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How Skinheads are Represented in the Media

Photo: Chris Harvey, Journalist for The Telegraph


There are places, such as Luton, where skinheads can be found within the town especially on a Friday night. The town also has many other youth cultures which over populates the skinheads. So to say that the skinhead youth culture has not completely dissolved into society and been forgotten about.

It may be that the subculture of skinheads is not entirely bad, as they still exist in today’s day and age and still meeting up at rock pubs in big quantities. But, they are represented in the media as a subculture that’s gone rogue.

In the 1980’s they were dubbed, as being racist, in which is not entirely wrong to say as certain aspects of the youth culture were, but the question is are they as racist as the media make them out to be?

The Racially Motivated skinheads in the United Kingdom had associated themselves in political movements such as the British Movement and the National Front, which is a far-right, whites-only political party who believed that the socioeconomic issues in Britain faced were due to non-white emigrants in the United Kingdom which can be linked with the Southall riots.

The mass media and generally the public had largely come to view that the skinhead subculture is one that promotes racism and neo-nazism, which began to take the skinhead name and warp it, adopting the clothing and their dress code. This grew to the rest of the world such as Europe and North America where mainstream media started using the term, skinhead, in reports of racist violence, even if they wasn’t part of that subculture group, where there are a variety of skinheads.

The skinheads are represented in the media as being delinquents, threatening behaviour, aggressive, and menaces. This had created negative stereotypes for the youth culture as it is often said about them being neo-nazis and Racist. For example, the way in which the film, this is England, portrayed the skinhead culture in Britain.

This paper will be focusing purely on the skinhead youth culture and the representation of the culture with in the mass media and arguing the fact that skinheads are not entirely racist people.

In July 1981, the Southall riot was one to make history for the skinhead culture as they were attracted to a pub where ‘Oi’ bands were set to play a gig. Southall was  a place with a large South Asian population and by skinheads being attracted to such gigs, including skinheads with neo-nazi sympathies, their presence in the area like Southall was asking for trouble. The article seems to be blaming the skinheads for the riot that was caused by referring them to ‘neo-nazis’, ‘racists’, and ‘violent’, but it could be the South Asian population that is to blame because it mentions in the article that “Asian youth was to take to the streets” (Short Hot Summer 1981: Southall) and this can be seen as them looking for trouble and not the skinheads at all. Skinheads in general were all seen as racist because of a minority of skinheads becoming part of a neo-nazi group.

There is no proof in the entire article that it was the skinheads that was out to cause the trouble that raised in Southall in 1981, but the South Asian population, and that “skinheads were said” meaning that what is being said is not one-hundred percent true the riot was their reason.  Even the murder that happened that day mentions nothing about skinheads but again assuming as some of them were part of the National Front, so all skinheads are attacked.

The mass media representations on events such as riots in which includes the skinheads, put a negative stereotype on them and all fingers, with in the public eye, points to them because of what they have become, not what they really are.

In Michael Brakes book, Comparative Youth Culture, there is a part in the book where he goes on to talk about  the skinheads – “violence on the terraces” – and the way in which it shows the skinheads comes across negatively as he uses phrases such as aggressive, racist, and major folk devils (Comparative Youth Culture, YEAR!). These words can have a big impact on the culture, to the public or other people, who have read this book and then the stereotypes come alight as it is written down.  Readers will then eventually believe it what is being said as the negative words are repetitive.

It may be that the influence of the mass media, on this particular youth culture, gave them the name of being a folk devil in order to cause controversy. Stanley Cohen mentions three stages in how media handles reporting of the folk devils: symbolisation, exaggeration and prediction. Cohen’s belief is that as issue appears to threaten a social order and this is exactly what is being shown through the articles about skinheads.

Skinheads on trial for ‘racist’ murders (BBC News, 2003)

Moscow ‘skinheads’ kill Afghan (BBC News, 2004)

Both, show skinheads as a group to fear, as they frightened the authorities due to the way in which the articles has been written. Both are an example of Cohen’s work of the three stages the media handles reporting and skinheads are only mentioned briefly in both articles.  

The symbolisation in both the articles is the racism and they travel in a group or gang. This is a symbol to skinheads because of what comes with the title, in this case racism, and majority of the time travel in a large quantity.  Only bad symbolisation has been used and nothing like the fact they are a group of youths trying to fit into society by being part of a group. In one of the articles “fear” has been given as a subheading to emphasise the fact that people are fearing the skinheads because of the way in which the media has represented them such as BBC News. Both of the articles also shows no hard evidence that it was actually skinheads taking part in the murder and racist attacks as it states things such as ‘allegedly’ meaning the writers are not even sure for certain it was skinheads.

The introduction to one of the articles uses Russian in front of skinhead to show where the skinheads are from and to add depth when reading and putting a name in front of the term skinheads such as Russian it is only telling people where they are from but it is also making them associate with other skinheads worldwide or even Britain as it is where it originated from. Both articles are representing them in the bad light by showing the readers who they used to be instead of who they are.

Skinheads has had that much of an impact people like Shane Meadows are creating programs or films on the youth culture. This is England (Shane Meadows 2006) representations of the skinheads can be seen as a young boy who becomes involved with a gang and they are stereotyped as they are smoking, drinking and smashing up derelict houses. This can be seen as stereotypical behaviour which is seen in numerous media texts. However, Woody feels sorry for the young boy and takes him under his wing where the representation changes quickly to someone who is caring as written on brianair.wordpress.com.

The film shows them as being racist but not to such extent that it is exaggerated to the point where people do not want to know. The use of a prominent black character in the group of skinheads just goes to show that not all skinheads are racist.

“They also borrowed from their working-class West Indian neighbours”, (The New York Times, 1994).

The article titled, True ‘Skinheads’ are not racist thugs of media fame, uses the word ‘borrowed’ in the article as if to say the skinheads are friends with the other race mentioned. In this case skinheads are not racist as shown in this is England that they do socialise with another race.

What gives the skinheads a bad name is ‘due to the bad rap skinheads’, (The New York Times, April 19, 1994) which are the skinheads that become involved with neo-nazi groups such as the National Front as mentioned in the article they were ‘confused souls’. In some sense the National Front had brainwashed these skinheads to join there army and be the racists which people know them to be and due to this everyone assumes ‘all’ skinheads are racists. The article by the New York Times proves the fact that not all skinheads are racists just those ones who were brainwashed.

A group called ‘Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP) are the ones to uphold the traditions of the skinhead movement (The New York Times, April 19, 1994) and many of the skins are of Asian or African-American descent, so not all of the skinheads can be one-hundred percent racist.

The way in which the New York Times portrays skinheads is with in the title of them ‘not being racist thugs of media fame’. This can be interpreted as skinheads are not the ones to blame, entirely, and by using ‘media fame’ on the end of the title shows the readers that skinheads have gained a reputation through the media.

To conclude the essay, the reputations in which skinheads have been presented in the media has been unacceptable to the people they really are and with the media reputations it gave them a bad name to the public as they believe what they read. The New York Times is a prime example of a publication that has seen the skinheads for who they are and that not all skinheads are racists or neo-nazis.

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