"Raise the Black Flag": The Neoliberal Aesthetic in 1970s Britain

Gregory A. Steirer, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

Academic discourse in both the humanities and the social sciences has erred in its presentation of subculture as progressive and/or anti-capitalist; British subculture—specifically, as we find it in the long 1970s (1967-1982)—is driven not by the politics of socialism but by the politico-aesthetic principles of neoliberalism. By examining specific instances of subculture (1968 protests, industrial culture, hermetic film, and Punk) from a politically neutral sociological, economic, and historical lens, one sees how subcultural movements deliberately used “bad” politics for the meta-political and aesthetic (or extra-political) “purposes” identified with neoliberalism. In meta-political terms, subculture worked to contest accepted barriers and limits to all forms of human activity for the sake of a “free-er,” more open, and more diverse politico-economic order. Subcultures thus specifically attacked government policies, industrial monopolies, the growth of technocracy and professionalization, political correctness, and the general encroachment of purpose or planning upon cultural production (or Art). In keeping with the neoliberal principle of social agnosticism, these attacks against “freedom’s” enemies were not accompanied by any blueprint or vision of what Britain should be like. Subculture thus explicitly rejected and revolted against utopianism for the sake of an unknown, self-determining or spontaneous order.