Consumption and Identity: How Punks and Sneakerheads Define and Constitute Their Identities through Conspicuous Consumption

“ The subcultures with which we have been dealing share a common feature apart from the fact that they are all predominantly working class. They are, as we have seen, cultures of conspicuous consumption – even when, as with the skinheads and the punks, certain types of consumption are conspicuously refused – and it is through the distinctive rituals of consumption, through style, that the subculture at once reveals its ‘secret’ identity and communicates its forbidden meanings.” Hebdige, D. p.102–103

What people consume constitutes their identities, and communicates their characteristics to others within the cultural context. In his article, Hebdige suggests that subcultural group, such as punk is using unique objects and commodities to differentiate their identity from others. Using subcultural style as a form of communication, punks alienate themselves from the mainstream culture, however, such dissonant subversion might be seen as deviant by average women and man. According to this, the quote resonates with the core argument in Hebdige’s article. In the sense that punk culture by all means exemplifies a revolting style, which is very different compared to the mainstream, and through consuming commodities punks signify such subversive presentation of their identity to the public. For instance, punks would wear lavatory chains as a decoration, or pierce a safety pins through their cheek, ear or lip. Fabrics like PVC, lurex and plastic have become popular in punk community, along with obviously dyed hair. They are doing what is considered polar opposite of mainstream fashion.

Moreover, to demostrate this “culture of conspicuous consumption”, punks also attempt to distinguish their own art forms from the main cultural discourses. Heavy metal music is one of the typical music forms that punks worship, with the controversial titles, songs “If You Don’t Want to Fuck Me, Fuck off”, and “I Wanna be Sick on You” communicate their rebellious characteristics, meanwhile manifesting that they do not embrace the standard of the dominant cultural discourse.

Similar to punks who consume distinctive commodities and cultural products to reflect their values to the mainstream, another subcultural group, underground hip-hop fashion fans purchase sneaker shoes to express their identity. The so-called “sneakerheads” have created a cultural phenomenon that embeds significances in commodities, such as sneakers and shoelaces, meanwhile by consuming and showing off their polished Air First One or Adidas, sneaker heads constitute and consolidate their unique style. The conspicuous consumption on sneakers not only reveals their identity, but also differentiates them from other mainstream culture, given the fact that sneaker and hip-hop culture usually only resonates to the communities that deeply rooted in or constantly associate with the urban underground culture. In the documentary Just for Kicks, it tells a story about the ways in which the culture of sneaker heads is established and flourished by youths from hip-hop underground culture. One of the founding member in Run D.M.C. who is famous for his hip-hop song "My Adidas" states that "it is all about the look, you wear sneakers to impress others." In addition, hip-hop music is one of the major factors that promote sneaker culture within the fan community. In hip-hop music, artists rap about the shoes, sining that how great a person could feel while wearing sneakers. Such cultural discourse not only perpetuates this commodity fetishism on footwear to the fans, but also confirms on the notion of sneakers as identity artifact. Nevertheless, Nike and Adidas among others are taking advantages of the sneaker culture. By marketing specifically on sneak heads through product placement in music videos, hiring hip-hop musicians as their brand ambassadors, and hunger marketing, this underground culture has become the subject to commodification.

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