipline, the internal diversity of consumption meanings and practices remains largely untheorized. Therefore, in this article

I asked open-ended. Finally. obtaining an understanding of shared meanings across particular instances of consumer practices described in interviews and field notes (Spiggle 1994. including friends and acquaintances of original interviewees. I outline the qualitative methods used to generate the qualitative data. and ( 3) negotiating individual distinction in the subculture with consumption practices. The sample snowballed to include additional participants. Holt 1998). particularly. jewelry. and visits to informants and entertainment venues. and. at the intersection of Corner and Williams. shift. note taking. private parties. Are subcultural meanings coherent. First. music. Second. all informants. and one Native. I then present the findings from my ethnographic engagement. food. including family description. ETHNOGRAPHIC METHOD For a year and a half I immersed myself full time within the downtown gay ghetto. and clothing. socializing with other gay men. To open the interviews.e. and I revisited the city during the following four years during the summer months. lesbian and gay pride day (LGPD) festivities.p. and choice (see Bouchet 1995. or is there some challenge and contestation? How do subcultural consumers demarcate and express symbolic boundaries while consuming if boundaries tend to change. bars. conversations. to varying degrees. I read each interview and the field notes several times to get a sense of the whole. Thirty-five were white. THE MEANINGS OF GAY SUBCULTURAL CONSUMPTION This section of the article illustrates that subcultural consumption meanings are constituted by a set of contested meanings or idealizations. I focused on the use. forwarding relevant consumer theory. nightclubs. films. or bars. In order to fulfill the theoretical purpose of this work (i. . They usually began by discussing their coming out experiences: their first realization that they might be gay. dining out. In summary. Below. the social and professional group. Also. and interacting with members. ( 2) consuming and constructing subcultural boundaries. implying that their families and close friends knew of their sexual orientation. to study subcultural consumption patterns embedded in an overall way of life).. I clustered similar emergent themes. I summarize the present contributions and the implications for consumer research. attending functions. 495) argument that cultures are et-ically understood through grasping abstract cultural values that translate into a variety of actual meanings in practice. and other instances of consumption. The sample itself consists of 44 gay men whose ages ranged from 16 to 53. negotiation. took part in activities and festivities associated with the gay community such as the youth group. I conducted formal interviews of informants from these groups from May 1994 to November 1994. I probed in depth for personal opinions. Strauss and Corbin 1998). During this time I continued to visit the groups. taking copious field notes. fashion accessories. home decor. shopping in the ghetto. I have organized the interpretive analysis into three major sections. The sustained engagement ended in De-cember 1994. including advertising. work. observation. Just under half of them lived in or near the geographic confines of the gay ghetto. education. their first sexual experiences. performing informal interviews. Below. shopping. distinction. grand-tour (McCracken 1988) questions. Most of my informants considered themselves to be fairly open. my purpose is to further understanding of key aspects of subcultural consumption by theorizing the subtle and dramatic variations in consumption practices found in the ethnographic context. a social club for professional gay men. four Southeast Asian. clarification. Finally. I obtained permission from a lesbian. and details. Cultural and ethnic diversity were important in understanding the intersection of sexuality and race and the ways they shaped consumption meanings. Interpretation of the data was achieved through the following dialectic tacking procedures. generating as many categories as possible. I address these questions. and purchase of various types of products. of a large Canadian city with a thriving gay and lesbian population. First. and bisexual youth support group to participate in their sessions. appreciation. describing consumption practices: ( 1) the meanings of gay subcultural consumption. four were black. television shows. through the board of directors of the Brotherhood. and their first social experiences in gay venues such as bathhouses. and negotiation? Using qualitative data from a study of gay men's consumption practices. I asked participants to describe their life histories. requesting elaboration. attitudes.consumption is characterized with some degree of individualized differentiation. I related the themes and emerging theoretical framework to literature that the data suggested. or anything they considered important. and lose their semiotic potency over time? And how do subcultural consumers achieve status internally if status consumption is not predicated on group norms and conformity but individual choice. gay. all names of people and organizations are pseudonyms so that informants' privacy is maintained. inspired by Arnould and Wallendorf's (1994. Given the sensitive nature of this topic. hobbies.

gender. Informants and in situ interviewees noted to me that some of their heterosexual friends. shop. People that advertise…. ritualistic leisure pastime that men often joked about it in my presence. or constituted by countervailing discourses (Thompson and Haytko 1997) and so allows for diverse consumer practice to take shape. Living in this physical space for 18 months. The conflicting clusters comprise the subculture and are inscribed in consumption: (a) safety and consumption. and consumption. In short. and moral obligations (Muniz and O'Guinn 2001). the business was gay owned. family. drink. Other shops that were not widely known for being gay friendly often placed a rainbow flag or a “safe place” sticker on their glass doors. at a shop called Out on the Street. indicating that employees were. as did many of the informants.. In fact.e. Bing continually emphasized how comfortable he felt living in the gay area and among his gay friends and acquaintances. and consumption practices represented this sentiment. and consume in as open a way as they wished. the ghetto was also a socially unsafe place for them. They advertise [in the gay press]. or even sexual paraphernalia. behave. In this respect. gay or gay friendly. In sum. One official report occurred the day after I had spent a night socializing and researching in a gay nightclub. When socializing in the ghetto. men also felt safe enough to cruise other men (i. That you have to sort of … fit in with whatever clique that you . In many ways. as well as his calculated efforts to demonstrate loyalty to that community. gay bashing) in the area. for openly condemning others' race. cinemas. informants labeled it a scene as well as a community.Further. sex venues. particularly in front of “The Steps. For example. 50s). Within this area. rituals and traditions. the present conceptualization of subcultural consumption accords with postmodern conceptions of culture as fragmented (Firat and Venkatesh 1995). Thus. However. In this bounded geographical place and social space. and living quarters. Many gay men and lesbians chose to work in the neighborhood in these small community businesses. heterogeneous (Geertz 1983). bounded by certain agreed-upon urban streets and accepting ways. and provincial laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Jerry (Eurasian male. if I wished. describing this activity as supporting the community: “I like to put my money where the gay people are. municipal. hug men. Like I get a lot of printing done at [a local printing shop]. and (c) celebration of sexuality (vs. The Community. Further. bodily competition) expressed through consuming. with the former's emphasis on the display of status through consumer goods and the body. WM [white male]. Second.. late 20s) summed up the social danger posed by conformist pressures related to consumption: “There's a whole bunch of those unwritten rules. in actuality. including work. with no disapproving looks or homophobic comments. and the gay theater. with its consciousness of kind. and I felt that I had a place there. Despite hard-won federal. politics. a scene has different connotations than a community. Safety and Consumption: The Gay Community versus the Scene One category of meanings is the gay subculture's status as a safe physical place and social space. Yet in the gay neighborhood. sex. informants expressed the sentiment that they felt safe and secure to walk. (b) gender flexibility and consumption. or work colleagues did not know about their sexuality. it was potentially more inclusive of many facets of consumption and everyday life. Also. The strong subcultural meaning of safety during consumption did not go uncontested. They're gay oriented” (Bing. diverse sets of consumption practices were set to thrive.” located in front of a local coffee shop frequented by many gay men. I was free to socialize and consume exclusively in the gay ghetto. and be as visible about their sexual orientation as they wished. the community felt like a very comfortable and safe area. alcohol. the gay ghetto had some of the features of an urban neighborhood community. In this relatively liberal context. homosexuality was still somewhat stigmatized in the research city. leisure. they felt free to dance. The Scene. furniture. many assumed there to be a significant degree of social safety there. the gay ghetto was a physically and socially unsafe place. hardware supplies. consumption activities could usually be performed without the threat of violence.e. gay bars and nightclubs. with its wide variety of restaurants. During my 18-month sojourn. I learned that almost all of the necessities of life could be locally obtained: groceries. cruising while sitting and drinking coffee at The Steps was such a common. or diverse expressions of sexuality was explicitly discouraged. There were occasional police reports and continual gossip of physical and verbal attacks on people presumed to be gay or lesbian (i. given their judgment that no disapproving heterosexual family or friends would likely be present. look at them as potential sexual prospects). Many informants indicated that they enthusiastically and often went out of their way to purchase goods and services in the gay neighborhood. friends. talk. or that gay custom was actively encouraged. employees helped shoppers find buttons and T-shirts with gay slogans on them. the gay subculture potentially permeated every sphere of life.

