Birgit Richard/Heinz-Hermann Krüger
Welcome to the WareHouse. On the aesthetics of real spheres and spheres in the media as representations of contemporary styles of youth cultures
This essay deals with the real spheres and imaginary spheres represented
in the media, music videoclips, to be precise, of two contemporary and innovative
youth cultures, the Techno/House - and HipHop scenes. Choosing the HipHop- and
Techno youth cultures is suitable, because the example of the former can be
used to demonstrate remaining elements of the classic streetcorner society of
adolescents. The ephemeral world of the latter, however, and the creative appropriation
of spheres by this adolescent scene rather mark the transformation into a cyberspace
culture. When analyzing the real spheres, we predominantly focus on studying
a socio-ecological segment of the lives of these adolescents (Baacke 1933, p.
144), the exterior forms and the appropriation of dance venues by these groups
of youth culture. As far as possible, we also try to consider the appropriation
of public spheres, quarters and public places by these scenes of youth culture.
While, when analyzing the real locations and the interactive appropriation of these venues, we can still apply views developed in socio-ecological approaches of youth studies by Baacke (1993) or Becker/Eigenbrodt/May (1984), for an analysis of spheres in the media in contemporary worlds of images, these approaches have to be expanded. Beside the instruments of cultural-sociological and semiotic analyses, based on Clarke et al. (1976) and Hebdige (1981) in the tradition of the Birmingham CCCS and recently having been developed by American youth cultural studies as well, we also use approaches of media theory, e.g. Kittler (1990), Baudrillard (1987/1987) and Body/Weibel (1987).
While we are predominantly interested in real spheres, first of all dance venues, of contemporary youth scenes, the interrelations between these spheres and the respective styles of youth culture and the representation of these styles in the imaginary spheres of international media, in front of these analyses we put a concise historical sketch of the transformation of dance venues for adolescents and the world of media for youth cultures since the 50s, to be able, against this background, to demonstrate the changed quality of contemporary appropriation of spheres by youth cultures and their representation in the media.
Aesthetics and appropriation of real spheres
"The young people make a habit of dancing, in a way that mocks any sense of decency,in badly aired, small overcrowded cafés and floors." (from the pamphlet of distress issued by the Vereinigung der Saalbesitzer von Hamburg und Umgebung <Association of the ballroom-proprietors of Hamburg and its environs>, Hamburg 1932, quoted by Eichstedt/Polster 1985, p. 38)
Autonomous dance venues are of fundamental importance for all styles
of youth culture. Putting dance venues at their disposal often follows the massive
presence of adolescents on the streets: the 50s did not know any discotheques
or youth centres. Adolescents could only listen to music in cinemas or perhaps
in a milk bar with a jukebox. The first dance clubs and dance cafés for
youngsters, established by municipal authorities for some kind of prophylactic
youth work, developed after the riots by young hooligans in the 50s (cf. Krüger
The 60s were characterized by beat-clubs ("Beatschuppen") with live music, where the youngsters, from today's perspective modestly dressed, sat at rows of tables draped in white or danced in front of the stage.
Other opportunities for dancing were found at beat-festivals (e.g. in the Vestlandhalle in Recklinghausen) and on concerts. The first discotheques developed at the end of the 60s. From the beginning, they were suspected of commercial manipulation and of re-shaping the adolescents:
"A uniformed mass, identical all over the world, performs a standard dance in internationally normed venues, without any real difference between the continents." (Mezger 1980, p. 54)
However, the alternative venues of the Hippies do not impress the paedagogical observer either:
(They met in)..."cellars, dives and lofts, furnished in an improvised manner...with sex, whisky, a bohemian atmosphere, blue jeans and wornout sandals. ...(as a symbol for, B.R./H.-H.K.) the lacking depth and the doubiousness of their philosophy of life." (Pöggeler 1967, p.57)
The second generation of Hippies in the 70s were found in white-washed
disco-dives. At the time, the big discos were greatly improved technically.
The supply of technival innovations in lighting and sound became increasingly
important. Simple claviluxs and disco bowls were followed by carrousels for
colours, stroboscopes, black light, carbon dioxide snow and a computer-directed
laser lightshow. The commercial discotheques did also make an effort to become
lavishly decorated. They were turned into space-ships or airplanes, with DJ-cockpits
resembling flight-decks (film: Thank God it's Friday) or they borrowed from
films like "Saturday Night Fever" and had the dance floor illuminated
from below, enhancing the stage-like character and drawing a distinctive line
between dance floor and the surrounding part of the premises. Owing to the structure
of the venue, the style of dancing remained down to earth. The lighting contributed
to the design of the venue and "brightened it up." It created a pleasant
atmosphere for dancing and did not lead to distress among the audience. In diso-culture,
stressing the role of the dance floor and illuminating the legs hints at the
growing awareness that dancing offers an opportunity to present the body.
