|READING GUIDE TO:
Willis, P. (1990) Common Culture. Milton Keynes: Open
Chapter 1 - Symbolic
Very often this situation ends in some spectacular examples of sub-cultures. Class, gender and race are still important and consumption is much more closely connected to production for this group via the notion of ‘informal everyday culture’. What happens, ironically, is that the market, and consumption, releases creativity while work suppresses it (p.19). This is Willis at his most populist, for example, referring to ‘bedroom decoration as a field of aesthetic realisation’ (p.20) or using the term ‘grounded aesthetics’ to describe particular forms of popular cultural activity including sticking posters on your wall. Indeed, there is quite a lot of ‘fine writing’ [ what I have called elsewhere 'talking up the data']-- for example on page 22 ‘doing nothing’ is really 'shaping a grounded aesthetics'!! The role of fun and festivity is stressed here, and fantasy. Cultural commodities are at least popular and therefore ‘a cultural pessimism offers us only road blocks’ (p.26) and this includes post-modern pessimism.
Chapter 2 - The Media
There is a lot of work on the relation to realism -- for example, the young unemployed seem to reproduce a number of points about the 'active' Dallas viewer [capable of critical and ironic readings, according to Ang's famous study], and they talk a great deal about the issue raised by popular television. They seem to feature a playful, active reading and use their own VCR’s to accomplish this, together with micro computers and games. The skilled ones, Willis tells us, are even able to write their own programmes. As a result, it is possible to see developing a ‘community based data store’ according to Willis.
There is a lot of optimistic policy implications for youth and community television as well. Films are not popular, however -- although the young unemployed like going to the cinema for its atmosphere. Horror films often involve the audience participating in ‘mutual symbolic construction’. They can also parody and imitate, and the young happen to be especially good at this. Popular songs are quoted in advertisements but, of course, the kids see through this and still don’t buy things. Consumption becomes a signal of individuality. Teenage magazines are still liked but the young unemployed can ‘take the piss’ out of these too. For example, they can use the photographs in them to construct their own identities. 'Bedroom culture' still seems to be alive and well and is developed in a skilled way. Magazines can empower, and become a sign of powerlessness -- so some sort of encouraging policy is needed to make them more empowering.
Chapter 3 - Pop Music
There is a great deal of popular knowledge about song lyrics including ‘the semantic complexities and nuances’ (p.69). Young unemployed people use the lyrics of popular songs to make sense of their lives and they can pursue multiple interpretations. There are many meanings, especially for black kids, in reggae even though this has been incorporated by white people. Even recorded music can lead to actual musical production, for example, in the use of Caribbean sound systems - toasting and rapping or do it yourself mixing and DJ-ing. Rap, in particular, for Willis is a form of ‘oral poetry’ (p.74)
Chapter 4 - Style
In the conclusion the whole book
ends with a plea for sponsorship of community arts on the grounds that
the young unemployed are creative and are capable of producing their own
cultures and they should be funded and assisted to do that, especially
in terms of encouraging the constructive dimensions of their culture.