I’ve been out of the country for a week at a great workshop in Berlin “How to Write and Conceptualize the History of Youth Cultures” organised by Felix Fuhg, Doctoral Student, with the Centre for Metropolitan studies. I was travelling with the histrrry girls and The Subcultures Network, so there were Harringtons. There are always Harringtons. We spent one day working and talking in the Archiv der Jugendkulturen. Its an incredible community archive and library that has brought together all the different traces of resistance in youth culture and subcultures. From magazines made by school pupils to the Love Parades’ backdrops and giant cut outs of Nena – the transational and hyper local are boxed up together and are being carefully catalogued by local participant experts in each scene.
Over the past few weeks Class War and LSE’s Lisa Mckenzie in particular have been taking a lot of stick for their choice of target and tactics. For months Class War and the Women’s Death Brigade have been standing up against the relocation of young teenage mothers by supporting E15 Mums’ campaign, opposing Poor Doors, challenging Gay Pride’s for profit associations with big business and international banking, and exposing the dodgy deals and marketing of working class women’s bodies for profit at the Jack the Ripper Museum in Cable St. All pretty straight forward. Not everyone likes the shouty, irreverent style of the brigade, but its pretty hard to defend kicking out teenage mums, humiliating social housing tenants, censoring gay activists in the name of Pride, or possible shonky negotiations for planning permission. But then Class War went too far. They went for the hipster – and the infamous Cereal Killer Café. Jokes were made on Radio 4 quizzes. Newspapers dug around in activist’s private lives and recreational choices for a few exposes. Friends of mine argued that these were the wrong targets and the wrong tactics. I’m not going to get into analysis of cultural capital and bearded entitlement (but honestly doesn’t your face take up enough space already?). But I found it difficult to see the cereal café as the biggest victim in the struggle around austerity.
Fair enough, the other side of that coin is that the bearded cereal sellers might not be your biggest problem either. In fact you might not have heard about all the grassroots activism that Class War and the Fuck Parade had been doing if they hadn’t annoyed Shoreditch. [disclaimer – I am gluten and lactose free so cereal prices are never going to be my biggest issue] But the issue of personal taste, and personal tactics really isn’t the problem anymore. The truth is, it doesn’t matter what your personal political style is. It doesn’t matter how your particular political form and content sit together. Because whether you like it or not, whether we like each other’s style or not, we really are all in it together. If we didn’t know that already, the CPS have just made it very clear.
The course is in its second year and from the start, my co-tutor Chris Warne and myself, imagined it as an experiment in democratic teaching and learning. We use the growth of academic work around subcultures and youth culture since 1976 to explore bigger questions around what it means to be a contemporary historian today. This means that we look at local histories, archival practices, life history like memoirs, sound, image and moving images, and oral history alongside popular culture. Although there has been a determined growth in academic work on subcultures in history, sociology, criminology, English studies and beyond, PPB puts these alongside other forms of history work outside of the formal universities. We take the memories that people inherit, share and turn into stories as seriously as the academic theories around the politics of popular culture.
Good News! Chris Warne and I have been awarded one of 6 Technology Enhanced Learning Innovation Scheme awards at the University of Sussex. Our project is called DIY DIGITAL: Doing Punk Online. The award is attached to our shared third year special subject course Post-Punk Britain. The course is in its second year of delivery, and from the very first planning discussions that Chris and I had about setting up the course we wanted to explore free and open ways of taking the discussion out of the class room and really encouraging a DIY learning model.
I was part of a panel discussion on fans and music documentary at this year’s Sheffield Documentary Festival. The panel was organised by Emily Renshawe-Smith. We discussed work by Daisy Asquith (Crazy About One Direction), and Nick Abrahams (The Posters Came from the Walls) and Jeanie Finlay Orion: The Man Who Would be King. If you stick with it, you can hear me have a bit of a debate with the one and only Peter York.