Furthermore, the newly developing club culture formed certain rules for access, controlled by the so-called door-policy:
"The door people are like chefs preparing an exotic dish, like chemists choosing solutions, like painters very carefully mixing colors -all of them working to produce the magic combination that will keep the floor hot or the ambiance cool, that will make the setting exciting and keep the mystique going." (Hanson 1978, p. 11)
Selection was the constant principle in the clubs: after the audience
had been selectively chosen, the DJ selected records. The stylistic innovations
of Punk expanded the range of dance venues. Alongside commercially styled clubs,
crumbling and bare spaces in industrial or decaying buildings became venues
as well. They symbolize the exchange of the interior for the exterior. The exterior,
the street, was brought inside.
New Wave, the depressive branch of Punk, introduced another variation of the design of dance venues: cold and artificial equipment like neon light, steel, mirrors and floors of pimpled rubber left behind the comfortability of the hippie-disco and the Punk-aesthetics of decay (cf. Richard 1995).
The 80s saw the development of cultural centres and multi-functional open-plan discotheques in disused industrial buildings. These premises House the actual dance floor, restaurants, bistros, pubs, coffee bars... (e.g. Tarm Center Bochum, Display Duisburg) Eating, dancing, communication and drinking are clearly seperated from each other. This kind of architectural design anticipated what in the 90s was to be called "event gastronomy." Dancing is only one of many activities.
The 90s not only saw the development of venues for large events and cultural centres, where the audience is mixed, but also the introduction of scene-discos and an assigned day of the week for almost every style and age-group. On a particular day of the week, only one style's favourite music will be played. The differentiation of the styles is also reflected in the multiple use of existing dance venues. Clubs and cultural centres, following the English example, offer different styles of music on different days of the week, not only on weekends, thereby attracting different kinds of people. The design of the venue, however, is not adapted to the style addressed.
For the HipHop culture in New York the street is a training venue
for breakdance amd mobile sound systems create "open-air community centers"
in the neighbourhoods (Rose 1994, p.77), where no infrastructure for parties
and dance could formerly be found. Meanwhile, HipHop clubs have been established
In Germany there are hardly any clubs entirely being devoted to hiphpop. Straight hip hop nights, if we disregard concerts and jams, are very rare. HipHop is a street style, not really occupying any other spheres than the street, which might be put at the style's and its followers' disposal. Thus, their chances for an independent shaping of the scene are slim and, owing to the scene's flexibility, perhaps not even necessary. The only thing you need for breakdance is a relatively smooth surface, not a specially assigned dance floor. The line between dance spheres and surroundings is drawn by the on-lookers, grouping around the breakdancer to spur him on and judge his performance.
The scene meets in sheltered rooms, like youth centres. In Germany, a lot of male, foreign youngsters have a sense of belonging to the scene.
Some symbols of their presence are graffitis and tags on the walls. Just like the early venues of Punk, HipHop venues resemble the street environment.
This term, however, does not refer to anonymous, functional places, as they are preferred by Punks -public places, railway stations, escalators-, but to meeting points in the neighbourhoods. They are only points of departure, not places for hanging around. Graffitis bear witness to the youngsters' nomad-like wandering around, and leave traces outside their own quarters. They mark territories and raids through metropolitan areas, e.g. when they appear on underground trains travelling through other parts of town (for the importance of graffitis see Baudrillard 1978). HipHop venues are characterized by male activities. In most cases girls are only admitted as observers, but not as active participants in contests and jams.
Techno and House venues
When we consider the real spheres of the Techno- and House scene
we see a different picture: it conquers a large part of the commercial and parts
of the alternative discotheque spheres and addresses a mass audience from various
social strata. We have to differentiate between individual events, rave or event,
and frequent Techno- and House club nights, either with a regular DJ-cast (the
so-called residents) on different days of the week or additional guest-DJs.
