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‘A Couple of These Videos Is All You Really Needed to Get Pumped to Skate’: Subcultural Media, Nostalgia and Re-Viewing 1990s Skate Media on YouTube

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Abstract

The reappearance of VHS skateboarding movies produced during the 1990s on YouTube presents a timely opportunity to examine how the subcultural identities of former skateboarders are reassessed in later life. Drawing on subcultural studies and theories of mediated memory, this article analyses comments made by viewers of YouTube re-postings of 411 Video Magazine, an era-defining skateboard movie series of the 1990s. The analysis suggests that re-viewing content of once cherished VHS tapes affords former skaters a nostalgic moment of reconnection with their youth involving a combination of three forms of nostalgia: subcultural nostalgia, biographical nostalgia, and format nostalgia. For many viewers, re-viewing skate videos retrospectively recognizes the formative role skateboarding played in shaping their identity and also allows an appraisal of both the past subcultural formation and the media format through which its values were expressed and communicated.
‘A Couple of These
Videos Is All You Really
Needed to Get Pumped
to Skate’: Subcultural
Media, Nostalgia and
Re-Viewing 1990s Skate
Media on YouTube
Thomas Thurnell-Read1
Abstract
The reappearance of VHS skateboarding movies produced during the 1990s on
YouTube presents a timely opportunity to examine how the subcultural identities
of former skateboarders are reassessed in later life. Drawing on subcultural studies
and theories of mediated memory, this article analyses comments made by viewers
of YouTube re-postings of 411 Video Magazine, an era-defining skateboard movie
series of the 1990s. The analysis suggests that re-viewing content of once cherished
VHS tapes affords former skaters a nostalgic moment of reconnection with their
youth involving a combination of three forms of nostalgia: subcultural nostalgia,
biographical nostalgia, and format nostalgia. For many viewers, re-viewing skate videos
retrospectively recognizes the formative role skateboarding played in shaping their
identity and also allows an appraisal of both the past subcultural formation and the
media format through which its values were expressed and communicated.
Keywords
Ageing, memory, nostalgia, skateboarding, subcultural media, subculture, YouTube
Introduction
With its sustained focus on youthful resistance (Blackman, 2014; Hall & Jefferson,
1976) subcultural theory proved well equipped to understand the emergence of
Article
1 Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK.
Corresponding author:
Thomas Thurnell-Read, Loughborough University, Loughborough LE11 3TU, UK.
E-mail: t.thurnell-read@lboro.ac.uk
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1–19
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DOI: 10.1177/11033088211057365
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skateboarding as a subcultural phenomenon in the closing decades of the 20th
century. With its associations of opposition to authority (Németh, 2006), risk-taking,
and social rebellion (Atencio et al., 2009), skateboarding has been understood
as an example of resistant and creative youth subculture (Beal, 1995; Borden, 2019).
Indeed, in spite of achieving the mainstream acceptance indicated by global
commercial success and Olympic inclusion (Batuev & Robinson, 2017; Thurnell-
Read, 2021), skateboarding retains many features of a thriving youth subculture. In
recent years there has been a growing cultural reverence for, and glamourization of,
the formative years of skateboarding, with ‘a lot of skateboarders, mostly the older
set, have been revisiting history, drunk with nostalgia’ (Hamm, 2004, p. 11). At a
time when there is a burgeoning cultural fascination with nostalgic visions of
the past (Holdswoth, 2001; Niemeyer, 2014), films such as Lords of Dogtown
(Hardwicke, 2005), All This Mayhem (Martin, 2014), and Mid90s (Hill, 2018) give
skateboarding a cinematic treatment that invokes an era in which skateboarding was
emerging as an immersive subculture that gave its youthful participants a source of
meaning and collective identity.
Many of the core concerns of subcultural studies—such as style, resistance,
identity, and authenticity (Williams, 2007)—are bound up with how the discipline
has conceptualized youth. Yet, more recent understandings of youth as non-
linear and involving transitional stages (Pollock, 2008), periods of exploration,
experimentation, and ‘becoming’ (Worth, 2009); and ‘complex, nuanced and
multiple orientations towards the future’ (Woodman, 2011, p. 126) make a binary
distinction between rebellious youth and routine adulthood questionable. It is
therefore of interest to understand how the ‘live-for-the-moment ideology’ of late
20th century lifestyle subcultures (Williams, 2011), such as skateboarding, play
out as participants transition first into ‘emerging adulthood’ (Arnett, 2007), then
middle age, and beyond. For many older participants in youth subculture a sense of
attachment to the subculture may remain long after direct involvement has ceased.
Feelings of nostalgia which ‘may be intrinsic to the life-experience of individuals,
as they go through the shifting perspectives of childhood and adulthood’ (Chase &
Shaw, 1989, p. 15), may therefore be seen as a significant phenomenon central to
understanding the cultural significance of skateboarding.
The address this topic, the subject of this research is the reappearance of VHS
skateboarding movies produced during the 1990s and now digitized and posted
on platforms such as YouTube. This recirculation of historical materials as
‘digitized artefacts’ afford viewers ‘their own generationally situated memories of
the past and their links with the present’ (Bennett & Rogers, 2016, pp. 112–113).
The reappearances of past era skate media therefore present a timely opportunity
to examine how the subcultural identities of former skateboarders are revisited
and reassessed in later life. Drawing on subcultural theory, but adding scholarship
on nostalgia and collective memory (Garde-Hansen et al., 2009), this article
analyses comments made by viewers of YouTube re-postings of 411 Video Magazine,
an era defining USA-produced skateboard movie series of the 1990s and early
2000s. Comments on posted videos include candid personal reflections where
viewers reflect on participation in the sport as being bound up with adolescent
friendships and freedoms now lost to post-subcultural adulthood and conformity
(Haenfler, 2013).
