The post-modern experience is that everyone has got to be marginal. That’s where the goods are.

Stuart Hall, “The Politics of Representation”


1. For the sake of brevity, only a few films are listed here as examples. For a more complete list of such films, please see the Appendix.
Since the mid-1980s, there have been a number of films which each focus on a particular subgroup within American society. The 80s saw, for instance, The Color of Money (focusing on pool hustlers), Wall Street (stock brokers) and Top Gun (fighter pilots)1. The trend continued through the 90s with films like Backdraft (firefighters), 8 Seconds (rodeo riders), and Rounders (poker players). More recently, we have had The Fast & The Furious (street racers), Blue Crush (surfers), and others. Almost thirty such films have come out of Hollywood in the last twenty years. While apparently unrelated, these movies actually share a large number of common elements. Character types, plot lines, themes, even particular uses of staging and lighting reappear again and again throughout the films. In short, these movies seem to make up a genre, or at least the beginnings of one. (For lack of a more imaginative term, I refer to films in the genre as subculture films.)
    Several critics have argued for a particular definition of film genres—one which would only include films identified by both producers and audience members as belonging to a defined genre. Thomas Schatz, for example, mentions an implicit “contract” between studios and film audiences (93). This “contract” concept is widely used throughout genre criticism. Thomas Sobchack states that “consciously or unconsciously, both the genre filmmaker and the genre audiences are aware of the prior films and the way in which each of these concrete examples is an attempt to embody once again the essence of a well-known story” (103). The subculture film genre is, of course, not widely recognized. But as Sobchack has pointed out, unconscious awareness is still a form of recognition. A viewer who has seen Bonnie and Clyde, Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces, but who is unaware of the road-movie genre, will still have some (conscious or unconscious) generic awareness—and certain expectations—when watching Thelma and Louise for the first time. The same sort of recognition and expectations are at work, I believe, with movies in the subculture genre.
  Genre Analysis
  Race, Gender,
    and Class
  The Postmodern
  Works Cited and
    Films Referenced

Punchline (2 min. 2 sec.)
Quicktime 14.7MB
Real 3.4MB

Rounders (2 min. 8 sec.)
Quicktime 16MB
Real 3.6MB

In calling these films subculture films, I am aware that I am using a particularly expansive definition of the word. Subculture is most often used to describe a particular kind of subgroup within society—a subgroup, that is, which is clearly set apart from the mainstream by fashion/style, language, music, etc. Members of subcultures typically define their identities in opposition to the culture of the mainstream, as well. The term carries a connotation, in other words, of counterculture. While those features may not seem to apply to the groups on which many of these films focus—firemen, Air Force pilots, stock brokers, and the like—I think that the term subculture is still the best one with which to refer to these groups. In any case, as I hope to show, the distinction between these subgroups and those more traditionally referred to as “subcultures” may not be as clear as it seems. In the context of these films, at least, I don’t believe that it is.