The club provides a weekly continuity at a concrete location, while mega raves are selective events. Flyers as an ephemeral medium, only giving the latest information, should be read as reminiscenes of the quickly changing locations, often only rented for one night. Techno-discos and temporary megaraves in the 90s take place in, among other venues, vast factory buildings, thereby borrowing from the English wareHouse parties (which were, incidentally, illegal). In Germany, for the big events easily available multi-functional venues are used. To turn the premises into a specific venue for raves, a special design using decorations, light and animations is necessary. On weekends, the Techno- and House scene disappears into these venues, sealed off from ordinary life, for hours on end or even the entire weekend. To make this disappearance perfect, the rooms have to dimmed, so that the "lightning storms" are set off. Computer-generated lighting effects, reduced to a particular colour- spectrum, a lot of white light and stroboscopic flashes are dominant features. Space is transformed into an immaterial cosmos, a parallel world, resembling computer-generated virtual realities. The room, mostly box-shaped and rectangular, becomes a screen, a phenomenon created by effects like stroboscopes, fog and black light. These elements of design refer to the interior of a screen, virtually turned inside out. The colour design of the rooms, reduction of the colour spectrum, a lot of white light, follows the principle of colour seperation; information on the screen is build up by single dots and lines of colour.
The dancing body is dispplved into a temporary manifestation of light. The momentary existence in space/on screen is only confirmed when the bodies are hit by pencils of light, which is reflected by the special fabric of the clothes. These elements produce fragmented motions, resembling silent films not shown in real time; the other dancers are perceived as if they perform in such a film, artificial creatures in strange motion. By dancing as if on screen, the dancers have both entered an area of the media and cyberspace. They do not face the images and projections, but are part of them. Effects, light and music, combined with the dancers, create an abstracted video-clip, projecting nothing but themselves.
Lighting design is not supposed to brighten up the room. Light and projections raise the room into another dimension. The floors are mostly dark, and lighting too shuts off the rooms towards the floor and opens it up towards the above. Room design and clothing suggest a calculated elevation without actually leaving the floor. A good example are the platform shoes, which ensure adhesion to the floor despite weightlessness, an experience similar to the first astronauts'. The stroboscope is not supposed to create an atmospheric room design, but ecstasy and disorientation, the selective suspension of the sense of time and space. The dancers enter a physical-mental sphere, detached from ordinary categories of time and space and determined by abstraction, dissolution of contradictions and of the world of objects (cf. Lyotard 1985). Through the reduction of material objects (e.g. the Berlin Techno club Tresor in its founding years), these rooms do not provide a lot of static points for orientation. It is only the other dancers, who, though disappearing again into the room's darkness, confirm the individual dancer's presence. The scene's yearning for physical contact is supposed to provide the assurance that the other person is actually physically present.
Apart from special chill-out lounges, there are no areas for rest. The rooms do not offer facilities for lingering, being seated or verbal communication, but predominantly for dancing. Objects like platforms, which may or may not be found, are intended for gogo-dancing, letting individual dancers stand out from the crowd, but not for resting. The evacuation of all objects only permits absolutely necessary infrastructural elements like the bar and the DJ-desk.
The scene has taken over dark cellars, bunkers or strongrooms and old power stations. For outsiders, the doorman of the club "Tresor" seems to open the gate to the seven circles of an inferno, in which damned adolescents compulsively fulfill the Sisyphean task of "meaningless dance excesses": fog and smoke clouds and the regular beat of the bassdrum pour out from the door opening. Space, music and light in combination generate a kind of creative elemental force. The combination of acoustic and visual stimuli represents a certain compulsive quality. The body has to react with the controlled motions of dancing (for styles of dancing cf. Richard 1996).
"Anyone not dancing here is certainly dead." (comment of a reporter on a love-parade waggon, Die Zeit, 19.7.1996)
The "Tresor", the former germ cell of the Berlin Techno scene, with its lockers and bars, symbolizes the voluntary locking up, the shutting out of the outside world. This isolation does also apply to clubs specializing on House-music. However, these rooms have a different design. They over-emphasize material and ornaments. The interiors are characterized by golden frames, red plush, baroque bordello-kitsch (often, the clubs are located in former bordellos, e.g. the "Unique" Düsseldorf's old town), brocade wallpaper, lava-lamps and many accessories which bear witness to a cultivation of the bad and trashy taste of the 70s combined with "baroque from Gelsenkirchen" (proletarian taste with the pretension of sophistication). House dance venues are retro-rooms dominated by objects. The popularity of "sweet" devotional items can be put down to the transfer of the principle of travesty to the general design. This is the artificial-ecstatic exaggeration of the "feminine," pointing to the existence of a gay culture with its own aesthetics. The personal furnishing of these clubs is a hallmark; even a living room can turn into a party room or its model. The world characterized by designer-chic and celebrations in the ruins of former industrial buildings is counteracted by the frowned-upon principle of grandmotherly cosiness and a petit-bourgeois version of a playful drawing room in rococo-design.
