7. Music, identity and performativity


David Bowie died in the evening of the tenth January, 2016, two days following the release of his latest project ★ (pronounced Blackstar). The next day, the outpouring of grief was far and above that which would normally accompany the passing even of a major celebrity. The media cancelled programmes and ran rolling news, the obituary in the press became several pages of tribute, flowers were placed at street art in Brixton where he was born, where strangers, young and old, also sang his songs into the early hours. These people were not just self-stated fans, but a diverse group who had been touched by Bowie in diverse ways.

Bowie exerts a profound influence over generations perhaps because he was the ultimate rock star, a role he nevertheless consciously played; because he was the ultimate product of fame, a celebrity he both managed and decried; because in the age of media, media could not contain his message, a message that was somehow related back into media; because he was a fashion icon during a time when fashion died a thousand deaths; because he embodied music genres and youth subcultures, yet hopped across them, and because at a time when identity was more crucial than ever, he was inauthentic, the DJ who was what he played.

Press Lecture: page
Main materials: page
Case Study: page

Post-war context for teenager
economic boom / disposable income / lack of allocated space (dance halls; streets)
Marketing to teenager
Today – youth is an elastic metaphor employed by advertising

Spectacular Resistance
Birmingham School studies ‘subcultures’
Framed by working class resistance.
‘Subcultures must exhibit a distinctive enough shape and structure to make them identifiably different from their ‘parent’ culture. They must be focused around certain activities, values, certain uses of material artefacts, territorial spaces etc which significantly differentiate them from the wider culture. But since they are sub-sets, there must also be significant things which bind and articulate them with the ‘parent’ culture.’  John Carke, Stuart Hall, Tony Jefferson and Brian Roberts: Subcultures, Cultures and Class (1976: 14)

Appropriation and Agency
Savile Row introduced ‘Edwardian’ frock coat line soon after WW2
Remaindered ‘out of mode’ item going cheap
Considered overtly flamboyant and decadent at time
Teddy Boy – modified Edwardian influence
added eclectic (American) features:
e.g. cowboy tie; brothel creepers; ‘ram’s head’ belt
Tailors catalogues (like barbers): fixed, established styles
Had to ‘train’ tailors into ‘the look’
Not off the peg
Typical adaptations: length; single-breasted with single button; cuffs on sleeves with square, cloth covered buttons
Cohen (1971) on Teddy Boys: ‘today there are no gentlemen’
‘… the Mods could be said to be functioning as bricoleurs when they appropriated [a] range of commodities by placing them in a symbolic ensemble which served to erase or subvert their original or straight meanings’ Dick Hebdige (1979, Subculture, pp104-5)

Ted Polhemus, Style Surfing, 1996
‘The future isn’t futuristic. Its Retro’
Futurists: Bowie night at The Blitz club
New Romantics: antiquated attire
Revivalism of 50s 60s 70s etc / 2nd hand clothes
Supermarket of style
‘Clubland thrives on plundering … and pastiche. Nothing is what it seems. Everything is effect..’ (p93)

Gender Essentialism
-essentialist account is one that reduces gender to a single characteristic of essence
–Connell, RW 2000 Masculinities
plural  masculinities dependent on culture and time specificity
–e.g. Mexican macho culture / the moustache as emblem

Gender and Media Construction
-Alvarez, Erick.  2009 Muscle Boys: Gay Gym Culture Routledge
-Mort, Frank 1988 ‘Boy’s Own? Masculinity, Style and Popular Culture’ in Male Order: Unwrapping Masculinity, Chapman and Rutherford, Eds.
-Jackson, P; Stevenson, N and Brooks, K. 2001 Making Sense of Men’s Magazines
-Edwards, T. Consuming Masculinities. In Men in the Mirror: Men’s Fashion, Masculinity and Consumer Society

Gender and Child Development
-Kohlberg, L 1966 A Cognitive-Developmental Analysis of Children’s Sex-Role Concepts and Attitudes inMaccoby, EF [Ed] The Development of Sex Differences:
–children under 5: make gender mistakes (men passing off as women etc)
–young children’s gender categories are highly stereotyped (essentialist)
–because they are looking for certainty in gender, they are ‘naively certain’
—e.g. naively believe that when surface gender changes so does gender

Gender and Masquerade
– Judith Butler: Gender Trouble 1990 ; Bodies that Matter; Subjects of Desire: Excitable Speech; Psychic Life of Power
– Queer theory: Butler draws attention to the way gender operates to support oppressed identities
– But identity operates within regulatory constraints
-‘Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory framethat congeal over time to produce the acceptance of substance, of a natural sort of being’ (Butler, 1990)

Gender and Masquerade
-Nietzsche / de Beauvoir: being and doing
–‘..there is no “being” behind doing, acting, becoming; “the doer” is merely a fiction imposed on the doing – the doing itself is everything’  (Nietzsche, 1887, p29)
–S. de Beauvoir: ‘one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’
‘There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results’ (Butler 1990)
-`Construction is not opposed to agency; it is the necessary scene of agency’ (Butler 1990)
– ‘there is only a taking up of tools where they lie, where the very taking up is enabled by the tools lying there’ (Butler, 1990: 145)

Sean Cole. Trash, Glamour, Punk
Catherine Spooner. Fashioning Gothic Bodies.