Thus. buying certain clothing I guess. Thus. In this regard. By problematizing the masculinist norm against men's open expression. Interestingly. a time-honored tradition is to sit on The Steps and watch other men go by. the community center. Many explicitly demanded straightlooking and -acting men and rejected effeminate men: “no fats. For some. with little attention paid to social consequences. The pages of Xtra! (the local gay newspaper) and other gay lifestyle magazines also featured pictures of attractive. the gay and lesbian social movement has articulated an explicit ideology of gender freedom and fluidity (Altman 1982. bodies. ironically. buttocks. You don't have to put up a macho front. Things that gay men … tend to do more easily than straight men like dyeing their hair or buying. dress. you know. Consumption practices serve as ways to resolve a tension between seemingly intractable. Previous literature also confirms that in addition to being places of refuge and safety. Sig-norile 1997). there was an excess of sexual imagery and meaning found in the ghetto. many reported that they felt quite at ease openly engaging in consumption practices stereotypically associated with women: shopping for clothing. Although only three informants confessed to doing drag for fun. so you might as well get to wear makeup. In this regard. gay personal ads capture the masculinist subcultural meaning. Eating out. No Fats. at the right places. things like that. reported that they sometimes purposely avoided consumption objects and practices labeled effeminate or feminine and cultivated masculine appearance through dress and exercise. Weeks 1985). parks.” Jerry's passage confirms observations I made: some members of both the youth and gay men's social groups were avoided because they were not fashionable enough or did not conform to standards of attractiveness. traditional gender conventions and the pro-expressive norms he experiences in the gay community. During the summer. informants expressed their belief that they were safe to engage in putative gender-inappropriate behaviors. handsome young men. Walking into two popular bars. the gay subculture was not really a value-free haven for gender variations. and adornment. gay communities often impose hypermasculine and rather rigid appearance standards (Levine 1998. orthodox effect of hegemonic masculinity. admiring their faces. Nonetheless. wearing jewelry. and “baskets” (an emic term for the shape of the male genitalia underneath clothing). diffuse throughout the society in which it was embedded (Con-nell 1995). Celebration of Sexuality versus Aesthetic Bodily Competition through Consuming In accord with gay liberation's historical emphasis on the centrality of sexuality (Weeks 1985). losing any masculine dividend (Connell 1995). too” (Francis. and you can be a lot freer to express yourself. I don't know. dyeing their hair. Thompson and Hirschman 1995) and provide a contradiction to the gay community's pro-expressive gender flexibility described above. No Fems? Gender (In)Flexibility and Consumption Since the 1960s. Woody's and Boots. seeks to transform dominant macrocultural meanings and gain a degree of social legitimacy. or using branded cosmetics. although describing their enjoyment of consumption and an apparently sincere positive attitude toward gender variation. I was struck by the many pictures of scantily dressed. so certain forms of expression…. D'Emilio 1983. to some extent. 30s) who had gone prematurely gray during his twenties. for it was still prey to the translocal. muscular young men.” These constant reminders of heteropatriarchy attest to the masculinist discourses that denigrate and classify femininity with the moral failure of disciplining the body and so rendering it sexually attractive (Bordo 1993. bathhouses. Moreover. Many of my casual conversations contained . and gay bars were devoted exclusively to the satisfaction of male sexual desire. late teens). dressing the right way. a dance CD or. declaring themselves gay released them from the normative confines of masculinity (see Connell 1995): “You're already in hell [by disclosing that you're gay]. going to the right parties. BM [black male]. This sense of freedom promoted experimentation in personal grooming. the irony is that Lenny's consumption condemns the stigma that lends it its special subcultural meaning. Lenny presents himself as strong enough to express himself without. cruising was a common activity that occurred in the streets. the gay neighborhood contained elements of both community and status seeking that served to both encourage and constrain acceptable consumption options. no fems. Whole commercial institutions such as telephone lines.” Lenny believes he is relatively more at liberty to violate shared gendered expectations and engage in stereotypically feminine acts of consumption compared to heterosexual men. knowing the right people. expressiveness in consuming confronts and. Many informants.decide to go … that sort of involves going to the right places. he dyed his hair back to its original dark color: “It's one of the things I like about being gay is … you can do … things that straight men would be needled for doing…. cooking. To cultivate a more youthful appearance. or coffee shops located in and around the gay area. Such self-expressive practice is echoed in the remarks of Lenny (WM.

” Bert acknowledges the competitive standards of appearance in the local gay community. Thus. Wearing a hanky in the left pocket means enjoying the role in one . p. Thus. He related these standards to the singlehood theme that he returned to throughout his interview: gay men are often single and looking for partners. appearances. twirling around. CONSTRUCTING SUBCULTURAL BOUNDARIES THROUGH CONSUMPTION The literature on subcultural consumption interprets the presence of marker goods as symbolic boundaries differentiating the social statuses between subcultural and putative mainstream culture (e. describes the negative feelings he nevertheless has about it: “You see a really good-looking man on the street. the competitive standard is a high one. This socialization into a competitive set of consumption meanings begins early after introduction to the gay community. In the past. skinheads. and to express and read subcultural differences and opposition. places. Such regular consumption performances confirmed Francis's fears that the idealized welcoming and safe environment preserved social distinctions and exclusions he had previously experienced as a closeted black male. they reflexively adopt ways of both using marker goods and conflicting subcultural meanings (as described above) and elements of meaning outside it.frank discussions about sex: how to perform specific sexual acts. Hebdige 1979). 84). subcultural styles have been successfully marketed to mainstream consumers. Along with other goods and product constellations such as drag. late teens) was reading from … the list of handkerchief codes and their meanings. (b) interpreting the consumption performances of others. ‘look I have nice clothing on. But often. a young man who expressed a keen interest in consuming and buying clothing. heterosexual mainstream. in the past few decades. In summary. aesthetic bodily competition through consuming and maintaining attractive appearance standards. They sometimes did complement one another. Everybody wants to look good. late teens).g. Thus. safer sex practices. close examination of the data reveals that the social safety in community. and explicit descriptions of various men's bodies. According to him. and he's dressed to the nines … and you equate that with … if you're going out on the town that night. articulating combinations of new and familiar content into the gay context. described a typical evening at the youth group as a fashion show by a clique of friends who reportedly tried to impress others with their invidious consumption: “Basically what they were doing was coming in. and dress with other men and in which other men are both sexual prospects and competition. plentiful recreational offerings. and hippies did possess distinctive demeanors and consumer marker goods unmistakably indicative of social demarcations. Critically. these meanings clashed and produced variations in consumer practice. and objects as excluded from or part of the subculture. these consumers must be especially adaptive when consuming. However. walking back and forth and showing everybody.’” Francis also noted that their display was accompanied by “attitude”-an emic term connoting arrogant haughtiness of demeanor. in order to classify people. However. and I think everybody wants to follow through with them. informants such as Lenny and Francis noted that they felt safe about their more daring gender experimentation in dress and grooming. the shared meanings of sexual and aesthetic competition. this section of the article explores (a) consumption of marker goods. and the research city's people have arguably become more tolerant of social differences.. and the subcultural meaning of liberating gay sexuality were challenged by a contradictory and strongly influential family of distinct subcultural meaning: sexually charged. explored below. gender flexibility. Brake 1985. given its lack of widespread local and current use: “Al (WM. you're gonna wanna look as good … it's those people that set those standards. who lives in the gay neighborhood and values its convenience. leather. Consumption of Marker Goods One traditional consumption practice that once served as a subcultural boundary between gays and heterosexuals is the hanky code. Fran-cis (BM. For example. and (d ) consumption at gay festivals as public subcultural boundaries. And I look like such and such a model on television. and piercings. punks. Bert (WM. suggesting the giver of attitude is more attractive and in style than others. gender flexibility. so it is important that they look good. the hanky code was a means of identifying gay men and their arcane sexual predilections based on what color handkerchief was worn and in what back pocket. consumption sets the stage for a fiercely competitive local status game in which men compare their bodies. 20s). it proved unhelpful for boundary maintenance. (c) the campy aestheticizing of consumption. and the social safety that it provides. and social safety (along with their opposites) reside at the very heart of the subculture and provide the bases for differentiation from the dominant. As bricoleur consumers (Bouchet 1995.