After having visited a House-club or a Techno-event as an ecstatic excursion into a virtual future, on early Monday morning, the nightly party nomads reenter ordinary life. Even the illegal parties of the "underground", using anonymous normed and neglected non-locations like tunnels, passage ways, areas beneath motorway bridges, underground garages and building sites, are, in contrast to English raves, not really conspicuous in Germany. These are places of decay or the unfinished, of through traffic, uncomfortable places, not really inviting you to stay. The nightly occupation resembles a racket, the party squatting no longer has anything to do with the appropriation of dwelling space by real squatters. The party nomads are able to find these places everywhere. They do not stick to particular locations.
The parades (Love parade Berlin, Streetparade Zurich, Union Move Munich, Hamburg G-Move...) and processions, numerous now, are their symbol of physical presence in the streets. This means the Techno- and House scene's selective conquest of the street, which formerly wasn't developed as a dance venue by any other scene of youth cultures. It fights for its right to parties and celebrations, which, against the background of the Criminal Justice Bill in England, can be considered a basic right. The occupation of public spheres as a party zone during the day focusses on arterial traffic routes in city-centres. The explosive growth of parades and participants, commercialization (MTV Love Parade) and their established role as part of the cities' public relations efforts, however, diminishes the subversive character of these public demonstrations of physical presence to a kind of carnival or funfair.
Spheres in the media
The media are of great importance for the representation of a style
of youth culture. They spread the image of the style internationally and lead
to national variants as well as the homogenization and uniformization of scenes.
From cult-films to video clips
In the 50s, film is the first medium to make messages and music of youth cultures public. Cult-films reflect the music and the style of a generation by the visual realization of the music (e.g. Rock around the clock, with Bill Haley). The 60s see the first regular music shows on television in which bands perform, like the BeatClub in Germany, alongside music films (Yellow Submarine, Yeah yeah yeah by the Beatles), which should not be confused with film-versions of musicals. This kind of TV-show derives from Top of the Pops, a show about the charts in England broadcast by the BBC. The 70s give us shows like "Disco" with Ilja Richter. One of the films in cinema leaving a mark is the disco-film "Saturday Night Fever" in 1978.
Only in 1981 MTV as a channel entirely devoted to music starts to broadcast in England. The programme mostly consists of music-videos, which before only served the purpose of advertising a product, i.e. band and record. It certainly was not a medium in its own right. This canned material is supposed to be more than just a recording device and offers new opportunities for design. However, in the beginning these opportunities are rarely taken advantage of.
The pseudo-documentary presentation of bands underlines the video's role as a promoting product. Performing on video is supposed to show a part of the life of the star or the band. In the beginning, the clip denies that it is stage-managed (Body/Weibel 1987, p. 249) and is an expansion of the venue of a live-concert in the media.
Music videos as a new medium develop into an ideal means of transport for the representation of a style. The first pop-bands to use the new medium excessively are the English New Romantics or synthie-pop bands (Visage, Spandau Ballet, Ultravox...).
In Germany, the first regular TV-show with music video-clips is "Formel eins" in the early 80s. Before, we only find sporadic music shows, mostly with "live"-(playback) performances by bands or broadcasting events like, for example, the "WDR-Rocknacht." Music films on cinema screens in the 80s are the Punk/New Wave film "Breaking glass" and two HipHop films: "Beat Street", emphasizing dance and music, and "Wild Style", showing the style's aesthetics.
Until the mid-90s the number of music channels increases to four: MTV, VH1, VIVA, VIVA 2, addressing different age-groups and styles. Since 1988 MTV has its own show for HipHop, YO Rap, in 1996 renamed Wordcup. Later VIVA follows with Freestyle. On MTV, Techno and House can be found in Dance and Partyzone, on VIVA it is House TV, formerly Housefrau.
The various styles of music also express their inner variety by
different visual means. Thus, HipHop videos show different settings and means
of design, depending on whether it is g (gangsta)-funk or p (party)-funk. The
clips shown (on VIVA and MTV), which, to be sure, only represent a small selection,
are rarely arranged by means of electronic distortion, selectivity or sharp,
fast cuttings. Sampling and scratching is not transferred to the visual level
(an exception in g-funk is, for example, Public Enemy's first clip "Night
of the Living Baseheads"). The misuse of consumer electronics does only
take place on the level of music.
