„Does Culture Industry take over? The sell out of critical youth cultures in Germany?“
In the 1990ties the picture of youth culture in Germany has completely
changed: Youth styles seem to be totally involved into the offerings of leisure
industry and therefore be absorbed by the „Kulturindustrie“. A growing number
of youth researchers in Germany develops a sinister scenario that could be
characterized by the following three aspects:
a. The differences between youth and parental culture have vanished.
b. Rebellious subcultures do no longer exist because they have lost their critical attitude towards society.
c. Contemporary styles in Germany like Techno are a product of Culture Industry.
I will now show how these statement have to be modified.
a. The differences between youth and parental culture have vanished
At a first look parent and youth cultures do not differ as they
did decades before. They seem to have similiar preferences of leisure activities,
for example hearing music very loudly, going to concerts and clubs. Many kids
listen to exactly the same music that their parents did decades ago, for example
Jimi Hendrix and parents attend live concerts of the B´52s.
A closer look shows, that there is no identity between youth and parental culture. A peculiar change in the relation between the two cultures becomes significant: Youth styles do not draw a strict line of distinction anymore. Especially the dance-orientated styles open themselves up to the older ones, because since the disco-movement, stylishness is the only thing that counts, not age.
But a strong independent culture of the older ones builds up in opposition to contemporary youth culture. This young adult culture excludes youngsters from participation. In the last two years many clubs have opened their doors in Germany, offerering clubnights without any elements of contemporary music and dance styles. They present just 70ties and 80ties oldies for people over 25 and 30 years of age (the name of these events are „for adults only, guaranteed techno and house free“).
Young adult culture tries to prevent the presence of real youngsters and contemporary music because that would destroy its illusionary self-representation. Juvenile activities like dancing, serve as an attempt to magically recover and perpetuate own youth. This young adult interims-culture is a conservation and endless repetition that is resistant against up-grading.
Therefore dance and music preferences of young adult culture and youth cultures have indeed very less in common.
The parent generation has a very special image how youth culture has to look like even nowadays. It depends on the forms they have experienced themselves in the late sixties. Their self-definition determines the cultural and political forms that are seen as suitable to express protest. The dominant image is that of a lost youth with no alternative, but to recognize and resist under conditions not of their own choosing.
The generation that considers itself as the inventors of a „politics of youth“ executes a new kind of social domination. Young adult culture is caught up in the fantasy of everlasting youth, or at least more culturally radical, in ways once equated with youth, than the youth today (Andrew Ross).
This is an act of projection of an entire generation.
Their young adult culture does not accept the changing forms of protest. They dislike and reject Techno and House for its monotonous beats and the drug ecstacy and HipHop for its cruel representation of gangsterism.
So there remains only one way to cope with the new styles, that is to declare that contemporary forms are generated and manipulated by mass media and cultural industry.
But besides that image, there are indications that youth cultures have not lost their creative independency.
b. Rebellious subcultures do no longer exist, because they have lost their critical attitude towards society.
In Germany a youth culture has to have a social and political impact
directly expressed in words, otherwise it is not regarded as an important phenomenon.
Styles and music for entertainment have the stigma of not being creative. This
is an elemental dictum for a lot of researchers of the social and cultural sciences.
They think they may undermine their position directly with the statements of
the Critical Theory: Movements developing out of the structures or within the
realm of the „Kulturindustrie“ (Adorno) do definitely not have the power to
raise a political statement.
But by taking a closer look, it becomes quite obvious, that if there is a any creative space left besides the realm of art, it could only be in youth culture. In the process of individuation when a child becomes a person, it is using technology against its capitalistic purposes Adorno says. It is the only chance before individuation is finished and the person is individualised, what in terms of Adorno means, that the subject is transformed to fit into the patterns of cultural industry.
Youth cultures now fill in the tiny gap in Culture Industry´s domain first by the strategy of misusing consumer´s electronics against their original purpose. Secondly their profane products of everyday creativity do never directly reproduce real life problems like art. Besides that, subcultural attitude towards reality is a magical one, but not an hermetic circle like art has to be according to Adorno.
A distinction between commercial manipulated, media driven styles and authentic styles growing out of an avantgarde underground, in rebellious opposition towards society does not make any sense in dealing with contemporary forms. Furthermore, under that option youth culture would have never existed, because nearly all styles since the Fifties are involved in commercial structures. Youth subcultures are generally based on their specific attitude towards consumption and everyday products (remembering the term teenager), but there is an obvious change in the Nineties:
The most important and innovative contemporary youth cultures in Germany, Techno/House and HipHop are hooked on excessive shopping as an important activity. Both styles are fixed on products and brands. The traditional interpretation could be like the one of Andrew Ross: „The fantasy of youth seems to be imploded upon itself, transforming delinquency into a luxury, in accord with the voracious demands of a consumer society.“
The lack of a clear political message and the emphasis on consumption leads to misunderstanding contemporary youth cultures as totally satisfatied with their social position. But youth cultures fight for social or economic justice by the means of transforming their status into cultural autonomy.
