Skinheads Essay

3240 words - 13 pages

When thinking about skinhead gangs in London, it is impossible not to conjure up images of shaved heads and heavy Doc Martin boots accompanying a particularly racist kind of violence with no respect for authority structures of the state. However, did these gangs begin with such a clear idea of their purpose? Were they aware that their daily activities would become a “subculture” along with the Mods and Rockers? In his essay titled “The Skinheads and the Magical Recovery of Community,” John Clarke argues that skinheadism is about the recovery of a community in working class neighborhoods where this feeling had been lost due to various changes in socio-economic conditions. He says that their feeling of exclusion “produced a return to an intensified ‘Us-Them’ consciousness” (Clarke, 99). Though the realization of this distinction plays a major part in the formation of any subculture, the Us-Them discourse turns out to be much more complicated in the case of skinhead gangs, and the space that these groups occupy in relation to the outside world does not have such clear boundaries. Looking at three different representations of Skinhead culture: the novel A Clockwork Orange (1962) by Anthony Burgess, the non-fiction work The Paint House (1972) by the Collinwood gang, and the film Scum (1979) directed by Alan Clarke, the evolution of this space over time becomes clear. This change happens both in the way the gangs define and view themselves, as well as in the way mainstream society deals with the problem of violence in “Modern Youth” (Burgess, 41).

Ironically, the skinhead style began as a way for these working class youths to feel dignified and was in direct opposition to the tendency of other young people, such as hippies, to be untidily dressed and grow their hair long. “When we started dressing like skinheads…, it wasn’t an evil thing,” says one member of the Collinwood gang, “Because when we started it our mums said ‘Oh lovely short hair,’ ‘I’ve never seen you looking so nice.’” They liked the style because it was “much smarter” than the majority of youth style at the time (Paint House, 120). Eventually this look of short hair, collared shirt, upturned pants, and heavy boots became a uniform that helped unite the gang, and gave it an identity that was visible to others. “The conformity of the uniform was a demonstration of the uniformity of language, areas of discussion, interests, attitudes and actions” (Paint House, 116). This uniformity of style is also important in A Clockwork Orange, as clothes are always meticulously described, and often quite similar to the style dictated by the Collinwood gang (Burgess, 2).

For these groups, clothes become the symbol of a community that they want to re-create in order to combat the changes that were happening within their neighborhood. Before this, the local community was enough to give these youths a sense of belonging. However, the introduction of immigrants and the building of large...

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