Experimental videos are rare and in most cases accompany a complex style of rhyming (leaders of the new school: Busta Rhymes, Pharcyde, Ol' Dirty Bastard). Even flashbacks are only used for scenes of the past, like excerpts from film documents of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X or the presentation of black history (of repression) like films about slave transports or police officers beating up blacks. The videos are not determined by technical experiments.
Computer animations are rarely to be found. The clips follow narrative patterns and are shown in real time. They seem to be documentary, like live broadcasts from neighbourhoods. The images are supposed to be the counterpart to what Ice-t calls "reality rap" (McLaren 1995, p. 38). The restriction to black and white images gives the videos authenticity and demonstrates the toughness of street life.
Distortions and superimpositions like black bars or blurred spots predominantly appear in gangsta rap-videos, where they hide violent scenes or weapons from the censors, although the scenes do not conceal what it is all about.
Before analysing HipHop videos, some preconditions should be taken into consideration: the determined viewpoint of the white interpreter, that cannot be left behind, and the problem of a distorted reception of videos by a white, German audience, who directly translate images of Afro-American every-day culture into their own world. Certain postures and expressions are based on rhetorical strategies like the "signifying monkey", generic term for all rhetorical figures: word twisting, repetition and reversal. "Playin' the dozen" is a rhetorical form, besides others like rapping, loud-talking, testifying, marking, sounding. With many expressions the whole universe of discourse has to be taken into consideration; a difficult undertaking for white listeners.
HipHop is not simply a revival of Afro-American traditions (music, oral traditions), but represents a second stage of narrative art conveyed by the media (Rose, quoted in McLaren 1995, p. 9). The topics of HipHop are an "appropriation" of quotations from the world of images in the media (TV-shows, famous athletes, video games and branded articles)(Shustermann 1994, p. 169 f.). By "using the misuse" of conventional, antiquated Technologies, HipHop turns black consumers into producers of music. These Technologies are combined with high-tech products like samplers, which quite early on were creatively used by artists like Grandmaster Flash.
On the level of images three basic patterns of contents and stereotypes assigned to them can be ascertained:
1. Gangsterism: hanging around with the homies, the homeboys, mates, in the hood, the neighbourhood. Boredom, hold-ups, gangbanging=shootings, fights, drug deals, gambling and posing with the gang are shown.
2. Luxury and consumer worlds: the successful gangsta presents his pool, cars and lowriding, mobile phone, bathtubs, whirlpools, luxurious interiors, gambling and innumerable women, barely dressed and willing, as attributes of his status. Party scenes, mostly occuring in public spheres, should be divided into parties with the homies on the streets of the neighbourhood, at the pool or at concerts, where (their own) wives might be missing entirely, and parties with wives and large families, like barbecues in public parks (e.g. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince: Summertime).
3. The dark sides of gangsterism: death, funerals, prison, police, orphaned children, widowed wives (Ice Cube, Nonchalant: Five o'clock in the morning) are presented as consequences of repression and the lack of chances opposite white authorities; clips warning of the insanity of mutual annihilation by male black youngsters are rarer. The warning voices are predominantly those of female rappers, who are no longer prepared to accept their tragic role as a mourning wife that was left behind. In general, sections of Afro-American life, the "afro-diasporic culture" (Rose), are distortedly shown to take place on the fringes of post-industrial, urban America. HipHop videos try to make visible or, imaginarily, do away with the discrimination against black citizens in America. The scenes leave the white viewer with the impression of unordinary events; extreme situations like gangbanging or exceptions from ordinary life, like parties, are shown. The principle of "living on the edge", of a life between danger and joy, a quite ordinary situation for male black youngsters of the lower classes, is visualized. For these youngsters, normally overlooked in the US or brought to silence, rap develops the male black body into a place of joy and power. Rap and dance represent intensity and joy of life. The black male simultaneously presents himself to be dangerous and desirable (Hooks 1992, p. 35 f). The permanent sense of inferiority to whites has the effect that black men show off very masculine characteristics: a demonstrative sexuality, physical ability and belligerent behaviour (Wallace 1993, p. 57). Negative connotations like laziness and violence are turned into positive attributes of strength and are used to resist white supremacy (McLaren 1995, p. 17).