Thurnell-Read 3
This article contributes to recent discussions about ageing and subcultural
belonging (Hodkinson & Bennett, 2013). It does so by making original connections
with emergent debates relating to media and collective memory. In particular,
by drawing on the concept of nostalgia, the article adds to current scholarship
on skateboarding by examining how former skateboarders enact meaningful, if
romanticized, connections with subcultural media, and how platforms such as
YouTube provide the ‘reused and reusable materials’ that facilitate the ongoing
formation of collective memory (Irwin-Zarecka, 2017, p. 7). The remainder of
the article is structured as follows. First, recent advances in understanding how
subcultural participation may, or may not, be carried from youth into adult life is
reviewed followed by a discussion of recent work on media and memory. Then,
following a Methods section which provides details of the research undertaken and
a brief discussion of the significance of YouTube as a site for social and cultural
knowledge production, the findings are presented in three sections. These relate to
three expressions of nostalgia identified in the data: subcultural nostalgia relating to
recollections of the skate subculture during the era depicted in the videos sampled;
biographical nostalgia relating to the personal reminiscences and how these appear
to represent moments of self-reflection on both past youth and the transition to
adulthood; and finally, format nostalgia concerning memories relating to ‘re-viewing’
analogue format skate media in the digital era via the YouTube platform.
Growing Up, Growing Old, and Growing Out
of Subcultural Participation
Skateboarding now has a relatively lengthy and increasingly well charted history
(Borden, 2019). From its emergence in the US West Coast of the 1960s the sport, and
its associated lifestyle and subcultural aesthetic, and values have spread internationally
and has received widespread recognition and acceptance (Batuev & Robinson, 2017;
Thurnell-Read, 2021). Most subcultures are characterized by a relatively strict and
well-policed boundary between insiders and outsiders (Williams, 2011). In
skateboarding subcultures, this boundary has become defined by the commitment
shown by insiders to a skate practice marked by creativity, cooperation and
commitment to the embodied experience of skateboarding (Bäckström & Sand,
2019; Dupont, 2014). Thus, while it is now widely accepted that ‘there is no single
subcultural way of being’, skateboarding involves participants actively committing
to and performing an identifiable skater subcultural identity centred on shared
values, meanings, and symbolism (Dupont, 2020, p. 649). These shared meanings
connect participants and provides a collective orientation, shaping what is valued
and seen as important to the subcultural group. Thus, while subculture has been
widely contested—and alternative concepts such as ‘scenes’, ‘neo-tribes’, and
‘lifestyles’ have all been proposed (Bennett, 2011)—skateboarding has, throughout
its history, regularly been described as subcultural by both participants and scholars.
Subcultural theory, and cultural studies more generally, has a long-held tendency
to privilege youth as a period of resistance and young people as active agents of
new culture (Hesmondhalgh, 2005). It is therefore assumed, often, that subcultural
participation correlates with youth and young adulthood and that a subsequent
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withdrawal from subcultural involvement parallels a transition to adulthood and an
eventual embrace of conformity (Haenfler, 2013; Jenks, 2004). With subcultures
such as skateboarding often fixated with youthful bodies and qualities associated
with youth such as rebelliousness and risk-taking, and because skateboarding is an
intrinsically physical and embodied activity (Bäckström & Sand, 2019; Borden,
2001; Woolley & Johns, 2001), it is salient to consider how attachments to skate
subculture may not be maintained into middle age inactivity. Further, given the fact
that skateboarding subculture was and still is a male-dominated subculture worldwide
(Bäckström & Nairn 2018; Willing et. al. 2019), it is important to understand how
the association with masculine ideals of youthful virility, competence, and heroism
makes a perhaps uneasy transition into older age (Spector-Mersel, 2006).
There was a long-held tendency for ‘conceiving of enduring youth cultural
involvement as a simple continuation of adolescence or refusal of adulthood’
(Hodkinson, 2013, p. 14). However, recent academic attention has turned to the
various ways in which subcultural affiliations and identifications are carried into
and maintained in later life via complex negotiations and adaptations (Hodkinson,
2016). Studies of ageing punks (Bennett, 2006; Way, 2020), goths (Hodkinson,
2011), and ravers (Gregory, 2012) have shown how involvement in subcultures and
alternative lifestyles in youth can continue to ‘actively influence or shape subsequent
biographical trajectories’ well into later life (Bennett, 2013, p. 2). Way (2020), for
example, found the ageing body to be an important site for negotiated continued
subcultural identities in older punk women. Further still, as Bennett & Hodkinson
(2012, p. 3) argue, ‘certain key elements of youth culture have expanded and
extended in ways that increasingly have become more compatible with adult lives’.
For example, Wheaton’s (2017, p. 111) study of older surfers shows that ‘people’s
leisure and lifestyle habits remain “youthful” for longer with groups of older men
and women sustaining or creating new and meaningful identities via immersion in
forms of serious leisure associated with youth’. Alternatively, where participation
has entirely ceased, subcultural affiliations can remain part of one’s identity when
they are perceived as having shaped one’s life course and influenced one’s values
(Bennett, 2013; Gregory, 2012).
Such developments are relevant to the study of skateboarding, where important
recent work by O’Connor (2018) and Willing et al. (2019) has examined the
experiences of older active skateboarders. While the symbolic and aesthetic
alignment of skateboarding with ideals of youthful physicality remains potent,
‘it is apparent that many never gave up skateboarding in their youth’ (O’Connor,
2018, p. 926) and that those older skaters who remain active deploy ‘subcultural
capital flagging that they are legitimate skaters, despite their slowness and struggles’
(Willing et al., 2019, p. 511). Elsewhere, Snyder (2012) explores the trajectories of
skateboarders into careers in creative occupations, such as photography and film
production, that actively build on and continue their subcultural involvement into
adulthood. In contrast, however, this article is concerned with former skaters who no
longer participate but who appear to make use of skate media to retain some form
of connection with the subculture which, as the analysis below will demonstrate,
find expression in feelings of nostalgia for past subcultural participation during the
formative years of adolescence. Nostalgia therefore appears to lend an important
conceptual tool to understanding the temporality of subcultural affinities and their
Thurnell-Read 5
re-evaluation in later life, as explored here in the case of re-viewing ‘old’ skate
videos in the present.