and underground phenomena associated with a much earlier and much more closeted gay era (Chauncey 1994). To use Harris's argument as a foil. keychains. must contend with political gay rhetoric to be out and proud. given the contradictory meanings within the subculture. These patterns. There were hoots of laughter. sporting events. and in the city studied. outside of houses and apartments. when publicly enacted. the meaning of the flag and its associated products was open to individual refashioning: “But I just wanted … something to kind of wear when I would go dancing on Sunday afternoons. serves as a more flexible means to serve much the same cultural function. A more contemporary marker good is the rainbow flag. accompanying role. symbols such as the rainbow flag and the older pink triangle (the latter appropriated from the Nazi concentration camps and used to identify homosexual men) are too ambiguous to represent social differences. shops in the neighborhood sold commercialized versions of the rainbow flag in the form of T-shirts. Further. Yet informants expressed their need to identify other gay men for social and sexual purposes in ambiguous. In contrast. as described below. as illustrated above. and the more contemporary rainbow flag are subject to interpretive debate and symbolic emasculation. more generally. a San Francisco artist. I observed the flag displayed often in the gay neighborhood. I obtained a copy of it” (field notes). My extensive observations during the fieldwork confirmed that the hanky code had fallen into disuse. key chains. In the 1960s. and appreciation of Judy Garland were heavily coded. or even physically dangerous settings. Physique Pictorial magazine. “gaydar” (an emic term widely used by gay men). in multiple and subtly different ways. As Isaac (Arabic male. a means of determining whether a stranger is gay or not. In other words. Interpreting the Consumption Performances of Others Erstwhile consumption institutions such as drag. subtle and diverse consumption practices involving many ordinary products are cultivated in the subculture. and on street lampposts. and so on serve as general signifiers for gayness. He was reading it for the entertainment and fun of the other members of the youth group. Thus. Yet. socially risky. they cannot specify the specific intensity. the gay subcultural sensibility that informed consumption has not been lost. designed in 1978 by Gilbert Baker. particularly given their widespread commercial use. arcane. Somewhat paradoxically. pp. are expressive of social meanings and are similar to symbolic boundaries that delimit lifestyles among different collectivities. As widely accepted symbols officially signifying unity in diversity. but subcultural consumption is still differentiated to enact a meaningful subcultural boundary between gay men and the mainstream. but in the right pocket it refers to engaging in the opposite. In the multicultural city studied-conducive to cultivating a wide range of cosmopolitan tastes. the flag and its accessories serve as international and local marker goods. Thus. but it has been transmuted into other variegated forms.p. Displaying drag and leather were also interpreted as telltale signs that other men were gay. Although freedom rings. and freedom rings (a necklace with six colored metal rings). and hidden. consuming meanings conflict: unity in diversity (the flag's official or stated meaning) is subject to considerable debate. openly progay cultural icons (such as Madonna or Liza Minnelli). at least in the gay community I studied. 335–340). with its plethora of cultural offerings. gay sensibility (as a set of interpretive subcultural frameworks outlined below) to everyday products and experiences (see Holt 1997. somewhat elitist. the hanky code. restaurants. not heavily coded.sexual act. a subcultural framework applied to others' consumption patterns and. 36) labels preliberation gay subcultural consumption the “aestheticization of maladjustment” and bemoans contemporary consumption as indicative of lost defiance and of co-optation by commercial interests. in shop and nightclub windows. guarded. as the gay community became more open and safe from violence and social censure. Further. contemporary gay subcultural consumption incorporates more modern. subcultural frameworks inflect certain consumption patterns.” As such. or oppositional nature of subcultural meanings. and must be available to many more gay men with varying initial socialization experiences. Addressing the same topic. afforded informants opportunities to express affil-iation to the subculture. underground drag shows and parties. How then is consumption implicated in the construction of subcultural boundaries Informants indicated that within the physical confines of Corner and Williams it was usually safe to assume that other men were either gay or gay friendly. are considered quite tolerant of the gay community. During my ethnographic study. First. the semiotic freedom of marker goods. combined with a degree of consumer agency. and colorful ethnic and sexual communities-expressing and interpreting oppositional difference via consumption becomes a challenge addressed by consumption practices (Holt 1997). Gaydar is one of these . Harris (1997. leather. 20s) demonstrates. gay men felt free to apply the amorphous ironic. heterosexuals consume many of the same products as gays. The group's laughter and derisive comments indicated that the hanky code was considered an interesting but rather quaint relic from a dark and closeted gay past. quality. there is still a level of semiotic fuzziness surrounding the flag and its attendant products. However.

Thus. valorize. From this informant's perspective. hair is cut neatly. discernible to other like-minded gay men. Many informants took this socialization into gaydar farther and developed consumption stereotypes about gay and heterosexual men. I've seen straight friends … they're unshaven. go and sit on the corner. Nonetheless. Gay identity is read and presented by the self-conscious stylization of clothing. whatever.e. I kind of … survey the styles … what I'll do is I'll consciously go out and I'll say.’ … Gay people. Lance constructs the gay sartorial stereotype. learning how to dress attractively. gaydar as the means of identifying other gay men and reading cultural difference is more refined. say on Corner and Williams or something … I'll just watch people go by. Henri (WM. jacket. I want to buy a new shirt. However. described the process of interacting with other gay men. informants searched for and read cues such as neatly coiffed hair (a little too neat). personal hygiene. not to wrinkle the pants … it's just too impeccable. He has a suit. tastes serve as explicitly articulated subcultural boundaries that delimit. So. . their clothes basically look like they've been fresh out of laundry or just bought. I say. Actually. contemptuous smirking. attempting to reverse perceived power imbalances between gays and heterosexuals (see Holt 1997. 27–29). their clothes are basically picked up off the floor in their bedrooms and just put on. it's funny. neatly if not fashionably attired. embodying the subcultural meanings of bodily aesthetics and gendered flexibility. Below. ‘Does that look good on him or … why do I like that?’” (George. subtle details. and denigrate.” Henri shows his difficulty in expressing exactly how he understands that another man is gay: “nothing you could say. intuitive process of reading boundary signs through careful scrutiny of another man's apparel and style: “I guess being gay is a general attitude that's not only artifacts that you wear. tastes serve as damning metonyms for the mistreatment that gays have traditionally suffered.” Yet he does understand that the subculture cannot be satisfactorily read through the traditional marker goods but through an intangible attitude or practical sense that encompasses not only dress but also the subtleties in the ways that clothes are displayed (i. early 20s) describes it thus: “Gay males usually tend to dress a lot better than straight males … in their personal grooming. obtaining an important secondary socialization into local styles and meaning: “What I'll do is if I want to find the latest styles. early 20s). in his understanding of perceived. tie. I'll watch attractive gay men. But you see … meeting for the first time a gentleman forty years old who is too impeccable. the emotional reactions among informants were revealed by openly derisive laughter or subtle. style). and I'll say. but it's too nice. you know what I mean? You can be sure that he's careful and [sits] in order not to wrinkle the jacket. Learning gaydar may begin with active efforts to scan the gay neighborhood for cues as to the correct way to consume.frameworks. usually applied in places outside the gay neighborhood. too calm. the consumption classifications between gays and heterosexuals are quite obvious and stereotyped. the subcultural frame of gaydar. nothing flashy. I find. fit. the stereotype of the heterosexual slob is a useful fiction for informants when trying to identify other gay men and form their own consumption tastes. p. and dress. George. are attractive. Although his subcultural framework does employ explicit comparisons between himself and his male family members. consumption comparisons do more than simply demarcate. too nice. too perfect. The latter were mostly described in demeaning terms relative to gay men. as in more times than not. serve to expose social conflict and heterosexual men's homophobia and masculine insecurity (see Thompson and Haytko 1997. perfectly fitting (or tight) jeans. ‘Okay. The gaydar framework later becomes quite useful when identifying gay men in ambiguous social circumstances. ‘ah. or for those with more experience interacting with gay men. But with the gay males. gay men like George became sensitive to the differences between their former experiences perceived to be in the straight world and those in the gay subculture. for older informants. 50s) describes the hard-to-define. is a way of discerning the social meanings of small. While watching. developing their skills of interpreting the consumption performances of others. nothing flam-boyant. They're very well groomed that way. pp. newly out of the closet. shaved. ah! There is something that is not straight there!’ And after … nothing you can say. it does not refer to a recognizable subcultural style such as punks. inscribed in consumption practice. usually described as attractive. During the interviews. perfect. In the present context. WM. for Henri. matching ironed shirts. and wrinkled … they don't … wash their clothes at all. the gay attitude is described as impeccable. I'm just going to watch people. reflecting a more personalized understanding of gay style as a heightened fashion consciousness and fastidious attention to grooming. stereotypical differences and the boundaries dividing gays and heterosexuals. The criticism usually related to matters of appearance. I find that they're shaved. And I just think they take a lot better care of themselves. In turn. 346). and neatly barbered. Lance (GBM..” For Lance and younger men with limited experience in the community. These criticisms. Thus.