"Gangsta rap must be seen in the context of narratives specific to poor, young black male subjects in L.A." (Rose, quoted in Mclaren 1995, p. 6)
The videos show excessive consumption of luxury items. Expensive
cars, clothes and high-tech gadgets (mobile phones) are status symbols of the
achiever. However, the attributes of the successful gangster do not only show
the allures, but also the consequences of gangbanging and crime, the fatal circle
of prison and death (Shustermann, 1994, p. 171). The successful rapper who escaped
from this ghetto-circle and is nevertheless able to show off the same attributes
(Ice T, Ice Cube) is the ideal surrogate role-model. His self-appraisal, besides
his sexual attractivity, commercial success and personal merits, predominantly
focusses on his linguistic competence and his ablity to make up rhymes (Shustermann
1994, p. 159). He is an icon of hope for male black youngsters, the social group
most affected by the crises of restructuring American industrial society into
a service economy with low-paid jobs.
Metropolitan space is the action-setting, both the decaying, run-down streets in the New York Bronx or Brooklyn, where the videos of the East Coast gangsta rappers (Onyx, Black Sheep, House of Pain) are set, and the typical images of the West Coast (Ice T, Snoop Doggy Dog), the hoods, at first glance pleasant and sunny, with their detached family Houses in suburbs like Compton in Los Angeles, which, however, are no less dangerous. The locations where these scenes of ordinary life took place at the time of shooting are meant to be accurately recorded. That is why these videos often show street signs.
The videos are restricted to images from the black communities. Whites only rarely appear as neutral characters; if they do at all, it is in party crowds. In most cases they are representatives of white authority, e.g. police officers, either extremely brutal or extremely dumb.
We also find a massive discrimination against women in the videos broadcast. Often, women are presented as property alongside cars and other luxury items. When the women thus functionalized present their bodies with pride, this, according to bell hooks (1993, p. 43 f.) can be put down to an upbringing that withholds from black women any (mental) alternative to this role as a serving body. hooks is looking for reasons, why there are so few female black intellectuals, and finds that in Afro-American culture only two female stereotypes do exist: the bitch or the feeding and caring mammy (cf. also Decker 1994, p. 110). The HipHop videos require black women to adapt to the role assigned to them by the elemental myths of the fertile first mother Isis and black men as well -in particular by followers of the conservative Nation of Islam under Louis Farrakhan: Housewife and mother (Decker 1994, p. 107 ff.). Many rappers are followers of the Nation of Islam or a splinter group, the Five Percenters. Only submitting to the patriarchal welfare principle will turn a woman into a person who can share the luxury in the images they indulge in.
The question is, whether the sexist and sometimes racist undertones mentioned above, openly confronting women, gays and Jews, are only repeated for commercial reasons or rather point to particular currents within the scene. The stereotypes mentioned are not maliciously forced upon them by white producers to confirm clichés. Black business, record companies like Def Jam, is marketing this gangsta attitude offensively, since it sells well (Rose 1994, p. 124).
Black cultural critics critisize the sexist tendency of HipHop. Greg Tate (1993, p. 226 f.) thinks that black male posturing is culturally necessary for basketball, jazz and HipHop and wants to restrict it to these areas as mere attitudes of the style, which, frankly, is impossible. He critisizes the phallocentric tendency of black nationalism, because it only diverts from the true problems, like the repression experienced every day (see also Julien 1993, p. 218).
For all these black cultural critics the origin of black sexism derives from white racism. The blacks' self-hatred leads to the hatred of black women by black men (Wallace 1993, p. 57, see also hooks 1993, p. 43). There is an extension of white stereotypes. This inferiority- and self-hatred hypothesis is critisized by Stanley Crouch (1993, p. 152), who says that the black's self-hatred is an ethnical variant on the dissatisfaction with the standards of beauty of the respective eras. A similar desire for physical change among whites would let plastic surgeons flourish.
The abstract Techno videos do not require a theoretical background
for interpretation. They show surfaces. In most cases these clips do not follow
any narrative structure. Their design is essentially based upon the opportunities
offered by digital image processing. The computer animations show journeys through
virtual space, weightless flights over virtual landscapes and driving through
tunnels. A thematic focus is the presentation of Technoid worlds, robots and
space stations. Flying and weightlessness are the means of locomation of the
characters which are moving in these artificial worlds and are often transformed
into a variety of figures by the rather overused digital process of morphing.
The desire to rise above ordinary life, in the real world a theme in dancing,
can be realized in the media world.