Media, Memory and Nostalgia
Nostalgia ‘deals with positive or negative relations to time and space’ and ‘is related
to a way of living, imagining and sometimes exploiting or (re)inventing the past,
present and future’ (Niemeyer, 2014, p. 2). Notably, nostalgia is often experienced
when some elements of the present are felt to be defective’ (Chase & Shaw, 1989, p.
15) and can be understood as a ‘composite framing of loss, lack and longing’ that can
include ‘an awareness that we have changed since then’ (Keightley & Pickering,
2012, p. 117). Thus, as Wilson (2015, p. 490) suggests, ‘nostalgia is not a mere
passive longing for the past, but a potentially dynamic vehicle for (re)envisioning
and (re)creating various pasts and futures’. Thinking critically about nostalgia, then,
also involves attempting to understand the conditions under which ‘communities of
nostalgia’ are formed (Cross, 2015) and how these can involve both personal and
collective memories on past cultural practices.
The formation and purpose of personal and collective memory is now a long-
established field of academic study (Halbwachs, 1992). However, it is mainly focused
on popular culture and mass media (Hoskin, 2004), with television in particular being
understood as part ‘a system of everyday memory-making within and in relation to
the home and the family’ (Holdsworth, 2011, p. 3). This emphasis on mass media as
the primary site for the formation of collective memory (Misztal, 2003), may seem
to exclude the presence of subcultural memories which, by definition, stand at some
distance from the institutions of the dominant culture. That the conceptual advances
made in the field of memory studies have rarely been applied to youth subcultures
is surprising, given the vibrancy with which many subcultures create and maintain
their own collective values using niche subcultural media, much of which, as we
shall see, is finding new modes of presentation in the digital media era. Memory,
therefore, is ‘a complex, mutually shaping mixture of what is private to oneself and
what is shared with others’ (Keightley & Pickering, 2012, p. 17) and, as such, we can
assume that memories of involvement in an immersive subculture, such as skating,
may offer vital insights into both personal and collective meanings and experiences
of subcultural participation.
The mediatization of skateboarding has always played a fundamental role
in the spread of the sport and has become a frequent topic of academic interest.
Borden’s (2001, p. 6) ground-breaking book on skateboarding took as its source
material archives of magazines such as Thrasher and the UK’s Sidewalk Surfer.
Skate magazines (Borden, 2001; Wheaton & Beal, 2003), and more recently social
media sites such as Instagram (Dupont, 2020), are therefore understood as vehicles
for communicating the shared norms and values used to support skater identities
(Encheva et al., 2013; Wheaton & Beal, 2003) and as valuable artifacts in capturing
the now lengthy history involving multiple generations of practitioners and a
fluid and evolving culture (Lombard, 2016). Put simply, as Snyder (2012, p. 326)
notes, skateboarding ‘sustains itself and progresses through the documentation of
skateboard tricks disseminated through subculture media like magazines and videos’.
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Skate media of various ages might now be viewed as an ‘infrastructure’ of collective
memory (Irwin-Zarecka, 2017), the analysis of which can inform understandings of
the evolving social and cultural dynamics of skateboarding.
In the Internet era, subcultural scenes may be established and maintained across
localities and through and within virtual spaces (Bennett & Peterson, 2004) and,
further still, subcultural communities can create identities and maintain memories
with an ease previously unknown. As such, online forums can strengthen offline
subcultural association (Bennett, 2004; Hodkinson, 2003), meaning that the Internet
has emerged as an important space in which subcultural attachments are established
(Williams, 2006) and hierarchies of status and legitimacy maintained (Williams,
2011, p. 133). Digital media, in particular, has brought to the fore the manner in
which media materials can contribute to the formation of collective memories, with
cultural fragments being revived digitally and their meaning and purpose recast
anew through digital recirculation. Further, the advent of digital and Internet-based
channels of media production and distribution ‘have increased our ability to store
and transmit memory, allowing more freedom and creative possibilities’ (Misztal,
2003, p. 48). For example, Garde-Hansen et al. (2009, p. 5) argue that we might
now speak of ‘digital memory’ as involving ‘a longing for memories, for capturing,
storing, retrieving and ordering them’. Perhaps most relevant to the current study,
Jacobson (2020) explores how middle-aged graffiti artists construct and sustain
both their personal biographical trajectories and collective subcultural memories
through the conversations taking place in a series of Internet podcasts. This suggests
that there is considerable scope for analysing the role of subcultural media in both
collective and personal memory formations and that where digital platforms such as
YouTube appear to provide renewed access to subcultural media of the past, there
is also scope for new and interesting reflections on the development of subcultural
practice and belonging.
Context and Methods
To explore the varied meanings of watching ‘old’ skate media in the present, the focus
of this article is a qualitative content analysis of comments made by viewers of postings
of 411 Video Magazine on YouTube (Miller, 2018). Starting in 1993, the 411 Video
Magazine skate video series was produced in the USA and released on VHS tape in a
‘magazine’ format several times a year to showcase professional skaters and profile
city skate spots and competitions primarily in the USA, but also latterly featuring
emerging skate locations in Europe and around the world. However, the VHS format
could be traded and borrowed, damaged and lost, or simply re-watched into oblivion,
creating a situation of scarcity where after some time few working copies remained in
use or circulation. In recent years, surviving VHS tapes have therefore regained value
both as collectors’ items sold via sites such as eBay and as source material for digitized
content uploaded by collectors to YouTube and other online media platforms. As the
following analysis will show, the comments section of such posts provides rich textual
material relating to the engagement with what might now be considered vintage
subcultural media content by former participants.