20). the consumption inherent in confrontations and interactions with elements of mainstream culture expands the symbolic boundary. a key principle of camp ironies. This episode illustrates that one cannot judge essences (someone's actual sexual desire or gender identity) by deceiving outward appearances (i. Socialization was accomplished with the help of more experienced people (Janeen and Ron) who gently and patiently (and sometimes patronizingly) explained the roots of these consumption in-jokes. The members played a game in which details of the lives of certain camp celebrities were given. Overall. This example reveals another interesting theoretical point about consumption and subcultural boundaries: if Rock Hudson is gay. usually through the gay subcultural framework called “camp. expressed genuine surprise at his ignorance and social faux pas. Kates 1997.and an overall well-put-together look. Keanu Reeves. it was implied that if an American icon of masculinity such as Hudson were gay. Sontag 1964). while understanding that this fastidious care for the little things was in opposition to heterosexual men's stereotypical insouciance in grooming. subcultural interpretive frame onto enjoying the lives of stars. inscribing objects in the larger world with locally shared meaning. privileging style over substance (Kates 1997. I observed a number of consumption events that aestheticized consumption and provided more public and shared boundaries between gays and heterosexuals. reinforcing the privileged aspect of camp.. Ross 1989). did not know that actor Rock Hud-son was gay and had died of AIDS in 1985. gaydar provides a myriad of subtle and personalized ways of ascertaining the boundaries of the subculture. and creatively reworked. Lucas participated in the game with alacrity. During this game. it has proven remarkably enduring over the past 50 years. and the first team that correctly guessed the celebrity was awarded points (“Gay Jeopardy”).” Many consumption practices were inflected by this historical. The consumption of celebrities and the Hollywood star system provides an exemplar of this aestheticized style of consumption embedded within a malleable subcultural boundary between gays and heterosexuals and the way that gay youth were inducted into this field of cultural meaning. and their comments gave the impression that ‘everyone knows’ (or should know) that Rock Hudson was gay. as camp consumption was transmitted to neophytes. In such manners. I argue that it has become more promiscuous. in sharp contrast to Harris's argument that camp has been marginalized and debased. 20s). Such formalized games were taken farther during casual consumption among gay cliques. open to gay men's continual efforts to negotiate it. and flamboyance. Further. and that consumption was linked to a permeable boundary.e. his personal world. Ron (WM. During the subsequent hurried conversation in which they brought their friend quickly up to speed. Camp is a mode of interpretation that ironically reworks images. any celebrity might be gay. informants developed holistic. exaggeration. His two new friends. and people in a gay social context (Harris 1997. or during social events with the Brotherhood. attesting to the subculture's tendency to produce consumption variations in response to perceived orthodox social pressures. comportment. gay men sometimes informally played celebrity gossip. Celebrities often considered were Tom Cruise. often sourced to the works and wit of Oscar Wilde and characterized by ironic appreciation of excess. The moderator's clues ranged from “the star of Funny Girl and Funny Lady” (Barbra Streisand) or “she won an Oscar for Cabaret” (Liza Minnelli). a relative newcomer. This gossip was usually accompanied by laughter and other indications of pleasure and curiosity. Such consumption overlays an ironic. attempting to figure out which celebrities were gay (or gay positive). The present gay consumers told of viewing innovative drag shows and other wondrous ironic performances at bars and clubs. wider popular culture was viewed as the playground for continually constructing a distinctive gay identity. speech. and Ellen Degeneres. altering the shared understanding of consumption objects such as Hollywood stars. During other field conversations at the youth group. style). anyone could be gay” (field notes). In this way. widely dispersed across more consumption objects and activities. eye contact. One particular episode stands out: “Lucas (WM. shared subcultural framework. The Campy Aestheticizing of Consumption Other subcultural consumption practices went one step beyond the individual consumer. The knowledge displayed and pleasures implicated brought more gay men into the game and more celebrities into the field of preferred camp meanings that circumscribe the subculture. and immediate group of acquaintances. Once gently corrected. highly context-sensitive judgment about others' styles of dress. . 20s) and Janeen (WF. Despite Harris's (1997) critique of camp's degradation. things. use of fashion accessories. In other words. These differences were widely understood to include gays and pointedly exclude heterosexuals. and other personal habits and then arrived at a conclusion (however dubious in fact) that he was gay. as embodied by consumers' appearances. the young group members learned about the lives and careers of the old and new gay icons.

very public. and actual people (see Barth 1969. 30s) provided an illuminating account of an aestheticized consumption barrier during Halloween that both disturbed and delighted onlookers: “Russ provided a detailed account of his experience at a recent gay and lesbian Halloween dance. onlookers may recall the shock. represented by consumption practices. Russ (WM. more differences.g. 30s). “I'm a fag. and the blood are recontextualized into the gay Halloween setting. that I kind of went out and really bought something that said. gawking crowds. The Jackie costume episode illustrates the shock and ironic humor that camp consumption can inspire and its capacity to act as a potent and potentially offensive boundary between gays and heterosexuals. or “the condensation of some aspect. shocked. despite the gay subculture's improved social standing. or frankly disgusting camp imagery can evoke. permeable. outrage. overtly sexual. on his knees. negotiating the subcultural boundary through interactions with elements of mainstream society such as television cameras. As Russ recognized in his interview. Yet. when Jackie. the humor is juxtaposed with the horror. element.” In this regard. LGPD in its magnified glory still has the semiotic power to provoke a wide range of emotions (e. Judging from the amused..” … It was what every fag is . and-perhaps LGPD's most outrageous image. and changing one. fellating a lesbian's black leather strap-on dildo. The stronger images include men dressed in leather whipping willing volunteers. and horror that followed Kennedy's assassination and feel revulsion at such an insensitive camp parody.” The Jackie episode also illustrates that camp consumption can assert gay subculture into new. aestheticizing consumption experience.” People Living with AIDS. In this festival context. as if after President Jack Ken-nedy's 1963 assassination in Dallas” (summary of segment in personal interview). grief. and an appreciation of irony is the result. given the liminal holiday space (Abrahams and Bauman 1978). Lesbian and Gay Pride Day also inspired some informants. providing many instances of consumption that exemplify and make tangible the subcultural boundary and highlighting exaggerated cultural differences between the gay subculture and the society in which it is embedded. and negotiating the subcultural boundary. Really. joy. promoting diversity of form and meaning. presented on the gay and lesbian theater float-a gay man. thoughtful. indicating that the boundary expands to include members and diverse representations that both challenge the ideology of sexual excess and that incorporate more mainstream meanings of sacredness and respectability. Thus. to embody the sexual and licentious spirit of the festival in dress and grooming. I'm gay [laughs]. such as Gareth (WM. and unexpected territories. I observed the most exclusionary and extreme subcultural boundaries publicly enacted during two major festivals: Halloween and Lesbian and Gay Pride Day (LGPD). The process of refining one's appreciation of camp humor is key in attaining a sense of difference. providing dramatization. with the pillbox hat and pink suit. gay nudists. One important subcultural framework that structured the expression and interpretation of boundary consumption is aptly termed “cultivating sexual or offensive imagery. On the other hand. some gay consumers appreciate the humor and the respectful tribute given to Jackie by this image. Bouchet 1995): [A tight T-shirt] was for Gay Pride Day. During LGPD. but splattered in blood and gore. that was the first since I've been a single gay man.Inscribing Gay Festival Consumption into Subcultural Boundaries Pushing the boundary further through consumption sometimes entailed the raw emotional power that strongly offensive. 20). In this latter regard. He saw a friend dressed as Jackie Kennedy Onassis. festivals magnify and foreground oppositional and subversive meanings. Relatedly. her pillbox hat. closer inspection yields the insight that this boundary is a shifting. spectators are also likely to view gay Christians and clergy singing “Jesus Loves Me. or relationship which is spotlighted and set in relief” (DaMatta 1979. During LGPD. On the one hand. sadness) and provides the one unmistakable instance of a culturally enacted boundary. muscular shirtless men dancing on floats to blaring music. and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). when symbolic inversions are the expected norm and when the unexpected and the ghoulish are temporarily normalized. It said. drag queens. expanding the symbolic boundary beyond demographic or physical place. are incorporated into the subcultural boundary. p. and outraged reactions of the onlooking crowds and from informant comments. the preferred deviant meanings are difficult to misconstrue. Russ asserted that gays generally understood camp humor better than heterosexuals and emphasized that it was important that gay men appreciate and “see [experiences] for something else. uninhibited sexuality is celebrated and highlighted (Kates and Belk 2001).