There are only a few static images; figures and objects move or change their appearance. The images are processed and merge, one image replaces the other, no image is allowed to stand out. The videos often do not amount to more than trying out textures put over imaginary creatures and objects, and show abstract, rotating bodies in space, devoid of all content. The virtuosity in dealing with digital Technology is the most important feature (an example is the X-mix video series). A lot of the animated characters resemble an infantile physiology: imaginary animals, clowns, animated toys. The clips leave the impression of animated picture books. There is a slight predominance of artificial figures over real human characters. If real persons are shown, they are set in the framework of dance scenes from parties. Scenes from the great parades in Berlin or Zurich are very popular. However, these images are also distorted digitally.
The structural characteristics of the images can be described as abstraction, immateriality, self- referentiality and light phenomena. They show motion, dynamics, speed. Everything is flowing. For Techno and House production of a video as a medium is only a supplementary element. Videos and projections are additional visual stimuli, supposed to accompany the music. A meaningful image is not really intended. The motifs have an illustrating character and are integrated into artificial spheres. The real experience of the body in real spheres is important, although, paradoxically, at an event the body becomes a medium again.
Interdependencies between "real" spheres and spheres in the media
Looking at the relationship between real presence and representation
in the media tells us a lot about the character of the respective style of youth
culture. HipHop and Techno/House seem to be outstanding antipodes in both areas.
Nevertheless, both styles have their roots in black communities and use similar
Technological and structural principles and devices: record player, vinyl, sampling,
Both styles form communities which resemble families: brothers and sisters (HipHop), we are all one family (Techno).
The description of real spheres and spheres in the media revealed different focuses. When analysing HipHop we concentrated on spheres in the media, since the real spheres did not offer many opportunities for a detailed description, while Techno permitted a closer description of real spheres (venues), the spheres in the media having only a supplementary meaning for this style.
The HipHop videos demonstrate the gap between a national style and a global style conveyed by the media, between black music and white listeners. Russel Simmons of the HipHop record label Def Jam, using the images of the style presented in the media, sells the style to white kids, who like the music, but do not really understand the contents, and to black kids, who try to imitate it. For white teenies the "slumming style" is a lower class- or working class style, provocation and the epitome of coolness. They follow the principle of "dressing down", while the black kids on weekends follow the principle of "dressing up", "smartening up" (Rose 1994, p. 126 ff.).
In HipHop both real spheres and spheres in the media are tending to masculinity. They are regressive spheres, where women in particular do not have a place. The videos of the American gangsta rap plead for turning attention to a male (black) subject of the lower classes, marginalized in other contexts. (McLaren 1995, p. 30). However, the dangerous slips of an insecure subject, who, like a gangbanger, not knowing how else to deal with it, has to destroy everything around him that seems to threaten him, bitches, rival gangs, police, are no disasters handed down by nature.
According to McLaren, the obvious sexism can be accepted, because the consumer goods pool, cars, horses and the always available sex are unattainable for both the black and the white average citizen. The full-bosomed string-tanga beauties, always ready for the rapper (...where women are presented as thong-clad commodities to be picked from swimming pools"), are a parody of the representation of the successful black consumer (McLaren 1995, p. 44).
With Angela Dais we should raise the objection:
"As convenient it might be that HipHop supports a consciousness of opposition among youngsters, as unsettling is it that it often follows a nationalism bursting with misogynous undertones, thereby doing away with the revolutionary practice it allegedly adheres to...Where cultural representations do not step outside these limits, danger lurks, since they become mere surrogates for action...(Davis 1994, p. 210)
Although the aspect of parody cannot be denied, the open sexism cannot be ignored. Thus, the few female rappers (MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, salt'n'peppa: She thing) vehemently oppose in particular their degradation to "bitches" by appropriating their own spheres in media, even as female gangstas (Boss).
Is the desire for excessive consumption another regressive trait of HipHop or a parody? In HipHop, disparagement of consumption as a political and artistical sell-out and glorification of their own commercial success do coexist. In Afro-American culture commercial success is regarded as a symbol of artistic competence and independence. Rap might be able to embody a celebrated economic independence from crime (Shustermann 1994, p. 172). The rapper's own capital is generated to appropriate and develop cultural spheres. Tricia Rose (1994, p. 80) interprets the excessive emphasis on consumer goods in HipHop as a means to downplay class differences and hierarchies and conquer cultural territory. Consumer power becomes a means of cultural expression. HipHop appropriates the symbols of a consumer society: oversized false gold chains and diamond colliers are worn, oversized emblems and trademarks of fashion companies like Gucci are printed on T-shirts and trousers.
