To what extent do skateboard magazines reflect counter cultural ideologies? In an attempt to analyse the proposed question, the essay will aim to de-code magazine representations of the subculture of skateboarding. This will be accomplished through the textual analysis of semiotics. Utilising this specific method allows for an in-depth analysis of skateboard magazines. The analysis will illustrate to what extent the subcultural skateboarding magazine (Sidewalk) reflects counter cultural ideologies, or reflect the consumer ideals of the mainstream society.
To understand what is a subculture, firstly it is essential to understand what is meant by culture. ‘The culture of a group or class, the meanings, values and ideas embodied in institutions, in social relations, in systems of beliefs, in mores and customs, in the uses of objects and material life. Culture is the distinctive shapes in which this material and social organisation of life expresses itself’ (Hall & Jefferson, 1975, p10) Therefore, from Hall and Jefferson’s (1975) definition of culture, we are able to identify what is meant by the dominant sports culture.
As shown, culture is seen to be something that is shared by a group, such as a set of values, or beliefs about a specific way of life. Thus, the dominant sports culture represents many of the factors that are associated with the dominant society’s way of life. ‘Many researchers have described a dominant sport culture as one in which competition, extrinsic rewards, elitism based on skill and specialization are occurring’ (Donnelly, 1993; Cited in Beal, 1995, p253).
One main sport within the dominant culture can be regarded as football, this reproduces many of the values associated with the capitalist dominant culture. ‘In capitalist society, sports like soccer and baseball are reserved for the labouring classes. These sports have as their major goal the maintenance of a maximally productive work force’ (Guttmann, 1978, p235). Therefore, values associated with dominant sports can be seen as a means of maximising the potential profit of the sport.
‘Sport trains the work force to operate according to the norms of capitalist, or bureaucratic state capitalist exploitation. Sport is basically a mechanism of the body, treated as an automaton, governed by the principle of maximising output’ (Brohm, 1978, p55). This demonstrates how Brohm’s (1978) work operates from a Marxist perspective, illustrating that sport is simply used as a vehicle to reproduce capitalist values and ideologies within society. However, Brohm’s (1978) work is based on work previously theorised by Althusser (1971), which focuses on class struggle.
Although, within Althusser’s work he fails to account for any resistance to the values of the dominant culture, resistance to mainstream dominant ideals is tackled by Gramsci’s (1971) concept of hegemony. ‘Hegemony is not simply the notion that dominant group ideas are transformed to the minds of subordinate groups through superstructural means. It implies the active consent of the subordinate group in creating and maintaining its subordinate status… In this way, subordinate groups actively choose from the dominant group’s agenda, maintaining a semblance of freedom while reinforcing the dominant group’s interests’ (Beal, 1995, p253).
However, the process of consent is never totally hegemonic, subcultures may demonstrate a reproduction of the dominant class’s ideals, yet, they always have the ability to challenge the dominant culture. ‘Skateboarding is not inherently counterhegemonic or hegemonic; instead, it may carry both sets of meanings sometimes simultaneously’ (Beal, 1995, p256). Whilst focusing on Gramsci’s (1971) concept of hegemony it is essential to understand what constitutes a subculture. Therefore, subcultures have something, which they believe in that sets them apart from the dominant culture.
‘When a group forms an identity based upon a set of beliefs, norms, and values distinctive from or in conflict with those of the mainstream of society, a subculture is formed’ (Hart & Birrell, 1981, p,563). The factors which dominant sports are based on; i. e. the values of capitalism, are opposed by subcultural sports. ‘Subcultures are focused around certain activities, values… and territorial spaces etc, which significantly differentiate them from the wider culture’ (Hall & Jefferson, 1975, p14).
The emergence of countercultural values can be traced as Humphreys (1997) states as a consequence of social change after World War II. ‘In the post war years, the economy, formally based on heavy industrial manufacturing, became more dependant on mass consumption, late or consumer capitalism promoted indulgence, permissiveness and pleasure’ (Featherstone, 1991; Cited in Humphreys, 1997, p148). Thus, sports such as skateboarding are labelled subcultural, due to the fact that skateboarding rejects many of the values that the dominant sports culture is based on.
‘Skateboarding has alternative norms and relations that emphasised participant control of the physical activity and open participation rather than elite competition’ (Beal, 1995, p254). Therefore, the subordinate group will resist the capitalist nature of dominant sport, and through certain processes such as sport, they can possess a challenge to the dominant values. ‘Cultural configurations will not only be subordinate to this dominant order: they will enter in to struggle with it, seek to modify, negotiate, resist or even overthrow its reign, its hegemony’ (Hall & Jefferson, 1975, p12).