The approach adopted therefore concurs with Pietrobruno’s (2013, p. 1262)
interpretation of YouTube as a ‘participatory and interactive archive’, where
Thurnell-Read 7
materials are shared amongst communities of shared interests. Following Garde-
Hansen et al. (2009, p. 14), who assert that YouTube viewing practices may involve
‘reformulating, reformatting, recycling, returning and even re-remembering other
media’, the research the roles played by such digital content in mediating between
past and present. On YouTube, therefore, content is circulated, valued, and engaged
with according to not just the conventions of the platform, but ‘its relevance to the
everyday lives’ of viewers (Burgess & Green, 2009, p. 57). The selection and posting
of 1990s skate videos, and the responses they elicited, can be understood as part of a
process of ‘social archiving’ where the value of traditional media materials as being
worthy of safekeeping ‘is to a certain degree determined by users rather than by a
central authority’ (Pietrobruno, 2013, p. 1261). As such, it is possible to infer from
viewer comments the values placed on the material itself and the associated act of
re-viewing. Indeed, as is shown below, a central theme identified in the analysis is
the dialogue between memories of original viewing of VHS tapes and the present
‘re-viewing’ of the same content, in digitized and now once again accessible form.
The analysis presented in this article is based on a sample made of 41 separate
YouTube posts consisting of full length 411 Video Magazine editions and several
‘Best of’ compilation editions originally released in the 1990s. Where possible, a
post for each ‘edition’ of the series was identified and multiple posts of the same
edition were included where they occurred. For each post, the comments section
was copied in its entirety on the day of sampling (15 March 2018) and stored offline.
The highest recorded comments total for a single video post was 93 and the lowest
1, with an average of 18.2 user comments per post. These files where then entered
into NVivo 12 and a thematic coding was conducted (Gibbs, 2018). Through this
process, initial codes were arranged into several thematic groups with themes
relating to subjects such as ‘subcultural identity’, ‘age and ageing’, and ‘memories
and nostalgia’. These were then structured into analytical categories in dialogue with
key literature drawn from subcultural studies, media studies, and memory studies.
In what follows, comments are presented verbatim, including typographical errors,
misspellings, and slang terminology where used. The identities of commentators
were inferred from a combination of the profile names and pictures and, primarily,
the style and content of the comment text, where, as will be shown, frequent reference
to age, time, and locality were clear. The profile names and pictures of individual
commentators, however, are not included here to retain a level of anonymity. Whilst
this approach carries certain limitations, principally the reliance on comment content
for implied geographical and social context of the commentator, the analytical focus
is here on the various ways in which old skate media, now digitized and widely
accessible, plays a role in the formulation of subcultural memories and the mediation
of temporalities of past and present. Further limitations and scope for further research
are considered in the concluding section of the article.
‘This Is True Pure Glimpse into Skating Culture Unlike Any
Other’: Residual Authenticity and Subcultural Nostalgia
As in many subcultures, skateboarders have been shown to engage in the performance
and negotiation of an authentic subcultural identity (Dupont, 2014). This shared
skater identity is enacted ‘through a combination of style of dress, musical preferences
8 YOUNG
and the activity of skateboarding itself’ and calls on participants to use approved
terminology and espouse shared values (Woolley & Johns, 2001, p. 215). Across the
videos sampled, viewers used the accompanying comments sections to demonstrate
their familiarity with such subcultural knowledge in several ways. For instance,
viewers would use comments to name specific skaters, tricks, or skate spots. For
example, one comment exclaimed ‘Burton Smith! nice 360 flip’, while others
identified ‘Dan Parks crushing it at Skate Camp!’ or said ‘gotta love that paul shiers
360 flips!’. Such comments can show familiarity with the specifics of the subculture
in terms of using correct terminology or identifying styles such as the ‘enormous
pants and tiny wheel’s’ characteristic of 1990s skate style. Further, it was common
for comments to pose questions and invite responses that might, for instance, help
identify particular music tracks or name specific skaters and tricks executed in the
videos. In such comments, we see how a kind of residual authenticity is demonstrated
not through active participation in the skate subculture but through connection to the
sounds, images and values of the skate subculture of the past. Such interactions
appear to be between contemporaries, and only on rare occasions did what appeared
to be younger skaters, not directly familiar with the 1990s skate subculture, ask
questions of the older viewers.
In some comments a personal connection to the places represented in the videos is
asserted. For example, one comment on a video showing a segment of footage filmed
at a skate spark in Huttington Beach, California recalled how the viewer ‘Lived right
down the street from HB skatepark and loved watching Reynolds destroy the place
when he would roll up in those days. THE BOSS’. This comment is interesting
because it helps to locate the viewer in proximity to time and place as well as showing
subcultural passions in recalling how he ‘loved’ watching a particular named skater
perform. Such comments again indicate a desire on the part of commentators to
demonstrate subcultural knowledge, here evidenced by both a familiarity with famed
skate spots and an awareness of the value placed on such knowledge within the
subculture (Dupont, 2014; Németh, 2006; Wooley & Johns, 2001). This concurs with
O’Connor’s (2018) recent discussion of how middle-aged skateboarders can maintain
respect, acceptance, and legitimacy within the skateboarding community through
the deployment of ‘temporal capital’ based on protracted years of commitment to
the sport. Whereas O’Connor’s (2018) participants still feel that skateboarding is
‘embedded’ in their identity through continued involvement, in contrast, the present
example of former skaters using YouTube videos viewings and comments to retain
some connection with the subcultural past, long after involvement has ceased.