for these standards tend to lead to uniformity. It is those practices that are described in the next section. embedded in consumption. largely through processes that signified opposition to an orthodox mainstream. These consumer practices also promote the continuing diversification of subcultural meaning in relation to the external dominant culture in which the community was embedded. the festival itself had become a municipal institution and even a symbol of civic pride. oppositional imagery and meaning. many. or communicating potentially offensive and sexual sentiments with the T-shirts sold at Out on the Street. LGPD helps ensure that a fuzzy. A supportive. Negotiating Subcultural Appearance Standards In a subculture that valorizes innovative consumption statements. Further. tangibly inscribed on the body (or on personal space). understood by both gays and heterosexuals.g. Thus. Yet the parade's continuing potential to shock and offend (the gay and lesbian theater's float and the nudists with their nonconsumption both created quite a stir!) qual-ifies the event as the quintessential subcultural boundary. intense images such as those of LGPD were largely rejected in favor of cultivating consumption practices that distinguished consumers.. Jerry (Eurasian male. consumption meaning is also leveraged to signify consumption differences from gay others. the subcultural boundary constituted by Pride Day reemerged through interactions between gays and heterosexuals. although LGPD is the most extreme example of cultivating offensive imagery. uncertain. Pride day … it was a celebration too. he leverages these consumer signifiers in order to negotiate distance and difference from heterosexual others. LGPD was the most dramatic example of a recurring pattern of cultivating offensive. interesting. You know. and negotiated subcultural boundary was constructed. informants did not “[sacrifice] the freedom of individual expression in order to perpetuate the look of the status quo from which they derive their prestige” (Schouten and McAlexander 1995. CONSUMING AND NEGOTIATING INDIVIDUAL DISTINCTION In the present context. and attractive aesthetic. Informants described efforts to make somewhat unique statements through consuming. Combined with current marker goods and ironic subcultural frameworks. p. and I was really happy 'cause that's what I wanted it to say. Past research reveals that in subcultures of consumption. Further.wearing … this package you see with the black boots and the short shorts and the tight top. I felt very comfortable in it. (c) consumption comparisons with other gay men and constructing the ghetto queen stereotype. it was just … it was like. I sort of said it to the world too. I mean. inflexible physical appearance standards (e. Judging by the extensive mainstream press coverage and the mayor's official proclamation of LGPD. ‘He looks like such a fag now!’” In this particular instance. evaluating the audience's reaction and calibrating the message for appropriate shock value. In the celebratory. Yet in relation to the internal subculture. it was not at all unusual in the gay ghetto to encounter gay men wearing leather or drag. Negotiating the gay subculture through consuming was a competitive effort to express an individuated. for big muscles) are problematic. enacted through innumerable consumption practices. In the present context. and liminal spirit of this rite of intensification. Gareth used Pride Day as a symbolic resource and assembled his costume to represent a recent symbolic release into what he viewed as a liberated and honest open gay life. “I'm here and I'm queer. excessive. and (d) playing with consumption stereotypes. you know?” And it said that. Gareth playfully constructed a stereotyped version of a gay identity with consumer goods. (b) niched competing through consumption. His ensemble seemed to work. p. hierarchical structures are usually forged by consumers demonstrating high levels of subcultural commitment: “Within group status is a function of an individual's commitment to the group's ideology of consumption” (Schouten and McAlexander 1995. Informants negotiated personal distinction in the following ways: (a) negotiating subcultural appearance standards. heterosexual female friend of his indicated her surprise and mild disapproval at his stereotypical presentation: “A straight woman who's known me for many. the sleeves. 50). late 20s) . 56). in what amounted to a reflexive status competition. many years had commented to my friend.

indicated that he used beauty products (lisped in a mocking tone). At first. With this irony. when discussing appearance standards.” suggesting that his devotion to appearance is tinged with a knowing irony. Bert (WM. Bert found himself on the horns of a dilemma when confessing his liking for and use of these products. I'd wear whatever I had and it was no big deal. Not just the types of clothes that I bought. I'm a lot more concerned with … appearance. and it was pretty … not up to date as in the next trend. There's the in-joke about the one way to really get a fag mad is mess with his hair. Jerry notes that his extensive wardrobe is current but not overly fashionable. Haircuts. I understood Jerry's grooming practices as conformity to subcultural codes. For example. he expressed sincere enjoyment of his relative freedom and safety in the gay community to use stereotypically feminine products such as cosmetics. but I guess the style of clothes that I bought and the fact that everything matched really well now and everything fit really well. as a gay man. There's this thing about hair in the community [laughs]. he feels free to joke about the “thing about hair. I used to go just to the corner barber store and say “Hi! Just cut it. It looked good…. that's another thing. So what you never do is touch somebody's hair. useful in achieving symbolic repair when faced with the possibility of being subsumed by a stereotypical label. we both acknowledged the cultural tension between enjoying gendered flexi-bility and cultivating body aesthetics. he acknowledged that use of these same products perpetuated the discouraging competitiveness of the mas-culinist singlehood theme that added to his anxiety. Yet he does negotiate distinction in a subtle way: mitigating his tension about living up to gay fashion stereotypes.” And now.reflects on this predicament in the next passage. he informed me that he is not a mindless slave to subculturally dictated fashion norms. But I find that there's a big thing to do with image in the community. In that particular moment during the interview. On the other hand. for he felt compelled to observe competitive appearance norms. 20s). That changed … 'cause a lot of self-image issues came up and caused me to change my behavior in terms of spending money more on personal things like clothing and personal care products and stuff like that. but now made sure that his wardrobe was current: I was a lot less concerned about the way I looked when I was in the closet. But it also contributed to his (and others') feelings of inadequacy and constraint. And I changed my spending habits in terms of types of clothes that I bought. this control is contested by the diverse subcultural meanings and a gendered proscription against masculine vanity that conflict with bodily competitiveness. Bert conveyed to me his ambiguous feelings about these products. Despite his outward conformity. it was current. inscribed into this product use. Negotiating appearance standards was a complex issue for informants. Use of these products was liberating to him. This feeling of constraint subtly undermines and contradicts his concern about negotiating a sense of individuality through consumption. He disclosed that he had felt unconcerned with his appearance and wardrobe until after he came out of the closet. . Although the body is a target for social control in both gay subculture and mainstream culture (Bordo 1993). On the one hand. Further.

