Rereading American Hardcore: Intersectional Privilege and the Lyrics of Early Californian Hardcore Punk

Abstract: In this article, I deal with the Californian youth subculture of hardcore punk. Despite the fact that the majority of the subculture’s main protagonists were white male adolescents from the suburban middle class and thus occupied privileged social positions, they presented themselves as misfits, outcasts, and victims of society. In order to establish a critical approach to this movement, I effectively reverse the concept of Intersectionality as it is defined in Avtar Brah and Ann Phoenix’s essay “Ain’t I a Woman? Revisiting Intersectionality” (2004) and move the focus to the interlocking privileges that reveal the hardcore punks’ advantageous subject positions. I will then perform a contextual close reading of three exemplary song lyrics that helps to point out if or in how far the respective adolescents reflect on the privileged backgrounds they come from. Do they acknowledge the advantages that go along with their allegedly-normative status as white male Americans? How do they deal with them and do they succeed in establishing a credible contra-position?

This article deals with the Californian youth subculture of hardcore punk, which developed during the 1980s and still proves to be influential in American and international alternative music scenes. The fact that the writing phase of the “Magisterarbeit” (MA Thesis) on whose findings this text is primarily based fell into the year 2007 supported the thought of using it for a closer examination of punk and hardcore. In this year, numerous articles, reports, and retrospectives spoke of the thirtieth anniversary of punk. A look at the founding days of punk and its subgenre hardcore punk thus seemed especially interesting. George Lipsitz’s essay “Listening to Learn and Learning to Listen: Popular Culture, Cultural Theory, and American Studies” built the initial basis for a more scholarly or at least more theoretical approach, which helped to inscribe the topic into the realm of American Studies.

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