The Subcultural Event

Mel Gregg posted a call for papers to the CSAA list for the next antiTHESIS conference and journal volume. The conference is on: “The Event, Culture and Contingency”

From the possible themes, my paper will relate to these:

– Hype, spectacle and the production of pseudo-events
– Complexity, contingency, causality, creativity
– Anticipation, expectation, hindsight and memory

I will be sending off an abstract on one of the core ideas of my thesis — the ‘subcultural event’. It will be something like this, which I have just knocked up, but shorter:

The Subcultural Event of Modified-Car Enthusiasts

Car enthusiasts spend a lot of time preparing for specific events: drag racing (legal and illegal), cruising, organised cruises, car shows and so on. These events become the substance of their enthusiasm and are moments of affirmation where their enthusiasm is perpetuated. Various meanings circulate before, during and after the events, but the sense that the enthusiast participants derive of the event is singular in its distribution across participants. Such events are subcultural as they exist purely between the esoteric discourses of enthusiasts and the specific state of affairs defined by the event. The singular sense of these subcultural events is weighed across registers of anticipation and expectation. Anticipation is felt of the enthusiast body as a “yearning, tending, tropism” (Massumi, 2002: 91). Expectation is an experiential calculus through which the abstracted possibilities of the event are rendered subculturally consistent. Anticipation and expectation are enacted in the period leading up to the event through participation in online forums, various forms of communication, and work carried out upon the cars. The event produces its own temporality that is experienced by the enthusiast as an affective intensity or excitement. The excitement is slowly extinguished during the event and more so towards the ‘end’. People get bored, tired, run out of money or fuel or tires, have other plans, and so on. What remains is a memory of the event, which shall fuel discussion on other occasions, and the modified car as a technological embodiment of the potentiality of events yet to come.

Paul Corrigan’s (1976) work on ‘doing nothing’ serves as an earlier appreciation of subcultural practice that was distinct from other neo-Marxist inspired theories, yet his work has been ignored in the recent work on ‘post-subculture’ (Muggleton, 1997; 2000; Muggleton and Weinzierl, 2003; Bennett and Kahn-Harris, 2004). ‘Doing nothing,’ like the modified-car enthusiast events of cruising or racing, is an example of what Gilles Deleuze (1990) called an ‘incorporeal event.’ In the case of subcultural events that belong to modified-car culture, the ritualised practices and qualitative attributes of the modifications carried out upon cars become expressive when they territorialise the spaces in which the events occur (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 316-317). The cruising car, for example, literally becomes a street machine that territorialises the street. Drag racing is another, but different example; the necessary conditions of racing where extracted from their initial space of emergence and reproduced as the drag strip: a commodified space of enthusiasm.

I have been crapping on about the street machine thing since day one of my thesis… now I am very close to nailing exactly what i want to say about it. It is a problematic, but I shall actualise it. (oh, I kill me! such deleuze nerd humour… fuck, what a knee-slapper…)

The relevance of the subcultural event extends beyond car dudes. Think of the way raves — another kind of subcultural event — have efficiently been commodified by various cultural economies. There is a cycle common to both raves and drag racing: mass media moral panic, regulation of practice, extraction from initial milieu and commodification within enthusiast cultural economies. Do underground raves still occur? Do illegal street races still occur? Uhuh…

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