Perhaps it is time to focus on what the emo subculture and style is trying to achieve in our mission to understand emo’ instead of wrangling over aesthetic trademarks. Emo subculture has been linked in the past year by the media to the murder and suicide of teenagers across the country and has recently gained rapid notoriety. Evolving out of a combination of related subcultures including Punk and Goth, it is particularly fascinating to the Press because it is the first sizable subculture whose growth and existence is inextricably linked to the internet, in particular the networking website MySpace. In our post-modern cyborg society, the traditional oppositions and distances between mainstream media and subcultures have been lost and this has proved problematic for distinctions between representations and realities. Traditional methods of subversion utilized by subcultures; the use of style to thwart dominant ideologies, can no longer operate in sense it used to and emo style it might seem has been reduced to nothing more powerful than pastiche of rebellion.
The term Emo’ is derived from the word emotional’ (as we are constantly told in way of explanation), it describes a subculture based around the juxtaposition of introspective emotional expression and cyber social networking. Common stylistic traits include wearing of tight supatube’ black jeans, band or retro style t-shirts, hair worn with a black side fringe and listening to music laden with emotionally heavy lyrics. The subculture is most popular with American, British and Australian white middle class youth and is heavily entrenched in the networking website MySpace’. On MySpace’ members create a personal profile including long-winded poetic blogs, lyrics from Emo associated bands and highly manufactured digital top-down’ self-portraits to express their high level of emotionality as well as forums to network with common topics including self harm and suicide for example how would u kill yourself’. The language used in blogs is identifiably middle class in contrast to working class punks’ purposeful typing errors and grammatical mistakes. The language used in the blogs is that of a middle to high level of education, witty, abstract and usually comprising of highly edited complex prose with obvious access to and proficiency in technology and programs such as html. The musical style includes elements of Punk, Hardcore, Rock and traces of Pop such as repetitive chorus riffs, though the music is always identifiably different due to its acutely raw emotional and expressive vocals. Performances and video clips are theatrical with male band members and followers often wearing black eye make-up.
Emo subculture signifies disorder (a characteristic necessary for the classification of a subculture) by entrenching itself heavily in a cyber network not accessible to parent cultures or mainstream media and rejects traditional middle’ structures of commerce such as Record Labels, endorsing a bottom-up’ or more democratic model of music production and access. It signifies commodities and style in cyber space which then appear to be incoherent and disorderly when transferred to actual material and activity. Mainstream and parent cultures have difficulty deconstructing the evolution and connotations of the signified style which follows the claim that the style in itself is no longer spectacularly rebellious. Rather it’s the way Emo style has been constructed and the inaccessibility of the style re-signifying processes to mainstream culture which poses the perceived threat to society. This is evident in the media with news reports increasingly linking Emo subculture to teenage death, such as The West Australian’s report on the 28th April 2007, which claimed in scrutiny of two girls murdering a friend;
the girls had planned the “thrill kill”, wanting to know what it would be like to murder someone. The only explanation for their actions was their drug use and involvement with the emo culture, which was centered on death and darkness.’
This report obviously contradicts the nature of the Emo culture which promotes dark introspective contemplation and allegedly self-harm- rather than actions against others.
The androgynous manner of Emo expression, claiming deep emotionality as its trademark style which was previously only acceptable for females, expresses resistance to gender constructs in an oppositional way to that of the mainstream metro-sexual’ who uses fashion (rather than rebellious style) to express an only aesthetic-deep deconstruction of gender. The modernist grid of gender-fashion is outmoded here by two groups who stand in stark antithesis. The two are firm enemies because the mainstream metro-sexual uses aesthetics (males wearing pink) to play at a visual level with gender constructs while enforcing the notion by more meaningful actions, such as calling emotional boys gay’; while the emo style is identifiably sub cultural, using stylistic actions to mount a challenge to the notion of gender differentiated behavior.
The individualistic Emo subculture can still be linked to social, political and economic conditions even if the link is not as direct or overt as it was within modernist subcultures. The fact that its members are generally middle class, white and act out a deep reflective consciousness may be viewed as a possible response to continued western world global dominance, war and the disastrous state of the environment; while the cultures homosexual sympathies could be perceived as a reaction to a decade under conservative governmental rule and expression of a general feeling that liberation in the West is not as advanced as might be perceived. Emo could equally be as viewed as a dramatization of western society’s overly diagnostic approach to human behavior and the explosion of diagnosed depression within society.
Emo’s use the internet and networking websites to inscribe meaning to commodities rather than experiencing all the signs of their subculture through the media before changing and inscribing signifiers on their own bodies like Punk, and it has been shown to be clear that the media is still yet to grasp the signified meanings of Emo style. Perhaps the meaning of the style is meant to make sense only to its subscribers and this alone is the act of subversion.