Fight, Flight or Chill

Fight, Flight or Chill: Subcultures, Youth, and Rave in the Twenty-First Century
Published on April 1, 2006

Fight, Flight Or Chill: Subcultures, Youth, And Rave In The Twenty-first Century
Brian Wilson

McGill-Queen's University Press

“Rave is the refuge for the morally deficient. It’s made by dull people for dull people”

– Morrissey

I am usually in complete agreement with Morrissey. But, for the sake of objective book reviewing, I have ingested quite a lot of E, rubbed Vicks Vapo-Rub on my chest and stuck a soother in my mouth as I prepared to crack the spine on Brian Wilson’s new academic tome on rave culture. Fight, Flight or Chill: Subcultures, Youth, Rave into the Twenty-First Century began as Wilson’s dissertation in the field of Sociology at McMaster University. The book is however quite readable and the text’s academic tendencies are not too distracting.

Wilson’s primary purpose is to discuss the preconceptions of youth: the marginalized group of Canadians who can’t vote and are labeled by the media as “criminal, self-destructive, misdirected, impressionable, apathetic, victimized, determined, cool and cutting-edge.” Wilson attempts to get us to stop thinking in blanket phrases like “the youth of today” and as an alternative, he posits an “honest” analysis that will account for the multidimensional and complex nature of youth culture and subculture. His specific concern is, of course, the rave issue: how is it a middle-class, mediated phenomenon and how might ravers subvert these distinctions by controlling their own cultural narratives?

The rave issue is contextualized through a thorough examination of the history of rave scenes. Not surprisingly, Wilson discovers that rave culture has its roots in disco, pre-disco, warehouse parties and gay clubs in New York City, Chicago, Detroit and Britain. More interestingly, however, is Wilson’s scrupulous documentation of previous scholarship of the heyday of rave. He reveals that while some scholars were claiming the libidinal space of the rave dance floor as an anti-patriarchal realm of resistance, others were decrying its elitism and upper-middle class tendency toward exclusion and clique formation. So the question becomes, does rave culture alter and question reality, or does it confirm it?

Wilson is ultimately sympathetic to the middle-class raver, and goes so far as to draw comparisons between ravers and the working-class punks and mods of the past. While I find these comparisons dubious, it is important to realize that culture and sub-culture are not best understood by tacitly accepting the platitudes of mass media. In fact, young people are often the architects of subculture, and things only tend to get truly repellent when subcultural activities are co-opted and mainstreamed for the sake of profit. You can’t pin that on the kids.

Wilson’s outcomes are not particularly enthralling but they do raise some very important issues regarding the way we view youth and youth culture. By using rave as a case study, Wilson is able to elucidate how a movement can be equally community-oriented and problematically fragmented. He reveals how complex the sociological and psychological processes of drug use truly are. Most importantly, he desimplifies the common assumptions about “today’s youth.”

This is the kind of book that provides a great deal of general knowledge about a subject but is perhaps even more useful as a tool for lawmakers and educators when considering how to approach issues such as teen drug abuse and criminal activity. As for its claims regarding the unique vitality and complexity of rave culture, I can’t quite go along with all that. I think it’s time to take out the soother and listen to The Queen is Dead. I have my own youth to revisit.

Jon Paul Fiorentino's latest book is "The Theory of the Loser Class."



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