Lyotard describes postmodernity as a time in which the grand narrative
has lost its credibility, regardless of what mode of unification it uses (37).
Large social institutionssuch as nation-states, political parties,
and historical traditionshave lost their attraction and been replaced
by nodal points which individuals move between and among.
It may even be
said that the system can and must encourage such movement; . . .
the novelty of an unexpected move, with its correlative
displacement of a partner or group of partners, can supply the system
with that increased performativity it forever demands and consumes. (15)
It is exactly those
nodal points that the subcultures of this genre represent. Just as actors
like Tom Cruise (and, we may predict, Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguezeach
of whom have appeared in two so far) can appear in one subculture movie
after another, so can audiences go to one after another and find something
with which to identify. The individual in postmodern society finds himself
in a state of flux with regard to the world around him. As a result, his
own identity may indeed be more fluidand more fractured.
In his analysis of postmodern political economy,
David Harvey expands on this idea of the fractured society. Harvey identifies
a sea-change in the manifestations of capitalism since 1973 (189).
The economic boom which followed World War II was based on a set of practices
commonly referred to as Fordist (or Fordist- Keynesianist, or Taylorist-Fordist,
etc.). One characteristic of that system, among others, was an approach
to the marketplace as a sort of coherent monolith which demanded (or more
appropriately, could be induced to demand) a set of standardized, efficiently
produced commodities. The Fordist labor market, likewise, was standardized
and rational. As the three major actorslarge corporations,
the nation-state, and organized laborcontrolled the mechanisms,
the American economy seemed quite stable (133). After the first major
recession of the postwar period (in 1973), however, a new approach was
The post-Fordist markets (both labor and consumption)
are recognized as diverse and volatile. After 1973, on the consumer
side, there was more than a little criticism of the blandness of the quality
of life under a regime of standardized mass consumption (Harvey
139). On the production side, meanwhile, there was also unrest. Denied
access to privileged work in mass production, large segments of the workforce
were equally denied access to the much-touted joys of mass consumption.
This was a sure formula for discontent (138). The new system
which arose in respond to these circumstances is what Harvey refers to
as flexible accumulation. Essentially, capitalists began to count
on flexibility with respect to labour processes, labour markets,
products, and patterns of consumption (147). Niche marketing,
the outsourcing of labor, and production abroad characterize post-Fordist
The post-Fordist consumer has also taken a new
position. Under Fordism, individuals sought commodities which largely
resembled each other. In purchases, utility was a more significant factor
than the expression of the buyers identity. Taste was standardized
to some degree, over time and space, throughout mainstream culture. But
with post-Fordism, the relatively stable aesthetic of Fordist modernism
has given way to all the ferment, instability, and fleeting qualities
of a postmodernist aesthetic that celebrates difference, ephemerality,
spectacle, fashion, and the commodification of cultural forms (Harvey
156). It is this postmodern condition of fracturing that is most evident
in the subculture genre.
The cultural effects (and, to some extent, evidence)
of this change have been widely noted. Television, in particular, has
reflected it. Certainly, post-Fordist television offers a multitude of
choices which might be taken as symbolic of the postmodern condition.
But more significant to our analysis here is the change in what is expected
of the television audience itself. Whereas the lowest common
denominator philosophy had defined popularity in terms of brute
ratings, the emergent philosophy reshaped popularity in terms of the quest
for quality demographicsa giant step toward the niche
audience strategies of the 1980s and 1990s (Reeves, Rodgers,
and Epstein 271).
The post-Fordist focus on niche marketing, in
particular, has been significant. Consumers are no longer compelled to
identify (commercially) with the market at large. Rather, corporations
have capitalized on the flexible identity in order to sell an ever-changing
image to the individual consumer. The difference, ephemerality,
spectacle, [and] fashion to which Harvey refers have become pinions
of the overconsumption which characterizes the last three decades. As
Jean Baudrillard describes it, the postmodern market is spread throughout
a consumption society. The postmodern market, as he describes
it, is based on models, pre-packaged sets of tastes and desires
with which consumers identify. As a result, to differentiate oneself
is precisely to affiliate to a model, to label oneself by reference to
an abstract model, to a combinatorial pattern of fashion (88).
This affiliation is not strictly conformityindividuals do not model
themselves after other individuals, or even after the group to which they
belong. Rather, individuals subscribe to codesthe combinatorial
patterns of fashion to which he refers aboveand, in doing
so, find that they share common identities with others who subscribe to
the same code.
There is an obvious parallel with subculture films.
This entire genre of films center on niches spread throughout society.
Each individual movie, on its own, is a celebration of a particular subculture,
a strong, clear focus on its members, its language, its arcana, its fetishes.
Each movie provides a new code for its audience to identify with, however
temporarily. The genre as a whole, of course, is a celebration of the
subculture itselfthe niche, the codified identityin American
society. Whether the codes are created by market capitalists themselves,
or spontaneously arise from society at large, the end effect is the same:
these codes can be (and are) commodified, packaged and sold. Sarah Thornton
refers to club cultures as taste cultures. Club-goers, she
says, generally congregate on the basis of their shared taste in
music, their consumption of common media and, most importantly, their
preference for people with similar tastes to themselves (3).
For the most part, participation in the club culture (as Thornton describes
it) is in line with Baudrillards description of the consumption
Given such a description of society references
to the mainstream may seem contradictory. If society is simply
composed of multiple nodal points, how can one make references
to a broad entitythe mainstreamagainst which any particular
nodal point is contrasted? The concept of the mainstream, however, does
remain a significant factoreven if its base in reality is shaken.
As Thornton has pointed out:
mainstream/subculture and commercial/alternative do not relate to the
way dance crowds are objectively organized as much as to the means by
which many youth cultures imagine their social world, measure their
cultural worth and claim the subcultural capital. (96)
Works Cited and