The act of re-viewing and commenting on 1990s skate videos on YouTube,
therefore, appears to be a nostalgic encounter almost exclusively directed at the
past. Skate videos therefore provoked numerous nostalgic comments relating to the
specific period in skate history. Specifically, as nostalgia is both spatial and temporal
and feelings of nostalgia often relate to a recollection of or yearning for a particular
place and time (Wilson, 2015), it is significant that the comments analysed made such
little reference to contemporary manifestations of skateboarding culture. Looking
back on the skating of the 1990s, comments referred to ‘Big time nostalgia from the
golden era of my skating’, and labelled the videos as representing a ‘Golden Age of
Skateboarding!’ and ‘a sick year for skating’. The 1990s are here depicted repeatedly
as ‘the good ol days’ and a ‘great time in skateboarding’, with the decade being
specifically referred to as ‘back when skating was the shit’. Video content, for many
Thurnell-Read 9
viewers, is read as capturing a time of subcultural authenticity, and in comments
such as ‘This is true pure glimpse into skating culture unlike any other’, the 1990s
are depicted as a period of skating history truer to the values of the subculture than,
we infer, subsequent times.
That many comments designated the moments captured on film and brought
into recollection in re-viewing as being from a lost ‘golden age’ of skateboarding
agrees with Strangleman’s (2007) evaluation of nostalgia as involving juxtaposition
between imagined past and real, yet unsatisfying, present. Like many subcultures
where commercial success and mainstream recognition brought by maturation
means that in the narratives of long-term participants the earlier era is cast as a ‘pure
time’ or ‘golden age’. Here the ‘freedom’ and ‘purity’ of subcultural street skating
of the 1990s which venerated risk, autonomy and creativity (O’Connor, 2016) is
contrasted with the contemporary sport which is readily presented as ‘packaged,
marketed, pawned off to consumers of “alternative culture” ‘(Hamm, 2004, p. 11).
Former skaters, therefore, valorise the skate subculture of the past that they were
part of in contrast to a present skateboarding culture which they are not a part of. But
neither do they declare much loyalty to the present skateboarding culture. Indeed,
for one poster who suggested that ‘I think in the 90s, skaters had more passion in
their skating. Skating was so fun back then!’, the subsequent growth of the skate
subculture which valorized a ‘flexible and informal structure’ (Beal, 1995, p. 258)
into an internationally recognized sport comes with a process of formalization and
commercialization that denudes the subculture of its original vibrancy and meaning
(O’Connor, 2016).
These findings demonstrate the relevance of memory and nostalgia to the study
of the skate subculture, particularly where the Internet, as here, has allowed ‘like-
minded’ others a means of creatively communicating subcultural identity and ‘to
fashion meaningful and “authentic” identities’ (Bennett, 2004, p. 169). The analysis
suggests that re-viewing 1990s skate media on YouTube allows some former skaters
the chance for reflections which are steeped in a nostalgia for the subcultural
past. Notably, as is often identifiable in subcultures where there may be ‘a tense
contradiction between authenticity within subculture and the use of subculture
as a marketable tool to make capital’ (Blackman & Kempson, 2016, p. 9), the
representation of 1990s skating depicted via comments is an idealized one. Here, a
skateboarding ‘truer’ to its values can be captured in posterity and relived by viewers
despite their now lengthy retreat from active subcultural participation. To build upon
this, the next section explores the more personal accounts of age and ageing present
in many of the comments analysed.
‘I Will Always Remember and Smile Fondly upon the
Memories of Being a Punk Ass Kid’: Youth, Ageing and
Biographical Nostalgia
The 411 Video Magazine posted on YouTube appeared to exert an emotive
power which cast some viewers back into a series of recollections. As such
memories and the act of remembering were the subject of frequent comments,
such as ‘Wow this brings back memories’, ‘So many memories thanks for the
upload!’ and ‘brings me back...many good memories’. The temporal component of
10 YOUNG
this is significant; not only are viewers gazing on memories of the subculture
as it stood in the 1990s, but they are also engaging with their own youth and
subsequent biographical ageing in reflective and self-aware ways. Such comments
took one of two forms. First, comments specifically mentioned life course stages
such as ‘teens’ and ‘youth’. Second, and in contrast to the first, a number of comments
referred directly to older age and ageing. Examples of the former include
comments such as ‘So many memories from when I was 15!!!’ and ‘great memories
of a lost youth’, while one commentator suggesting that the video he viewed was
the ‘[f]irst ever 411 I got. Hard to believe it’s been 23 years. Wish I could still skate.
Best years of my life’. As examples of the latter, comments such as ‘I feel old’,
‘I guess I’m too old to learn again now’ and ‘I feel so old, haha’ asserted an awareness
of ageing.
References to age and ageing invoked adult responsibilities and ageing bodies
being antithetical to the youthful practice of skateboarding. For instance, one
commentator suggested that ‘Now I’m grown man with a job, I’m gonna get
one before I grow old and nag at skateboarders’. Such comments often depicted
the past, here chronologically marked by the age of the video, as a time of youthful
simplicity in contrast with a present in which they are ‘just old and washed up’. Many
comments made candid personal reflections which appeared to use the viewing of
a particular video to mark the passing of time and of their own biographical ageing.
As noted, this time period was framed as a simpler time, truer to the roots of the
subculture but also in many such comments alluding to a perception that this period
was a happier time for them personally. Such comments were often associated with
freedom, friendship, and a sense of belonging. Here, the skate scene of the 1990s is
a sight of fraternal belonging and, although no specific reference was found to the
increasing female participation since then (Bäckström & Nairn, 2018), the invocation
of adolescent friendship and shared subcultural commitment appeared to be infused
with homosociality born of the ‘masculine’ coding of skate culture at the time and
since (Atencio et al., 2009). Thus, the past is remembered as a time in which skating
was, for participants, unproblematically a male-dominated space where the concerns
and interests of young men prevailed.