20s) enjoyed entertaining at his apartment and illustrates the tasteful restraint required when competing through consumption and avoiding the ghetto queen label. He achieves distinction by choosing to restrict his moves to a different competitive niche. strict adherence to subcultural meanings (such as aesthetic bodily competitiveness) may lead to social censure.Niched Competing through Consumption The subcultural meaning of bodily competition through consuming is contradicted by a common lived reality: despite the prevalent stereotype. Marshall (WM. When these two strands of subcultural meaning are combined and customized by those informants who cannot compete in the body competition. informants expressed a subtle contempt for consumption tastes that. most gay men do not have perfectly muscular bodies. and thank God. constructing individual differences in relation to him.” an emic term describing different versions of hopelessly extreme. Representing the gay subcultural analogue of aristocratic contempt toward the crass and striving efforts of the nouveau riche.) Although none of the informants confessed to actually living like (or being) this idealized clone. but note that he employed it during a liminal occasion that intensifies group solidarity through exaggerated and celebratory expression of subcultural meanings. he was wearing a Calvin Klein denim jacket that looked like any other denim jacket but he had to stress that it was a Calvin Klein. Well. the ghetto queen has forsaken his agency and individuality by becoming overcome by the gay scene with little reflexive. particularly internationally branded status cosmetics (Lancome. my skullcap. Sam resorted to another traditional arbiter of invidious status and distinction: money and brands. (Above. For informants. If you didn't have the in labels … [stops for a pause] [Interviewer: Labels?] The Calvin Klein label … just for example. stereotypical gay consumers who work. who has a slender frame. Sam. he served as a useful comparative and imagistic reference for internally negotiating status with identity-related consumption. to them. were somehow too gay: . and it still had the label in it. socialize. and copiously copulate exclusively in the geographic and social confines of the gay area. I was wearing my labels last night too [laughs]. handsome appearances. Further. bounded competition in this field of invidious consumption demonstrates the ways that different categories of gay men leverage their physical and financial assets to compete in a more restricted scope. this new clone is programmed into a stereotyped gay lifestyle and has no worthwhile distinguishing personal or moral qualities. attempts to negotiate these contradictions. 'cause someone brought them up yesterday. the result is niched competition reflexively expressive of social meanings. He tried on my hat. attempting to communicate alternative social meanings and differentiate themselves in the eyes of gay others. and he was semi-impressed that it was Club Monaco instead of a no-name. “we have money. Sam's strategy of niched. Given that his slim body type is not valorized in the gay community I studied. he spoke at length of his enjoyment of consuming. eat. self-expressive meanings sanctioned by the subculture. Like the hypermasculine gay clone stereotype of the 1970s (Levine 1998). Clinique. Informants constructed the “ghetto queen. etc. critical thought and discerning individualistic taste.) and clothing (Calvin Klein). He emphasized that the consistent message he and his friends tried to communicate was. During his interview. extending the reach of subcultural meanings to mainstream brands: Just recently I've started going back to [brands in clothing]. see Belk and Costa 1998. a big thing that I've found is labels.” Given that not all men can attain a muscular physique. the predominantly masculine meanings of bodily competition are contradicted by more feminine. live. dwell. Consumption Comparisons with Other Gay Men and the Ghetto Queen As the following segment illustrates. Gareth's pride day outfit ironically personifies the ghetto queen stereotype. and fashionable wardrobes.

and that was his gay room. Informants voiced criticism of the way that some gay men live. what we might label ultra-masculine consumption practices such as wearing leather.My apartment. personified by the ghetto queen stereotype.. [Interviewer: What do you mean-cones?] … like phallic symbols. and consume exclusively in the gay ghetto and become narrowed and tainted by the experience. Occasionally. collects Grecian and Roman columns and pieces and criticizes the extreme consumption practices of specific acquaintances. Clem (Asian male. despite his stated preference for alternative leisure pastimes. some consumption practices are labeled too gay (and therefore of suspect taste) or too stereotypically feminine or hypermasculine (butch). 20s) notes that he still enjoys baseball games with his heterosexual friends. mas-culinist discourses still inflect consumption patterns. work. in a symbolic inversion. and condemnation of team sports. a feminist political stance. One year later. Further. Sometimes. decorating one's home in an Early Penis style. exaggeratedly effeminate or overblown). I've heard about this one guy's house … decorated in Early Penis [laughs]. he informed me that he had moved into an apartment a few miles away from Corner and Williams because he had judged the former location too gay after all. overt denigration of practices deemed feminine (such as certain articles of clothing or drag) is enough to distinguish one's own practices. Thus. for he viewed sudden changes as unsettling. Yet he also emphasized that his decorating and furniture choices were a gay look because they were too elegant and beautiful to be associated with the denigrated straight other. while Marshall is wary of the social implications of consuming in too gay a manner. He had aluminum cones and big phallic symbols everywhere. Cones and cylinder … she didn't have a plastic dick … on the shelf. further. Significantly. an apartment only two minutes' walk from the intersection of Corner and Williams. as appropriate for his mainstream gay identity. these consumption preferences are presented in the form of personal somatic longings that informants still hold for consumption practices frequently enjoyed previous to coming out. one of his favorite living room decorations. Such preferences might prompt . but his bathroom was very gay. A sudden change might compromise Marshall's sense that he is genuinely expressing his own personal taste. I don't have that. when I revisited him.e. for only the denigrated subculture gays would live too close to the ghetto. I don't think. included dark woods such as mahogany with lots of tassels. Marshall's aestheticization of his personal space demonstrates a commitment not to shared subcultural appearance standards but to cultivating a somewhat unique identity through tasteful consuming of his living space. but he had cones and things…. actual change of identity-related consumption is managed gradually and partially while holding onto some key aspects (Marshall still enjoyed the tassels in his living room and incorporated them into the new apartment's decor). informants experienced and structured consumption around these two built-in tensions. contrary to the stereotypical gay fashion victim. For example. Marshall's derisive laughter and contempt is directed at the consumption practices of other gay men who exhibit consumption styles that are too gay (i. His new designed look. Thus. Such derogatory comparisons illustrate that despite informants' apparently sincere and open-minded stances toward the arbitrariness of gender. Informants bemusedly regard and ultimately denigrate these consumption extremes. he also ensures that he consumes gay enough. By doing so. a furniture queen. I've been to one guy's place whose apartment was as similar to this in style and taste. and indicates his will not to follow trends perceived as common among other gay men. to negotiate tensions. Marshall negotiates his status as a mainstream gay and decidedly not a subculture gay. avoiding the stigma associated with the demonized heterosexual stereotype. Marshall. and he had … black-and-white pictures of naked men on the wall. Yet. or spending leisure time exclusively cruising for sex in the gay ghetto can taint someone as too gay. As Marshall illustrates. is quite as gay as some apartments I've seen…. Marshall described his home.

Given many informants' desire for sociability. and Jack and Oliver wore combat boots. his lifestyle is expressed by investing some of his spare time and cash in gay political causes. exact public adherence to stringent mas-culinist appearance standards can invite social censure. Oliver and I met to go out tonight. threatening their social standing. wealthy. For friends of his to note how masculine he is in a gently sardonic manner. tight clothing or muscular bodies to connote strength. negotiating their distance from them as stereotypes. sexual prowess. narcissistic public display inviting others' admiration. doing drag occasionally. de rigueur gay uniform. openly demonstrating varying degrees of commitment to the gay subculture. the stereotype is acknowledged as an explicit role that can be assumed or discarded at will with one's clothing while having some fun. works out at the gym for fitness and for admiring other men. and vest. Although he enjoys doing a ‘little bit of drag’ now and then. still playfully competed. consumed products and services associated with the gay ghetto. Godfrey was in a particular set of social circumstances: older. narcissistic posturing for social advantage. and partners. Thus. “Standing and Modeling” (S&M) is an emic and ironic term for sexually charged. or emphasize that one consumes only some symbolic markers of the subculture. masculine beauty. ghetto queen stereotypes (embodied by the “fag uniform”) are reflexively and ironically acknowledged among gay men in order to neutralize their potentially damning social consequences. the following passage is an illustration of the ways that some older and partnered gay men. a longstanding partner). As the above passage suggests. shorts. the majority of informants disclosed that they commonly associated with other gay men. avoiding the stereotype but still demonstrating his partial commitment to a politicized gay identity. ‘Mary! We girls are all wearing the same dress! We'd better go home and change!’ [laughter] I observed that we dressed fairly similarly-tight white T-shirts. while not participating directly in the aesthetic status game. Robbie. S&M (sadomasochism) refers to esoteric sexual practices involving the administering of pain and associated with S&M enthusiasts in informants' narratives. attends Brotherhood meetings. prosperous doctor who usually avoids the gay ghetto. By contrast. It also demonstrates gay informants' ability to use deflating. romance. Those performing S&M strike a pose and display either expensive. admiring young men at the gym. athletic. Robbie said. represents informants' efforts to recontextualize the term to reveal the egotism and narcissism of those attractive men who give attitude and seem forever beyond the reach of most men. and socialized on the gay scene. as he phrases it. Playing with Consumption Stereotypes Despite the stigmatizing potential of the ghetto queen consumption stereotype. too. warily reminding him that the ghetto queen stereotype lurks at either end of the traditional gender continuum. no longer possible. Standing and modeling. this possibility was not easily accomplished. given his age. Instead. Standing and modeling is a form of attitude that informants interpreted as arrogant. and this association opened them up to the continual threat of being identified as and tainted by the ghetto queen label themselves. Perhaps informants' most effective way of rejecting the ghetto queen stereotype and the meanings it evoked was having limited involvement in the gay subculture. Jim (WM. he is happy to spend most of his time at home with his partner … or with friends” (summary of interview and field notes). freedom rings. sex. leather chaps. Usually. Because he already possessed or had accomplished many of things he wanted in life (money. and partnered. 40s) reported that. 40s) is a ‘happily married’ (15 years!). a fashionable townhouse. he wore only “part of the uniform and the identity. and dominance. ironic commentary as a means of criticizing consumption practices that reveal the ghetto queen. achieved commonly through individualistic consuming: “Jack. We shared a knowing smile among us and Oliver wryly observed that we were all dressed in our ‘fag uniforms’” (field notes). when he lived in San Francisco during the gay heyday of the 1970s. if only for good-natured fun . it was unnecessary for him to cultivate invidious bodily aesthetics and demonstrate commitment to the subculture-and. and by using the subculture and all of the activities it offered as autotelic resources. Thus. informants assume that the ghetto queen has adopted the role so thoroughly in all areas of consuming that he can no longer successfully exercise this ironic performance.” judiciously selecting the Levi's jeans without the cowboy hat. informants could not altogether avoid consuming in a stereotypical manner. In this respect. Those informants who asserted their independence from the scene were usually older (in their forties) and cohabiting with long-term partners: “Godfrey (WM. Another way of playing with the ghetto queen stereotype (and neutralizing its negative social consequences) is to wear only parts of what one perceives as the current. In this latter respect. however. to resolve the tension between individual negotiation and the conformity associated with subcultural meanings.

