Topics in Popular Culture: diy hardcore Subcultures English 493D

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010-11 | Winter Term 2

Topics in Popular Culture: DIY Hardcore Subcultures

English 493D | Cultural Studies 400D

Dr. George Grinnell

Office: ARTS 177

Office Hours: Thursday 2-4pm

Calendar Description:

Focus on media such as music, film, music video, television, advertising, and the Internet. No more than 9 credits in total will be granted for ENGL 493, CULT 400, or any combination thereof. [3-0-0]

Prerequisite: 3 credits of 200-level ENGL.
Equivalency: CULT 400.
Focus on media such as music, film, music video, television, advertising, and the Internet. No more than 9 credits in total will be granted for CULT 400, ENGL 493, or any combination thereof. [3-0-0]
Prerequisite: 3 credits of 200-level CULT. CULT 210, CULT 211, and/or CULT 270 recommended.
Equivalency: ENGL 493.
Course Description
“I just don’t want to die with everything I have intact, with my hearing, my voice, everything still there because I never used it. At the same time, I’m in this for distance. I’m not in this for speed. Sure, I wear earplugs when bands play. Not when my band plays. There’s a lot of good stuff out there for vocalists to learn from. I can’t add to it any more than I already have. If I was going to say anything to vocalists – fuck vocal care tips – I would say that every time you open your mouth, that’s a moment of your life and the lives of everyone around you passing. Don’t waste it.”

– Brian from Catharsis

“Shows are the most amazing thing. To watch everyone so happy and pissed off at the same time. To watch everyone laugh and scream and fall over each other. I wouldn`t trade this for anything in the world….I will never forget any of this. Friends forever.”

– Dan from Reversal of Man

“Our past produces the air that pumps our lungs and minds today. We cannot forget what is happening and what has happened and what is happening. We will speak and spread the truth, telling the stories, reminding everyone of the raids, deportations, humiliation, mistreatment, and the degrading attempts to wipe out our culture, and the forceful tactics to assimilate us to their ‘American Way’…. The fear of rocking the boat is dead. We want to tip the fucker over. We will not look down any more; we will not passively stand by and watch. Our throats are cleared, our minds focused, and we are ready to respond.”

– Los Crudos (translated from Spanish)

“I`m not an idiot – I`m not a fucking stooge so stop talking to me about guns and bombs and stop trying to sell me on class warfare – I`m really not brain dead and I`m not an end-table and I`m really, really quite sure that you do not mean business, that you`re just one of the many stupid shouting voices who wants to play fight the pigs and talk drunk about bombing gas stations until you have to go work in one, that is, friend.”

– “I am not an idiot” by Born Against

“Preach to the converted? I wish.”

– “All People are Equal, But Some People are More Equal than Others” by Submission Hold

This course will assess the significance of “do it yourself” hardcore punk subcultures, primarily in North America, in the 1990s. It will embark on an analysis of the practices, music, ideals, style, words, and culture associated with this disparate underground scene by relating it to theories of subcultures, ideology, and concepts of culture as a form of resistance. The course will examine how this moment, perhaps more than a movement, embodies a resistance to the standardization of culture as a product in the sense that it refuses convention notions of the industrial capitalist model of mass culture that is produced as an object of consumption. It will consider how the idea of doing it yourself – creating zines, making and recording music, touring, forging links between social movements, and developing underground networks of distribution for culture – forms the basis of a practice that encourages us to see viable alternatives to the dominant consumerist model of cultural production. The course will consider how DIY hardcore exists as a provocation to thought that attempted to put into practice the ideals and alternatives to the status quo that it so frequently discussed, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing. The course is also interested in thinking about ethics and community and will consider hardcore punk as a spirited rebellion that valued passion as critical ethos. What does it mean to embrace emotion and irrationality as a strategy, if such a contradiction in purpose could be imagined? Why does it turn away from rationality and patient debate, if it does? How do hardcore subcultures territorialize a space and create new geographies? What does it mean to create a community that is sometimes premised upon a persistent and irremovable separation of its parts – sometimes across great distances? How does this moment encourage us to think place and space in ways that link it explicitly with a sense of self in relation to others?
The course will also examine what it means to attempt to record and archive a moment in time that by its very counter-cultural ideas is difficult to assess because it never sought to make itself public. The material we will examine and attempt to understand as an archive ranges from self-released vinyl records complete with elaborately handmade packaging, to live performance footage, or from zines and interviews to lyrics and music. We will read a number of secondary critical texts that will both describe and frame DIY hardcore culture. What we do not have is an anthology of primary materials. But this is class that requires a significant amount of time spent “discovering” the material we will study, some of which will happen in class, some of which we will be up to you to search and find.
While this is a class that will draw our attention to DIY Hardcore in the 1990s in North America, this claim to identify such a disparate collection of music, events, words, ideals, and ephemera under a single term is troublesome. Many elements of this archive are remarkably different. Some bands that sound quite similar may embrace a DIY ethic very differently, while some expressions of similar counter-cultural ideals are elaborated in starkly different ways even if they are similar in spirit. Thus the question of the coherence of this moment – indeed whether there is even some called “hardcore” – will be a persistent question for the course.
In the words of Michelle Gonzales, from Spitboy, “Hardcore is about exchanging ideas and making people think about issues they hadn’t thought of before. I was attracted to hardcore because you could find substantial pockets of people who cared about making a difference and changing society in a positive way.”
Class Schedule: Tuesday, Thursday 9:30-11:00, ART 210
Required Texts:

Ken Gelder, Subcultures

Justin Pearson, From the Graveyard of the Arousal Industry

Craig O’Hara, The Philosophy of Punk

Ross Haenfler, Straight Edge

Gabriel Kuhn, Ed., Sober Living for the Revolution
Supplemental Texts, available via Library Reserve:

Brian Peterson, Burning Fight: The Nineties Hardcore Revolution in Ethics, Politics, Spirit, and Sound

Norman Brannon, The Anti-Matter Anthology

Robert T. Wood, StraightEdge Youth

Nathan Nedorostek and Anthony Pappalardo, Radio Silence: A Selected Visual History of American Hardcore Music

J. Namdev Hardisty, DIY Album Art: Paper Bags and Office Supplies

Lars J. Kristiansen, Screaming for Change: Articulating a Unifying Philosophy of Punk Rock

Hans Arthus Skott-Myhre, Youth and Subculture as Creative Force: Creating New Spaces for Radical Youth Work
In class participation 10%

Archive Description 15%

Presentation 25%

DIY assignment 20%

Research Essay 30%


Week 1 Introductions

Gelder, Subcultures (1-46)
Week 2 Pearson, From the Graveyard of the Arousal Industry
Week 3 Horkheimer and Adorno, from Dialectic of Enlightenment

Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”

Hebdige, from Subculture: The Meaning of Style
Week 4 Peterson, Burning Fight (6-135)

Gelder, Subcultures (47-106)

Week 5 Gelder, Subcultures (107-158)

Week 6 Slavoj Zizek, from The Sublime Object of Ideology

O`Hara, The Philosophy of Punk

Reading week
Week 7 Presentations
Week 8 Haenfler, Straight Edge

DIY Assignment Due: March 3
Week 9 Presentations
Week 10 Kuhn, Ed., Sober Living for the Revolution
Week 11 Presentations
Week 12 Kuhn, Ed., Sober Living for the Revolution
Week 13 Conclusions

Research Essay Due April 7
Description of Course Assignments:

Because this is a fourth-year course, your participation in the content of the course, online and in class is expected and grades will be assessed for participation based upon the quality of your participation.

Archive Description

We do not have a course anthology and thus we need to familiarize ourselves with what DIY hardcore is by delving into the archive. For this assignment each of you will be required to come to class prepared to describe an element of this archive. You might discuss a particular band, share some of its music, characterize its lyrics and discuss its performances or record packaging. You might share a pdf of a zine and discuss its content with the class. The goal here is not analysis, per se, but simply describing an element of this archive in order to contribute to our collective understanding of what DIY hardcore involves. A signup sheet will be circulated and these mini-presentations will occur in weeks 4-5. After your presentation you will be required to contribute a written description of this element of the archive to the instructor via email within 1 day. Include a series of 3-6 “tags” that will enable us to begin to think about how to sort and identify this material. This brief written component will then be added to a course blog by the instructor.


Presentations will be delivered in pairs and will be approximately 20 minutes in duration and will introduce primary source material to the class that is relevant to the study of DIY hardcore culture and will very clearly apply course concepts to the material as a means of analyzing it. Unlike the archive description assignment, the goal here is use the theoretical and critical tools from our readings to analyze content of your choosing. You may also wish to critique and analyze the critical tools with which we are working in order to sharpen our understanding but you must also introduce and analyze primary source material that is part of the archive of DIY hardcore culture. There is no written component to the presentation, though I would strongly encourage you to think about this as a launching pad for thinking about the research paper. A more precise list of criteria for the evaluation of the presentation will be circulated closer to week 7.

DIY Assignment
In an effort to embrace the DIY ethic that this course examines, this is a do it yourself assignment that you will have absolute freedom to design and execute. In addition to the assignment itself, you will also be evaluated on a separate rationale for the assignment that should be approximately 500 words and should be included with the assignment. The rationale should explain the merits of the assignment in terms of its purpose and learning outcomes; in essence, you need to explain why you chose to craft the assignment the way you did and how that relates to the course and its aims.

Research Essay

The essay should be approximately 4-5000 words long and should analyze source material alongside critical concepts drawn from secondary readings. Essay prompts will be circulated toward week 9 or 10, and the essay will be due on the final day of classes.


The academic enterprise is founded on honesty, civility, and integrity.  As members of this enterprise, all students are expected to know, understand, and follow the codes of conduct regarding academic integrity.  At the most basic level, this means submitting only original work done by you and acknowledging all sources of information or ideas and attributing them to others as required.  This also means you should not cheat, copy, or mislead others about what is your work.  A more detailed description of academic integrity, including the policies and procedures, may be found at:,54,111,958

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