Such comments, which clearly refer to youth as a life course stage associated
with greater freedom and less responsibilities, resonate with Hodkinson’s (2016,
p. 641) interest in ‘the development of participation in “youth” groupings as
individuals become older’ which often sees involvement and belonging negotiated
alongside, amongst other things, family and work responsibilities and ‘ageing bodies
and identities’. Two detailed comments position both skateboarding specifically
and youth in general not as being left behind but as continuing to be a meaningful
referent in the present. Thus, one commentator reflected the following:
Ya know the late 1990s was the fuckin shit, I will always remember and smile fondly upon
the memories of being a punk ass kid during that time, waking up every day and giving
the world the nger. But getting into my 30s I look back and look at all the growing pains
I had to get where I’m at today (nice material shit, wife and kids I love more than the world
I’m not rich but I have it all if you know what I mean) and I’m not so sure I would go back
even if I could.
Thurnell-Read 11
Here, as Jacobson (2020) observer in relation to middle aged graffiti subcultural
participants, the younger self is framed as utterly absorbed in the subcultural
pursuit in contrast with the older, more self-aware and reflexive, self. This reflection
on the formative influence of youth participation in the skate subculture is mirrored
by another commenter who invoked a particular day in their youth where the
purchase of the original VHS tape and a grizzly skate injury rub up along a painful
romantic setback:
I remember this one very well, because the same day I got this, I went out skating with two
friends and ate shit on an ultra-slippery ledge, resulting in some blood loss and an arm that
felt like it might be fractured. I also had a date with a chick I was into that night. Only over
the course of the evening she informed me I shouldn’t get any ideas because as of a week
she was technically already boyfriended. Ah, the hardships of youth...
Such examples illustrate a blend of poignancy and reflection that indicates viewers
using the videos to contemplate their own ageing. Scholars such as Németh (2006)
have theorized street skating as a space and time of rebellion and of assertive and
active embodiment of skate participation (Bäckström & Sand, 2019). Here, we see
the often ironically presented contrast between youthful rebellion and the viewer’s
present sedentary lifestyle where the vibrancy of urban environments, beloved by
subcultural scholars (Jenks, 2004), is juxtaposed with suburban conformity and the
passivity of ‘just viewing’. Further still, such comments are characterized by the
valorization of a particular conception of masculine youthfulness linked to physical
heroism, emotional stoicism, and, in places, heteronormative desires and expectations.
In these evidently romanticized depictions, the trappings of middle age, and
middle class, conformity are offered as conceptual opposites to the freedom,
rebelliousness, and machismo of youth. Such reflections are focused on a period
of youth and ‘emerging adulthood’ characterized as both a time of freedom and
possibilities and as a feeling being in between (Arnett, 2007). There is therefore
a contrast here between nostalgia for times of permanence and stability, as that
explored by Strangleman (2007), and a nostalgia for youth characterized by freedom,
spontaneity, and possibilities. Formative moments are shared via comments, where
one particular moment in the personal biographical past, and skateboarding more
generally, are held in retrospect as having ‘influenced me in more than I could have
understood at the time!’. Youth is therefore presented as a period of ‘becoming’
(Worth, 2009), and skateboarding participation is understood to have influenced
the former skaters’ youth and subsequent transition to adulthood. The analytical
significance of such comments is therefore that they demonstrate an appreciation
of how youth subculture participation can be an actively influence on biographical
trajectories (Bennett, 2012; Gregory, 2012).
This seems to contrast the ‘silver surfers’ of Wheaton’s (2017, p. 100) recent
study who ‘challenge preconceptions about the ageing body’. Instead, comments
here are those for whom adulthood appears to render actual subcultural participation
a distant, yet still meaningful, memory. Whilst many comments involved vivid
and emotional words, phrases and expressive use of punctuation, they all appear
to indicate a lack of active involvement in skateboarding. Rather, the media itself
affords a return to past times that allows reflection on both the skate subculture of the
12 YOUNG
collective past and the youth of the personal biographical past as part of ‘the active
process of remembering as an experience in the present which is situated, performed
and socially contextualized’ (Keightley & Pickering, 2012, p. 39). Importantly, it
is the specific figuration of ‘old’ VHS footage ‘revived’ and re-viewed on YouTube
that allows for moments of personal reflection. The final section of analysis will
further discuss the specific role of digitized media materials posted on YouTube and
examines the numerous comments made on posts relating to the media itself and the
unique case of 1990s VHS skate movie tapes digitized for re-circulation on YouTube.
‘I Still Have the VHS-Tape Somewhere at Home!’:
YouTube Re-Viewing and Format Nostalgia
As noted above, many comments analysed include references that served to
specifically locate individual viewers in relation to specific editions of 411 Video
Magazine. Thus, several features of media viewing were recalled that are specific to
the VHS format. First, numerous comments related to the purchase and ownership of
VHS tapes, with comments identifying a particular video as the ‘very 1st skate video
I ever had’ or that they ‘got it for xmas in 99, along w my first complete’ while other
comments, such as ‘Holy crap I remember borrowing this video from a friend in
middle school, its a classic’ invoked memories of informal exchange of tapes
between friends. Second, multiple comments recall repeated communal viewing
within peer groups. Thus, by recalling how ‘My friend had it on a VHS tape and we
watched at his house’ and how they ‘Must’ve watched it over 200 times!’,
commentators depicted particular viewing habits associated with a pre-digital age of
media consumption. As such, we can identify a form of nostalgia relating to not only
the content of the videos but to the viewing routines that saw some commentators
watch specific tapes, for example, ‘4 times a day, back to the day’. Third, some
comments also referred to watching the videos as motivational preparation for
skating sessions, reflecting that ‘I used to just have to watch the first couple of
minutes to go skate’, or recalling how ‘A couple of these videos is all you really
needed to get pumped to skate’. The practice of watching the digitized VHS tapes
therefore indicated not just nostalgia for their past youthful subcultural involvement
but a nostalgia for the format itself. This is important because, as Borden (2001,
p. 120) suggests, skate media have always been ‘extraordinarily influential in
encouraging new skaters to skate’.
