Conclusion: Subversion and Utopia  
1. Judges are not the subculture in question in Rounders, of course, but they are treated as a parallel. It is Professor Petrovsky’s story about finding the law, in fact, that inspires Mike to pursue his life as a card player. Fredric Jameson argues that there is a Utopian element in all works of popular culture—“that dimension of even the most degraded type of mass culture which remains implicitly, and no matter how faintly, negative and critical of the social order from which, as a product and a commodity, it springs” (29). Clearly, there is a potential for social criticism within the subculture genre. Subversion of the mainstream social order is, in some sense, built into the genre as a whole. Characters throughout the genre echo Bodhi’s comments from Point Break, describing those in the mainstream as “dead souls . . . in metal coffins.” Often, people in the mainstream are represented simply as (to quote GoodFellas) “suckers [with] no balls.” In films like Rounders, Boiler Room, The Color of Money and The Grifters, for example, the mainstream is personified in the mark—the person on the other end of the phone, or sitting across the card table, who’s about to be taken for everything he’s worth and has no idea what’s even happening. In other films the opposition is less antagonistic, but no less real. Subcultural subjects in Groove, Punchline, Blue Crush and City Hall, for example, always carry the knowledge that what they do is not accepted by society at large—and they form their identities around that oppositional status. The opposition may even be, to some extent, fabricated—as with the entire rodeo circuit’s disdain for bullriders in 8 Seconds, or the “shame” of becoming a judge in Rounders.1 At the very least, in any case, films within the genre—and the genre as a whole—express some criticism of mainstream society.   Home
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Rounders (68 sec.)
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      These criticisms, however, seem to stop at a fairly shallow level. In context, the represented opposition to the mainstream is more symbolic than real. It is ascribed to members of these subcultures as evidence that the subculture itself is real, and that its members are committed. The narrative purpose of this opposition, after all, is to tell us something more about the protagonist and his subculture, not to tell us something about society at large. Other than these moments of opposition, in fact, mainstream society receives very little screen time, positive or negative. In essence, an oppositional stance is simply a narrative element tying these subcultures together. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in an article on Ethnic Studies, points out that “the threat to the margin comes not from assimilation or dissolution—from any attempt to denude it of its defiant alterity—but, on the contrary, from the center’s attempts to preserve that alterity, which result in the homogenization of the other as, simply, other” (298). A similar homogenization is at work in the subculture genre, I think.
    This is not necessarily in contradiction to Jameson’s thesis of the “Utopian element” in works of popular culture. As he points out:
  The works of mass culture, even if their function lies in the legitimation of the existing order—or some worse one—cannot do their job without deflecting in the latter’s service the deepest and most fundamental hopes and fantasies of the collectivity, to which they can therefore, no matter in how distorted a fashion, be found to have given voice. (30)

Lévi-Strauss argues that “mythical thought always works from the awareness of oppositions towards their progressive mediations” (188). Barthes, along with other contemporary theorists of myth, suggests that myth works by creating oppositions, and then resolving the dilemma (153). Robert Ray and Will Wright, among others, have shown that the same tendency is common in film. Genre films, especially, seem to operate by presenting—and then resolving—binary conflicts. As I have previously pointed out, the subculture film works in this same way, using essentially the same conflict that is at work in the classical Western. The compromise position of the subculture film represents, I think, just the deflection that Jameson refers to above. The marginalization of subcultural subjects give voice to our “deepest and most fundamental hopes and fantasies,” as well as to our deepest fears and reservations. And the protagonist’s ability to choose both social belonging and individual freedom is just the sort of “fantasy bribe” that Jameson says all works of mass culture must offer (29).