Emo as a Subculture


Emo refers to a style of rock music that originated in hardcore punk movement in 1980s, and also fashion, culture, and behavior associated with the music. Emo music was born as a result of reaction to elevated violence in hardcore punk scene, and shifting focus from community to individual experience and emotions. At first it was minor movement within hardcore rock, but this underground music style won popularity as it combined with more popular genres and the success of several bands of this style. As a result, emo got recognized much more broadly, and finally became mainstream music genre. Contrary to increasing popularity of the music, culture of emo such as fashion and fan-artists intercourse remained “subordinate” to mainstream culture.

The characteristic of emo music is melodic tunes and expressive, confessional lyrics. Because of this character, this style is eventually called emotional hardcore or “emo-core.” As the music spread nationwide, other aspects of culture such as fashion had emerged. Emo fashion is characterized by tight jeans and tight t-shirt, often times short sleeves, and black-dyed or bright colored straightened long hair which covers one or both eyes. Emo culture is accepted especially largely to young generation, and there has been huge criticisms pointing out bad influences that the culture gives to youth. Those criticisms are often times based on stereotypes of “emo kids” ; they are exceptionally emotional, sensitive, withdrawn, worried, easily get depressed, and often times engage in self-injury and in extreme case, suicide.

We learned in class that subculture challenges the dominant ideology and hegemony indirectly, and exposes the tension between dominant and minority cultures. Emo culture also is the case because it emerges as a reaction to mainstream rock scene in 1980s, and central idea of emo is the individual experience in mainstream society and resulted emotions like despair and heartbreak. We also learned that many of the cases subcultures have unique signs that differentiate them from others. In the case of emo, fashion is important sign since people can recognize them almost instantly by looking at how they dress.

Media helped emo culture to spread widely and rapidly, but today media gives them hard time by spreading false idea about emo. Criticism has it that emo culture is harmful to youth because it distracts their healthy mental and physical development. However, this is wrong accusation because the self-destructive tendency is wrong association with emo kids that created by media. Clearly this is the example of controlling image since it is not accurate description of emo culture and enhance false recognition of the culture.


One thought on “Emo as a Subculture

  1. Excellent analysis and discussion of emo subculture and how new media allows more individuals to connect to emo. The increased criticism of emo also suggests how it is reaching a wider audience. To what extent is the criticism justified?

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