While some comments made references to still owning 411 Video Magazine VHS
cassette tapes (e.g., ‘I have this video on the original VHS. I bought it when I was
15 in 1995’), far more common were comments recounting how tapes were lost,
discarded or broken. Comments referred to how viewers had ‘lost this VHS long
ago’, ‘sadly let someone borrow this years ago and never got it back’ or how they
‘so regret chucking these out when I thought VHS was dead’, while others spoke
of having ‘watched this tape so much I think I broke it’ and ‘i wore this vhs OUT’.
Useful here is van Dijck’s (2005) discussion of digitization and the re-mediatization
of memory and the continued importance of ‘material sensations’ and ‘the specific
rituals and circumstances under which objects came into being’ (van Dijck, 2005,
p. 325). Such comments both acknowledge the fragility of a physical format and, by
association, serve to heighten the value of the now digitized content.
Thurnell-Read 13
Also important, given the inference that most viewers commenting were no
longer active subculture participants, were the many expressions of thanks to the
person hosting the upload of the video. Video postings drew comments such as
‘amazing job u guys did there by putting them all there’, ‘cheers man.....thanks
for posting this’, and ‘I owe you massively for this! I never thought I’d be able
to see this again after my video broke’. Across the posted videos, comments
showing gratitude to the video uploader often used convivial terms of address
such as ‘mate’, ‘dude’, ‘boss’, and ‘legend’ that reflect, as Smit et al. (2017) have
suggested, that the activities involved in hosting YouTube content, such as editing
videos, adding titles, and descriptions of content, can be understood as caring,
if masculinized, practices. This widespread acknowledgment of the efforts of
those curating digitized subcultural media is seen as an act of subcultural labour
and solidarity (Burgess & Green, 2009). Here, the subcultural labour of the few
committed to locating, digitizing and hosting vintage skate media content on their
YouTube channels allows other viewers to engage in such nostalgic re-viewing
as analysed here with relative ease, whilst expressions of gratitude acknowledge
both the labour involved in digital preservation and the emotions of subcultural
kinship—albeit in notably fraternal terms—that might otherwise be lacking from
viewing online content.
Finally, a number of comments compared past processes of acquiring and viewing
VHS tapes with the present profusion of digital content. In contrast to the immediacy
of the digitized platform, some comments therefore related the difficulty of getting
tapes compared to the ease with which present day skaters can access a plethora
of high-quality skateboard multimedia, typically through social media sites such
as Facebook and Twitter (Snyder, 2012). The format nostalgia exhibited therefore
shares similarities with the ‘cassette culture’ identified by Kaun and Stiernstedt
(2014) and also relates to Bennett’s (2012) suggestion that pre-digital era formats
may be valorized by fan communities as being a more authentic viewing experience
where the scarcity of analogue media content acts to enhance perceived value. Such
offers a striking example of what Niemeyer (2014, p. 28) refers to as ‘analogue
nostalgia’ involving ‘the longing for what is assumed to be lost in the continuing
process of digitization that accounts for contemporary media culture’s widespread
romanticizing and fetishizing of analogue media’.
Discussion
The article has outlined how one outcome of old skate media being digitized and
re-circulated on the Internet is that non-practicing former participants can find
spaces online in which to experience nostalgic reconnections to the skate subculture
of their youth. The textual analysis of YouTube comments therefore demonstrates
the viewers’ attempts to narrate a sense of ageing, often anchored by formative
biographical moments. It has been suggested that within this there are three
interrelated expressions of nostalgia evident in the comments analysed which relate,
in turn, to the subculture itself, to the biographic youth of the individual commentator,
and to the VHS format which, though now digitized, nevertheless prompts
recollections of specific viewing practices relating to analogue skate media.
14 YOUNG
This article has concerned itself with the memories and recollections of formers
skateboarders who, long after ceasing to skate, still engage with skate media to
invoke feelings of residual belonging and maintain legacies of connection with
their youthful subcultural identity. Inflected with references to heroic activities and
fraternal bonding, skateboarding is remembered as a homosocial space. The article
therefore contributes to developing understandings of the experiences of ageing
in youth-dominated subcultures and lifestyles. However, in contrast to continued
participation as active skaters (O’Connor, 2018; Willing et al., 2019), here we
see former skaters ‘just’ viewing with limited interest in the skate culture of the
present. While viewers may no longer be active in the construction, negotiation and
maintenance of the current skate scene (Bennett & Peterson, 2004), such recollections
by ageing subcultural participants are not simply just ‘harking back’ (Bennett, 2013,
p. 14). Rather, these are nostalgic memories that draw on past experiences and both
personal and collective identities and involves ‘comparative assessments across time’
(Keightley & Pickering, 2012, p. 115). The findings therefore add to the ongoing
interest in skate subcultural media (Dupont, 2020). However, rather than show the
importance of contemporary media to the continued vibrancy of the skate subculture
of the present, in the above analysis skate media of the past are shown to still play
a role in how many people relate to the aesthetics and meanings of skateboarding.
The findings also add to subcultural scholarship examining how the Internet has
come to sustain communities of online fan cultures where ‘values are shared and
socialization happens even if identities are not always what they seem’ (Gelder, 2007,
p. 146). Importantly, rather than simple wistful nostalgia, these engagements with
digital media allow for a negotiation of former and current self and a maintenance of
shared belonging and collective memories (Jacobson, 2020). Thus, Smit et al. (2017,
p. 3) argue that YouTube has had a demonstrable impact on practices of memory
construction due to the ‘sociotechnical practices afforded by the platform’. Indeed,
here we see how YouTube has become a site of participatory culture (Burgess &
Green, 2009) by which past participants of a subcultural community engage in
subcultural engagement and labour through posting, viewing, and commenting on
selected videos. The open and informal nature of YouTube video sharing means that
popular and subcultural content that in the past may well have been seen as unworthy
of safekeeping via formal archival activities can be stored, shared, and reviewed
by niche communities (Pietrobruno, 2013). Such examples show how numerous
comments made strong statements indicating powerful memories and recollections
of subcultural participation and this furthers Williams’ (2006, p. 195) observation
that, even for non-participating subcultural actors, the Internet can be ‘a social space
through which personal and social identities are constructed, given meaning, and
shared through the ritual of computer-mediated interaction’.