In HipHop the focus lies on the representation of the style in the media. Spheres in the media releases the signs of existence of a different culture, otherwise limited to the neighbourhoods. Nevertheless, the images underline the local orientation of HipHop, "local identities" (Rose 1994, p. 78), taking shape in clothes, language, street names and its posses and crews. These, homies and gangs, often function as surrogate families. The concrete street spheres in society is occupied by graffitis as symbols of their presence and as a cultivation of a particular kind of walking conquering that space. This cultivation is supported by voluminous clothing. Thus, via their style HipHop gangs demonstrate their claim to territory. A closed system is formed, which requires isolation and a hierarchical organisation, based on contests, to be self-sustaining. Life is stage-managed as a perpetual contest and competition; you have to be the strongest, the best dancer, the best painter to be able to survive (contests, jams) and to receive the respect you need.
HipHop is a clearly defined, hermetic style, based upon the exclusion of women and strangers to the style, who have no command of the language and are not prepared to contest other males, while Techno and House potentially want to integrate all people. With the latter scene, no explicit verbal message marginalizes or excludes from particular places, on the contrary, metropolitan centres are selectively occupied. The real Techno venues promote a democratic style especially because of their artificial character. They do not offer any opportunities for making obvious advances, there is no beer-bar for boozing, hanging around or gawping. The lighting often makes orientation difficult, more so gaping at women.
The isolation and immateriality of the spheres dissolves all seperating differences: gender, profession, colour of the skin. Techno and House strive for a harmonic synthesis. Since differences and contradictions are not endured, but levelled, the scene is not able to develop social perspectives for the world that would reach beyond the event. As a selective forced synthesis ruled by rhythm, the style does not offer any solutions for ordinary life. Nevertheless, Techno can be understood as a spheres for development or a laboratory for new relationships between the sexes and new ways and speeds of perception. A combination of androgynous, homosexual and infantile physical images on the surface leads to a "detachment from the detachment" ususally observed in western culture when physical contact is concerned. Since physical contact no longer has a sexual background, it is permitted. In this experimental area one's own body and different sexual identities can be tested. Thus, at an event or in a club, skirts, hair-slides or platform shoes for men do not astonish anyone, since here men try the "change sex" principle, just as they do on the internet. The female body is masked by a sexually undeveloped, infantile exterior. The infantalization, as a consequence, leads to the inviolability of the child-woman. While girlies and babes are no direct expression of the "riot girl" mentality, they are, however, the attempt to do away with representative images of feminity characterized by male influences.
An event is training of perception. It launches the dancers into new Technological dimensions. The body becomes a medium between the biological existence and an immaterial data spheres. The dance can imaginarily resolve the schizophrenic situation of being citizens of two worlds. Lighting, music and drugs compensate for backwardness and slowness of the body. To stand still, not to move in the real spheres and the spheres in the media of Techno means not to exist. Techno spheres are spheres to relish in the submission to the rhythm (slave to the rhythm) of the dancers own choosing, which, according to Baudrillard (1987), can be interpreted as a symbolic action and therefore as a radical alternative plan to social repression.
Techno occupies the night like a vampire. When the sun rises, the pale party nomads disappear. Interiors and the streets are only selectively included into the dance movement. HipHop, on the other hand, puts some emphasis on the occupation of day-spheres as points of departure. In both youth cultures fixed ties to particular locations are resolved. The loss of this fixed ties points to a certain fleetiness and the detachment of youth cultures from fixed and permanent concepts of space. Techno is a global style with a language of images in the media, which can be understood internationally, fictional artificial spheres of images and similar constellations of spheres in real spheres. HipHop spheres, real and in the media, can only be understood against a particular national background. They cannot be easily transferred to all countries, which is shown by the problematic transfer from the US to Europe. After all, German rappers are no black ghetto kids.
Techno is looking for a universally comprehensible meta-language in music and images, while HipHop maintains an insider-language and continuously develops its own puns. Techno's sphere in the media is iconic, images-orientated, while HipHop renders its complex, ritualised language into images, which therefore have to be deciphered like a text.
Techno spheres are interfaces to virtuality, which, however, can only be experienced via the whole body and when dancing. They are rather a compensation for incorporeal worlds on the net.
Nevertheless, Techno spheres contain references to subcultures on the net in the future, which may be completely immaterial. HipHop still has the tradition of classic street styles or street corner societies. The style no longer is a working class culture, but the cultural expression of marginalized youngsters in society, who have to look for their cultural roots and often commute between two worlds (white-black, German-foreign). The expansion of the style into spheres in the media serves the purpose of making up for the cultural invisibility in the public, at least a bit.
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