status is not “the results of an individual's commitment to the group's consumption values” but is negotiated through eclectically drawing on subcultural meanings and applying a distinct spin. dismay. describing one prevalent gay consumer aesthetic of 1970s. sexual jokes. Al later said. as a means of achieving personal distinction. boring or cliched). may lead to this conclusion. to the shock. consumption was aestheticized and difference enacted by what is termed “doing high camp” or “camping it up”: During the champagne brunch this morning at Butterfly's several of us (a crowd of about 12 gay men in their late 30s. Signorile 1997). It's Stella Artois. In contrast. frequented by both heterosexuals and gays. Doing high camp means aestheticizing a group consumption activity with exaggeratedly affected effeminate gestures (e. expressions (e. Given the contested cultural meanings. Camping is socially forgivable (i. achieves symbolic distance from the ghetto queen stereotype) only if the camp humor is not tired (i.. Further. p. wrists flapping).” (But Artois pronounced with a hard “t” sound at the end. “Bitch!”). although located miles from the gay ghetto. the deceiving clone label. 49). started to laugh loudly. exaggerated lisping. But given the contradictory subcultural meanings. the structure cannot configure so simply. Members knew in advance that their rather obnoxious behavior would likely be tolerated with no repercussions. camping it up includes a mock competition of who can make the funniest off-color remarks without being truly hurtful. 40s. the .and social bonding. blind commitment to the subculture through strict adherence to one subcultural meaning is fraught with social risk. a contested structure is negotiated through consumption. for it often entailed being identified with the ghetto queen stereotype and risking one's reputational currency for being uniquely innovative and attractive. Klein 1986. tease each other obliquely about penis size. and amusement of others present and other customers. and discuss jokingly their sexual accomplishments. Schouten and McAlexander 1995. sexual attractions.e. Although some informants acquired status. Overall.e.) The whole group erupted with laughter. high camp enacted difference and a strongly offensive subcultural boundary with the other restaurant patrons. I was referred to as Stella for the rest of the afternoon (field notes). others achieved it through niched competition in other arenas. while choice and negotiation usually predominate in the consumption associated with internal subcultural status competition.. and 50s). friends. it's not Stephanie. The whole episode included screeching laughter.g. The incident also illustrates that symbolically opposing an orthodox moral and sexual order generally governs boundary-related consumption.g. sexual teasing. Certainly.g.. ribald remarks. was known as a gay friendly space. from initial observation one might claim that negotiating status in the gay subculture was founded on a simple hierarchy of conformity to a dominant ethos (e. cries of “Mary!” or “Bitch!” … After many had disclosed their camp girl names. and partners through their adherence to bodily appearance standards. and arch commentary on the private doings.. Schouten and McAlexander 1995. bawdily and ironically satirizing queen stereotypes. In this case.” I responded: “Actually. tell off-color. In contrast to a subculture of consumption (Fox 1987. and reputed penis sizes of those present. Indeed.. Butterfly's. despite the obviously uncomfortable looks of surrounding diners. During these episodes. “Stephanie!” (referring to me) “You've been very quiet. This incident also demonstrates that one could sometimes consume in a very gay way indeed.

g. Future subcultural investigations may theorize the consumption diversity that is also apparent in leisure and other minority subcultures.. for ethnicity is continually in flux. Jeff (WM. Demonstrating a high level of adherence to any one of the subcultural meanings is not a socially approved practice. Consumers may use the fragments and rearticulate them in different contexts.p. individualistic and distinct consumption practices in the present subculture) or condemned (stereotypical adherence to subcultural meanings). are diffused across physical and social space. the range of forms may be limited in any historical moment. p.. improvising and refashioning identity and subculture out of the fragments on the menu of consumer culture. Schouten and McAlexander 1995. style. unlike the leisure subcultures of consumption. p. It structures consumption throughout society. competitive bodily aesthetics). The Structured Oppositionality of Subcultural Consumption This ethnography demonstrates that subcultural meanings are promiscuous and push against symbolic boundaries. LGPD. the ethos of gay subculture is contradictory and conflicting.. one must conform through a mode of consumption that values self-expression and individual distinction. Further. celebrity gossip. providing explanations of how subcultures change over time.e. 16. In one notable informant narrative. Instead of applying knowledge and skill within particular activities like low cultural capital (LCC) consumers and the insider members of subcultures of consumption (see Holt 1998. with a high school education and from an LCC working-class. However. leather. 73) astutely notes that the essentialist trait perspective of ethnicity should be replaced with a more socially constructed notion. sexual meanings of the subculture).) However. but the fragments are often historically institutionalized (e. He likens the ethnic consumer to a bricoleur.structure of the gay subculture is difficult to define and uncertain. etc. Addressing the topic of ethnic subcultural consumption. safety. paradoxically. these preferred meanings may be imported into the subculture (e. Consumption and Subcultural Capital The other interesting difference between the present study and past ethnographies is that most subcultural studies theorize that internal status competition is based on a coherent. orthodox mainstream culture. given the internal incoherence and contestation. that is. fundamentalist Christian . consumption and subcultural capital. The resulting configurations may be either socially approved in practice (i. camp. the present informants appear to emulate the “combinatorial inventiveness” and semiotic playfulness that are hallmark HCC characteristics. and are institutionalized and legitimized. and understanding consumption at the collective level. Instead. despite the co-presence of homogenizing social forces of authenticity and commitment. as well as one requiring individual negotiation of distinction.. there is a direct parallel between the present findings and the individualistic tastes of Holt's (1998) high cultural capital (HCC) consumers. and how new reconfigurations come into being. Bouchet (1995. boundary maintenance) and the negotiation required to achieve status within the subculture. Thus. Thus.g. naturalized insider knowledge. for. cultivating individual distinction is the basis for garnering subcultural capital and is practically achieved by eclectically and individualistically combining elements of subcultural meaning.g. particularly as opposition in response to a presumably unsympathetic. often in consumption episodes (see also Barth 1969.g. Costa and Bamossy 1995). (In contrast. This section summarizes the articles' contributions and implications relating to the following: the structured oppositionality of subcultural consumption. het-eropatriarchal meanings) or local and particularistic (e.). or expertise shared among subcultural members. cultural capital is more diffuse. Subcultural capital usually does not have wider ramifications beyond the local context. internal ethos of the subculture and the application of subcultural capital. and gender flexibility are expressed. 20s). This ethnography adds to Bouchet's (1995) insight in that oppositionality of consumption practice is decidedly structured both by the interplay of conformity and opposition in relation to the heterosexual dominant culture (i. sexism. see Holt [1998]. 50). renegotiated through boundary processes and interactions with other groups. as subcultural meanings come to inhabit diverse forms and contents (e. nor could it be.e.. the present study demonstrates that the gay quest for distinction is based on a more complex and subtle dynamic: the subcultural meanings of blatant sexuality. DISCUSSION This article contributes to knowledge in consumer research by addressing the need for a revised theoretical framework that recognizes that a monolithic hierarchy of meanings need not structure subcultural consumption and that intrasubcul-tural processes of negotiation and distinction also play sig-nificant roles in inflecting subcultural consumption.. Yet it should also be emphasized that rearticulation of gay subcultural meanings is a structured oppositionality.