Limitations and future research
The analysis presented has various limitations which must be acknowledged and,
further, can be used to suggest various possible avenues for further research. Most
notably, the findings outlined are based on textual analysis and inferred meanings,
but do not allow for a direct examination of the lived realities of viewers and
Thurnell-Read 15
commentators. Further research may produce detailed qualitative data to better
understand the specific viewing practices of those engaging with vintage skate
media, both as viewers and content curators, and how these relate to other forms of
continued engagement with elements of skate subculture should they persist in, for
example, choice of clothing or taste in music. The sample of videos from which text
comments were drawn is constrained by the sole focus on 411 Video Magazine. This
series is rightly regarded as both influential at the time of its production and, in
various ways, emblematic of a given era in the evolution of skate culture. However,
the focus here on a single American-produced series may preclude analysis of a
wider range of participants, memories, and meanings. For example, the sample and
the methods used make it difficult to identify and analyse the perceptions and
meanings of former skaters outside of the North American context. Further, the
valorization of a romanticized past may conflict with changing demographics of
skating (Borden, 2001; Lombard, 2016) and the growing importance of progressive
and future-orientated practices and aesthetics of skateboarding (Geckle & Shaw,
2020). Further research is needed to examine how mediated memories are engaged
with and interpreted by different groups and generational cohorts of current and
former skaters. Notably, there is a risk that the present study, in focusing on an
evidently male-dominated cultural space, prioritizes certain forms of knowledge
production over others (Kempson, 2016). In addition, while practical, the use of
YouTube to explore the mediation of subcultural memories does not capture the
varied uses of digital content both within and across a proliferation of media
platforms. As such, future research would need to study vintage subcultural content
not just posted on YouTube but shared as links on other social media sites, embedded
into blog posts or shared within closed groups platforms such as WhatsApp. These
‘uses’ of old content might engage with younger viewers watching in non-nostalgic,
perhaps ironic, ways. Thus, it is important not to perpetuate too stark a distinction
between ‘old’ and ‘new’ media. Indeed, as Natale (2016) has argued, all media is in
a state of change and users create novel engagements and expressions as they mix
media formats and adopt novel viewing practices. Lastly, given the apparent trend
for the commercialization of nostalgic content on social media (Niemeyer &
Keightley, 2020), further research might examine the use of heritage media by
skateboarding companies wishing to preserve subcultural capital and project
an authenticity based on the longevity of their involvement in the skate economy
and culture.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author declared no potential conicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship
and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author received no nancial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of
this article.
ORCID iD
Thomas Thurnell-Read https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1293-8349
16 YOUNG
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Author’s Bio-sketch
Thomas Thurnell-Read is Senior Lecturer in Sociology in the School of Social
Science and Humanities at Loughborough University, having held previous posts
at Coventry University and the University of Warwick. His research focuses on
contemporary leisure and consumption practices, particularly those relating to
Thurnell-Read 19
alcohol consumption and drunkenness, to explore a range of sociological issues
relating to sociality, identity, and belonging. He is the editor (with Mark Casey)
of Men, Masculinities, Travel and Tourism (Palgrave, 2014) and of Drinking Dilemmas:
Space, Culture and Society (Routledge, 2016).
Article
During the last 10 years, the mobile phone and the emergence of websites, such as Youtube, which facilitate user-generated content, have enabled an explosion of pictures and video clips posted on the internet by civilians documenting the activities of authority figures. This “sousveillance” is a kind of inverse surveillance, reciprocal to surveillance, where members of the grassroots monitor those in power. Initially, sousveillance was primarily seen as an inverse form of surveillance in which citizens monitor their surveillors in order to challenge the surveillance state. The individuals filmed were originally thought to be aware of being sousveilled by others, and it was assumed that every watcher would voluntarily give free access to all information recorded. This article, drawing from an analysis of selfdocumented graffiti videos, aims to further the understanding of sousveillance through showing how graffiti writers—the supposed target of surveillance—use documentation of surveillance in order to present themselves as superior in terms of control and knowledge. Through analyzing the narrative structure and composition of these videos, I will demonstrate that sousveillance, for the graffiti writer, becomes less a matter of resistance and more a means for the symbolic representation of subcultural emotions, activities, and identities. The documentation and dissemination of the movements and activities of anti-graffiti officers, as well as the graffiti writers’ successful attempts to outsmart them, are analyzed as a part of a subcultural play, centered on the establishment of an equilibrium or a dance where key roles and rules are assigned.
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Skateboarding has been thought to possess a certain alternative ‘potential’ to challenge prevalent inequalities in sport. However, skateboarding remains a largely hetero-masculine domain. As such, queer identities have been marginalized and relegated to a peripheral space. Nevertheless, radical scenes of young queer skateboarders are offering alternative definitions and possibilities for what it means to be a skateboarder and do skateboarding. Through Jack Halberstam’s concept of queer failure and José Esteban Muñoz’s queer futurity and utopianism, I investigate how queer skateboarders are tapping into a queer potential that persists in the practice and aesthetic of skateboarding through the symbolism of the child and camp. They use this potential to affirm their identities as simultaneously queer and skaters. In so doing, today’s young queer skateboarders are changing the landscape of skateboarding by queering and claiming space for themselves within the largely heteronormative dominant industry and culture.