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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Of Gods and geeks: Grunge, understanding the popularity of punk in the 90’s from the perspectives of postmodernism and authenicity Sharples, Christopher


This thesis examines the varied textual expressions, discourses, and social practices of the ‘Grunge’ culture in relation to its potential for the formation or possession of uniquely defined yet socially significant moral values. Specifically, the aim of this paper was to explain how the seemingly new moral values of an increasingly popular contemporary North American youth culture, rooted in the values and styles of the Punk subculture, are reflected and understood in its artistic/aesthetic texts and how social agency and/or significance is or can be attained through participation in this culture. Currently, it is widely believed among members of older generations in society (both academic and non-academic) that contemporary youth lack any moral values whatsoever and that their personal beliefs, actions, and cultures are socially and politically insignificant and bearing on the delinquent and anti-social. Three elements of contemporary culture which currently impede understanding from a completely modem perspective are: 1: individualistic and self-fulfilling behaviour are being misread as being egocentric, self-indulgent and hedonistic, 2: the commodifying and mass producing of cultural texts which is believed to deny the possibility of critical activity in opposition to dominant social and ideological institutions, 3: unstable identities that appear to have no commitment to moral values or concerns. Consequently, after introducing the idea that the ethical can be located in the aesthetic and cultural I incorporated the perspectives of postmodernity (as a socially positive disbelief in metanarratives) and authenticity (as a moral ideal) into the philosophical and theoretical foundations of this study in order to reveal new and more appropriate forms and ways of interpreting and understanding contemporary cultural expressions. My approach to the actual subject matter incorporated a reflexive hermeneutical sociological methodology, in conjunction with a philosophy influenced by a postmodern consciousness, that promotes the practice of interpretation for understanding and explaining how culturally constructed texts and discourses can provide for and consist of new moral values and socially significant activity. This avoided modern quantitative and supposedly objective methods and relied on the use of principles founded on rhetoric and argumentation to assess and defend my readings of and judgements on the text. A method for providing valid results from hermeneutical participant observation is also outlined but it was not used in the research portion of the study. My understanding is that the Grunge culture, and quite probably other contemporary youth cultures, can be understood as postmodern and authentic and, therefore, can be considered socially significant. It’s texts express a mood of postmodernism in the discourses of a disbelief in metanarratives and a concern with ‘otherness’ by effacing the metanarratives associated with mainstream or dominant culture through parody and pastiche, the presentation of the unpresentable, and an assault on nostalgia. The culture, as it becomes popular and mainstream, also becomes the target of its own effacement in keeping with the incredulity with universalisms. The moral ideal of authenticity, from which the culture also gets its social significance, is found in the implicit expressions of self-determination and a belief in freedom, equality, fairness, and dignity amongst human beings.

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