Such consumer play includes a strategic type of consumption in which consumers. branded commodities (Holt 1998. 3). whether they are Belk and Costa's (1998) mountain men (claiming they are “the men who don't belong”).e. supports individuation. Unlike in the leisure-oriented subcultures of consumption. a profound secondary socialization into gay mores. Thompson and Hirschman 1995. 21). gradually adopt the ironic perspective of the subcultural context. consumerand minority-oriented subcultures are valued for the semiotic resources that help cultivate individuated identity. consumption is reflexive. Such protests were answered with a barrage of remarks in support of gay rights and love. p. 395). In this regard. Other contemporary subcultural studies forward the similar key insight that subcultural consumers of different ilk do much the same thing. 341) terms. challenges the initial socialization into class-based behaviors and meaning. Schouten and McAlexander's (1995) senior bikers customizing their motorcycles to display elevated status. but not determinative. subcultural consumption patterns (see Bagozzi 2000. During my fieldwork at the youth group. Jeff informed me of his new business: inventing chain-mail vests from scrap metal for club wear. the present study demonstrates that subcultures offer rich preferred meanings in which consumers imbibe. in an era when high cultural capital consumers must negotiate the contradiction of producing subjectively distinct meanings from mass-marketed. repeatedly experiencing the contradictions between the naturalized mainstream world and the alternative moral order of the subculture.p. clothing. subcultural capital manifests in the ability to aestheticize consumption objects and apply local meaning. internal to the subculture (see Signorile 1997. In Holt's (1997. and subcultural meanings (i. The subcultural perspective. and experience consumption objects as status markers” (Holt 1998. history. Thornton's (1995) rave consumers contrasting their practices with those of the mainstream. This finding is especially interesting in light of the informants' felt constraints on consumption set by the mainstream gender norms associated with hegemonic masculinity and rein-scripted into gay men's subculture (Levine 1998. recounted both his previous incarnation as a punk and his current ability to originally and playfully aestheticize food. it is highly likely that these subcultural consumers negotiate a special individualistic cachet from their subcultural affiliations. 149). and other consumption objects. Further. subcultures offer buttressing opportunities for consumers to “achieve self-enhancement through group actions and achievement of group goals” and interpretive frameworks for the socially intentional actions that characterize collective. Future research may focus on other consumption contexts that seem to augment cultural capital through socialization into alternative meanings. Particularly. often resulting in a rich panoply of obvious and subtly diverse consumption practices. Consistent with Bagozzi's (2000) framework. I often observed newcomers objecting to gay life on the basis of common religious or social arguments. Further. and engage in the local micropolitics of taste. acquire. Although internal consumption differences largely go untheorized in these past studies.. effectively converting his subcultural capital into economic capital. At the emic level. and membership is explicitly and conspicuously conscious. p. in constant and chronic interactions. gay men qualify as a “highly stigmatized and politicized” collectivity that “understand and enact consumption practices centered around a single coherent framework of tastes expressive of a social identity. Informants from a wide spectrum of class backgrounds told of similar playful and individualistic consumption practices. gay men indeed “learn about. How may we understand this intriguing anomaly that the gay subculture poses to consumer theory? Tastes are usually formed during consumers' family upbringing and education. learned recognition of its symbolic boundaries in relation to included and excluded others. Consumers achieve their identity projects through socialization into the meanings of the subculture.” Nonetheless. Thus. As Bourdieu has noted (1984). Kozinets's (2001) Star Trek fans managing spoiled identity. the subculture of this study does share some important features with past for individual identity projects. . in turn. Understanding Consumption at the Collective Level The present study also has implications for our continuing understanding of consumption at the collective level. p. Signorile 1997) and by a sexual and panoptic gaze fixated on the body. subcultures help some consumers create and preserve unique identities through various forms of consumption practices. and conscious effort to achieve status within the group. the present informants engage in many reflexive and strategic consumption practices in order to negotiate individual distinction within the in-group and difference from the dominant heterosexual culture. as this study describes. or Fox's (1987) punks trying to attain the most extreme presentation. In other words. In other words. In other words. coming out) occurs and augments cultural capital with the local subcultural variant. one year after the study finished. as they internalize the class habitus (Bourdieu 1984). The present study describes a subculture that holds a much more pervasive and significant presence for its members' lives. the present study illustrates many strategic consumer responses embedded in a visible community that. p. the habitus is influential.

The present framework may be applied to research of contemporary subcultures. and the privileged status of this knowledge. Roger D. “Marketing and the Redefinition of Ethnicity. Susan (1993). Arnould served as associate editor for this article. And consumer identity construction. Martin's Press.” Journal of Consumer Research. “On the Concept of Intentional Action in Consumer Behavior. Altman. socialize into a set of alternative meanings institutionalized in the local context. and Richard Bauman (1978). Barth. and particularly in the present gay context. A Place at the Table. exclusion. ed. London: Allen & Unwin. and consumption is explicitly inflected by social intention and the role of the group. NY: Cornell University Press. Dennis (1982). Holt's framework is unquestionably worthwhile for autotelic consumption practices among collectivities that do not share explicit membership concerns. that gay identity was under attack by the forces of homophobia. and Melanie Wallendorf (1994). Dominique (1995). yet recurring. Dykes on Bikes vs. The authors' subcultural analysis may indeed have conflated the divergent social meanings of radically different consumption collectivities (e. Revised March 2002. membership is usually conscious. Bordo. Janeen A. New York: Poseidon. Russell W.. there were times when informants and others told me. 25 (December). 218–240. ed. Bouchet. consumers do indeed become reflexively conscious about symbolic boundaries. Fredrik. lifestyle case for which Holt's (1997) theoretical framework does not fully account. Bagozzi. David Glen Mick served as editor and Eric J. It also suggests a set of theoretical boundary conditions. and activities in which consumers view their identities as stigmatized or somehow apart from mainstream others. However. Arnould. as Holt acutely notes. 193–208. Babcock. (2000). 68–94. “The Mountain Man Myth: A Contemporary Consuming Fantasy. Barbara A. . reflexively understand symbolic boundaries (at least to some extent). 345–346) extensive critiques of Schouten and McAlexander's (1995) subculture of consumption formulation.” in The Reversible World: Symbolic Inversion in Art and Society. may not be entirely applicable to subcultural consumption contexts. Bawer. That is. “Ranges of Festival Behavior. particularly for a politicized and stigmatized community of gay men.” Journal of Marketing Research. Unbearable Weight: Feminism. social meaning. The Homosexualization of America. and strive to achieve individual distinction relative to others who share the subculture. 484–504. Belk.” in Marketing in a Multicultural World. becomes a salient and political affair. 27 (December). and Janeen Arnold Costa (1998). “Market-Oriented Ethnography: Interpretation Building and Marketing Strategy Formulation. the Americanization of Homosexuality. in all sincerity. the present analysis demonstrates that Holt's (1997. (1969). New York: St.) and may not have acknowledged collective influences on social identity. with subcultural consumers.” Journal of Consumer Research. In settings such as the Harley subculture. and the Body. London: Sage. Bruce (1993). Ithaca. Western Culture. Costa and Gary Bamossy. [Received September 2000. in contrast to his own poststructuralist lifestyle analysis.From this perspective. moms and pops. Eric J. a key implication of the present study for consumer research is that gay subculture represents a special. brand communities. Consumer practices are read and displayed with interpretive frameworks that incorporate explicit concerns about inclusion. Indeed. Holt (1997) compares his cultural analysis of largely autotelic consumption practices (associated with collectivities operating without members' explicit understanding that they have connections with like others) with Harley use.pp.] REFERENCES Abrahams. Berkeley: University of California Press. Richard P. usually a tacit concern with consumers most of the time. Thus. a special case of strategic consumption where status is ritualistically and repetitively rendered apparent and socially distinct from others. Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference. ed. 388–396. etc. classification of people and objects. 31 (Novem-ber).g.

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