The form of protest has obviously changed: Youth cultures show their discontent by a certain over-affirmation of consumption and the development of subversive consumer´s strategies like the take-over of brands or trademarks. The strategy of what I call hyper-consumption, is expressed in three different attitudes:
- Consumption as a mirror of society´s consumption. Youth cultures learn their lesson from the parent generation: I consume, so I exist. I define myself through the products, I buy. They represent and exaggerate parental behaviour towards products.
- Consumption as the performance of a consumer´s guerilla with adbusting and bootlegging as creative principles. Trademarks and brands are occupied just for fun purposes and changed until they fit into the context of style. (Example T... error, T-Shirts, is declared as an illegal act and taken to court) As in art the creative principles are selection, repetition and combinings things from different contexts.
- Consumption as a provocative act against the political correctness of the parent generation. Just having fun and to be an excessive consumer can be especially provocative to the rebellious 1968 generation trying to develop a reflective and conscious lifestyle. It it a destructive act against this generation´s hope that current youth cultures guarantee a continuity in protest and rebellious forms they developped in the late sixties.
c. Contemporary styles in Germany like Techno are a product of Culture Industry.
A characteristic for the current situation is an astonishing
simultaneous coexistence of subcultural and mainstream commercial forms in Techno
The Techno and House movement in Germany may be regarded as a future form to express the discontent with social structures. Techno is the first pure dance-style to become a mass movement in the middle of the 1990´s. It has integrated nearly two million youngsters and post-adolescents into a common culture within just two years. The so-called rave nation has become a differentiated subculture with similar leisure and consuming habits.
It is a big mass market in an otherwise fragmented „supermarket of styles“ as Ted Polhemus names it in the catalogue to an exhibition by the Victoria and Albert Museum „Street styles“.
Cultural industry puts a lot of energy to place their products in that field. A complete world of products is especially designed for the raver market from clothing (clubwear) and food (energy drinks) to special sports (snowboarding) or raver´s holiday camps (Richard 1995, Techno- Kit).
Although this seems to be an obvious hint that german rave culture is totally commercialised and organized by Cultural Industry, there are other aspects that point to the fact that it is a very democratic and productive style.
It offers - like punk also did - possibilities for many young people to produce and sell their own music and outfits.
After the independent system built up by punk and new wave collapsed, techno and house music established a new independent national system of producing, distributing and selling electronic dance music. Small labels produce small editions of vinyl records for the direct use by the Djs in the clubs.
As a subcultural style Techno has grown out of the special constellations after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The uncertainty of the situation allowed the seizure of politically and commercially unmarked space. Out of the underground the scene build up an informal network with several, sometimes very quickly changing illegal locations and parties, the most famous ones are the „TRESOR“ or the „E- WERK“ in Berlin.
In Germany Techno is not interpreted as some kind of political movement.
The argument between the administration of Berlin and the organisizers of the LOVEPARADE over the last years shows the political dimension. The LOVEPARADE has to be announced as a political demonstration otherwise the organizers would have to pay fees for the cleaning of the KURFÜRSTENDAMM and for the policemen to secure the parade. The administration has to deny a political message in that movement for economical reasons.
And they did not recognize that it is a political statement in itself, when 400 000 ravers occupy public space just for fun. This party demonstration for love, peace and unity has to be regarded as a kind of everyday politics.
The most important reference to a political dimension is that ravers take control over Berlin´s most important representative alley for their purpose. They demonstrate party presence by declaring that the right to party is an elementary political right, an essential one, if one considers England´s Criminal Justice Bill.
To discover a political message in a culture which ask for its fans to `shut up and dance´ one has to look closely to notice that immersion in rave influences patterns of love and friendship. (McRobbie 1995:172)
Techno and House are a symbolic recovery of a meaningful community composed out of different social classes. But these are no acitivities the parent generation expects them to execute in support of the image of rebellious youth. But there are no powerful utopian paroles that may be reproduced left at the moment, except the hope for a loving, peaceful and equal community.
International rave culture could be regarded as an experimental laboratory for the western societies where they could learn that forms of peaceful human relationships still exist. But a direct transfer out of the rave system is not possible.