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Hippies, Punks, Skinheads Subcultures in the US Essay

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Updated: Aug 30th, 2020


The term “subculture” refers to a part of the culture of the society that is clearly distinct from the mainstream culture (and that positions itself as distinct), as well as to the groups of bearers of this culture. Subcultures may differ from the dominating culture in a number of ways, including the values, political views, behavior, and so on. In this paper, a review of such three subcultures that existed in the U.S. and had a major impact on the American and world cultures as hippies, punks, and skinheads will be provided.


The subculture of hippies emerged in the USA in the early 1960s and later spread around the world. The origins of the subculture are associated with numerous social movements that existed in Europe and the U.S. prior to the hippies’ emergence. The common perception of a hippie is that of a person who advocates liberty and freedom in politics, society, and lifestyle, including the harmony with nature, living in communes, hedonistic fulfillment, etc. (Issitt xi).

It was the aim of the members of the hippie movement to become liberated from the restrictions imposed on them by society and to select their own way of life. They questioned the authority while respecting the individual rights of a person. The members of the subculture also often rejected the mainstream religion, choosing to adhere to personal experience, which often had roots in religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Native American beliefs, etc. (“Spirituality and Religion” par. 1).

Hippies also promoted sexual freedom; whereas the movement is often associated with promiscuity and seduction in common perceptions, its members often sought to advance a sexual life that would be free of jealousy and rancor, instead offering pleasure and fulfillment. It was a conviction of hippies that love should not be compulsorily limited to only one person (while, of course, they saw nothing wrong in loving one person and forming a long-term relationship with them). Hippies also used (and advocated the use of) drugs, psychedelic drugs in particular. As for the classification of their political views, these can be considered closest to anarchism; hippies meant to create an alternative society that would have a libertarian, horizontal organization.

The appearance and style of hippies are easily recognizable; the members of the movement often preferred primitive, somewhat vagrant style, wearing long hair and loose clothes; men often had beards, while women wore no bra. Simultaneously, hippies often liked bright, colorful garments. In addition, they strived to minimize gender differences; therefore, clothes for men and women did not differ significantly. The members of the movement frequently listened to psychedelic rock, blues, folk; hippie festivals deserved fame all over the world, with the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair becoming “the largest hippie gathering in history” (Issitt xx).


The punk subculture is one of the most famous youth subcultures in the world. Its emergence took place in the U.K., the U.S., and Australia in the 1970s. The subculture is closely associated with a particular genre of rock music, which bears the name of the culture – the punk rock, as well as with certain trends in clothes and appearance. Punks also often have particular political perceptions that can usually be characterized as progressive, left-wing views.

It is stated that punk means “anti-authority,” and “not being taken by propaganda or spin” (Hannon 1). In the U.S., the subculture emerged thanks to art students who wished to become writers, artists, and moviemakers, and thanks to middle-class suburban teenagers who desired to express their disappointment about the world (Hannon 5).

The political views of the members of the subculture can easily be linked to these origins; punks often attempt to reject the existing social norms, and “engage in free thought, direct action, rebellion, and work to change the world” (Hannon 2), thus becoming advocates of radical social freedom and independence. It is no wonder that individualist, antimilitarist, antiracist, antinationalist, anticapitalist, anarchistic perceptions can often be encountered among punks. However, there exist certain movements that are also classified as punk, such as Nazi punk, which are proponents of completely opposing views, such as racism, homophobia, anti-communism, and anti-anarchism, etc.

The members of the subculture favor the punk rock genre of music; the latter usually uses guitars (electric and bass), drums, and vocals, and employs hard-edged melodies and quick-paced songs; the lyrics often express the political views of the movement and its anti-establishment attitudes. The appearance of punks also demonstrates their anti-normative perceptions; the styles include unusual and catchy hairstyles (mohawks, bright hair color, etc.), purposefully obscene garments, leather jackets, Doc Marten boots, metal spikes in clothes, etc. (Hannon 51).


The subculture of skinheads originally emerged in the U.K. in the 1960s. With time, it spread across many other countries in the world, including the U.S. First American skinheads appeared in the 1980s, and the culture spread over the whole country rapidly; the centers of this subculture emerged almost simultaneously in numerous cities across the USA (Travis and Hardy xxv). The subculture’s name originates from the hairstyle of its members, who preferred to have close-cropped hair or a shaved head. Skinheads are often classified as having right-wing or extreme right political ideology; however, there exist sub-movements in the culture that have antiracist views (Travis and Hardy xxix-xxx).

The American skinheads partially originate from the punk rock movements; some members adopted a new style and defined themselves as the members of the skinhead subculture. The emergence of skinheads at the beginning of the 1980s is associated with gangs and crews; these often could be characterized by initiation rituals, strict formal hierarchy, and participation in vandalism, street violence, and aggressive behaviors (Travis and Hardy xxviii). However, in 1986-1988, groups of skinheads with alternative views emerged; some cities became famous for antiracist skinhead organizations (Travis and Hardy xxx-xxxi). Therefore, while skinheads are often associated with the extreme right ideologies and the fight for “the survival of the White Race,” there existed certain sub-movements in the subculture opposing the views of the skinhead mainstream.

The traditional appearance of a skinhead is associated with a shaved head or closely-cropped hair, heavy boots such as Dr. Martens, work jeans or stay-pressed pants, suspenders, etc. The skinhead subculture is often associated with such styles of music as ska, reggae, and soul; however, members of different sub-movements might favor different types of music.


To sum up, the three discussed subcultures are among the most well-known subcultures in the world. While certain ideas of hippies have been assimilated by modern Western society, the ideas of punks and skinheads generally remain more marginal. It also should be stressed that, while hippies and most punks advocated social and personal freedom, independence, etc. (with punks often being more radical and more aggressive than hippies), skinheads usually promoted an opposing, significantly more violent agenda that included such elements as racism, machismo, and strict hierarchy.

Works Cited

Hannon, Sharon M. Punks: A Guide to an American Subculture. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2010. Print.

Issitt, Micah L. Hippies: A Guide to an American Subculture. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2009. Print.

. n.d.

Travis, Tiffini A., and Perry Hardy. Skinheads: A Guide to an American Subculture. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2012. Print.

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