Subcultures in "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Ryan Moore | Free Essay Example

Subcultures in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Ryan Moore

Words: 1903
Topic: Culture

Thesis Statement

Ryan Moore’s book contributes to the historical understanding of American culture by identifying the connections between macro-environmental changes in the United States and the formation of various youth subcultures and musical genres. As a rule, these two phenomena are studied separately, while the author attempts to highlight the relations between these processes. This is why this book can be of great value to readers.


This paper is aimed at discussing the book Sells like Teen Spirit: Music, Youth Culture, and Social Crisis written by Ryan Moore. In this work, the author attempts to examine how youth subcultures reflect political, cultural, and economic development of American society. This connection is of great interest to historians who attempt to examine people’s responses to the changes within a community. Ryan Moore attempts to show how particular age groups such as adolescents and young adults responded to the new economic policies that were implemented in the United States. Moreover, this book should be considered because it shows how youth subcultures became commercialized. Overall, one can say that this secondary source includes a detailed analysis of how socio-economic and cultural phenomena are interrelated.

The summary of the book

It should be mentioned that this text does not have a preface or introduction that can explain the author’s motive for examining this particular question. However, in the first chapter, Ryan Moore says that he regards music as an “emotional register of social change”1. In the beginning, the author shows that youth subcultures can be regarded as a form of rebellion against socio-economic changes that impoverished a great number of people in various neighborhoods. In particular, one can speak about the economic recession that increased unemployment in many communities such as the South Bronx2. Furthermore, Ryan Moore focuses on the emergence of punk subculture which is regarded as a protest against the lack of opportunities for many young people. This is one of the aspects that should be considered. Additionally, Ryan Moore examines the development of metal subculture which began to emerge when the United States became less industrialized in part due to the liberalization of economic policies. To a great extent, young people had to struggle with a sense of disappointment that can be attributed to the economic recession, increasing the outsourcing of jobs or lack of ideology that could appeal to adolescents. This is one of the aspects that Ryan Moore examines.

Moreover, the author shows that some musical genres were driven by anti-commercialism. In this case, much attention should be paid to indie or alternative rock. Apart from that, Ryan Moore focuses on the transformation of gender roles. Additionally, he shows how the transformation of masculinity and femininity was reflected in various musical compositions3. These are some of the main questions examined by the author in this text.

The evaluation of the author’s arguments

The main idea put forward by Ryan Moore is that youth subcultures reflect the political, cultural, social, and economic changes within a society. This is the main argument that the writer attempts to elaborate. One can say that this argument has certain strong points. First of all, the author provides a detailed examination of the primary sources which represent various youth subcultures. For instance, Ryan Moore examines the lyrics of various heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath or Metallica4. The examples that he provides can substantiate his arguments. Additionally, the writer provides a detailed discussion of the trends that could have influenced the experiences of teenagers and young adults; in particular, one should pay attention to such issues as outsourcing, automation of manufacturing, or globalization5. This approach helps the author to establish the connections between social phenomena and the development of subcultures. Overall, Ryan Moore’s discussion is clear and well-structured.

One should bear in mind that this book has a very broad scope because the author’s discussion covers a great number of questions and sub-questions. For instance, the author points out that the adolescents, who formed youth subcultures could represent various ethnic or racial groups. Moreover, their attitudes and perceptions of social changes could be different. Many of them had to grapple with the effects of discrimination6. This is one of the details that should be taken into account. In the review of this book, Eileen Luhr acknowledges the author for his willingness to consider the experiences of African-American teenagers7. These are some of the main strengths that can be distinguished. The information provided by Ryan Moore can help readers get a better idea about the cultural history of the United States and other western countries.

Nevertheless, some important limitations should not be overlooked. For instance, while reviewing this book, Ross Haefner notes that the author cannot explain how social or economic changes could have led to the development of some cultural forms or genres; for instance, this scholar focuses on such subcultures as trash or glam8 since they do not quite fit the assumptions postulated by Ryan Moore. In other words, it is difficult to say that every musical genre or culture is the only response to the changes in the macro-environment. Such an assumption would be very far-fetched. This is one of the details that should be kept in mind.

Other reviewers note that Ryan Moore excludes many extremely popular musical genres that continue to influence a great number of adolescents. In particular, Douglas Evans speaks about rap, gothic rock, emo, and many others9. Certainly, some performers, who represent these subcultures, do reflect political or economic changes within a community. However, one cannot say that the work of these people can be described as a responsible economic recession, unemployment or globalization. Thus, it is possible to say that Ryan Moore’s analysis may not fully explain the development of every subculture which emerged in the second half of the twentieth century. Thus, one should not assume that Ryan Moore’s claim can always be taken for granted. This is another aspect that should not be disregarded.

Apart from that, Ryan Moore looks at the formation of new art forms and subcultures from sociological and economic perspectives. However, he disregards the possibility that teenagers and young people tend to deviate from established patterns and norms. Therefore, it is quite possible that new musical styles and subcultures could have emerged even without dramatic social changes. This is one of the objections that can be raised. It is vital to remember that the actions of young adults can be attributed to the peculiarities of their psychological development. This explanation can be quite valid; yet, the writer’s overview of this process can also be of great interest to the readers because the writer shows how adolescents perceive the society in which they live.

Ryan Moore’s perspective is very interesting. He can focus on socio-economic forces that can affect the lives of many people in the United States and many other countries. For instance, he can speak about the liberalization of the economy. Yet, at the same time, he speaks about how these changes could be perceived by individuals and groups. The writer focuses on the complexities of ideological movements that emerged after World War II. This perspective enables him to describe the influence of external forces on the values of adolescents. For example, the author speaks about the paradoxical nature of libertarianism. On the one hand, the supporters of this ideology lay stress on the individual freedom which is valued by many young people.

Much attention should be paid to the sources used by the author. First of all, the writer relies on the study of secondary sources such as books that are aimed at examining various aspects of youth subcultures. Furthermore, he incorporates many academic works that are related to the development of capitalist societies. These academic enable the writer to identify the connections between the macro-environment and the experiences of young people. Nevertheless, at the same time, this ideology “complies with economic forces that are often more destructive in their consequences but are largely invisible or appear to be natural and inevitable”10. The representatives of various subcultures attempted to explore the underlying cause of various social problems in their compositions. It is possible to say that Ryan Moore’s perspective is very thought-provoking since the author prompts people to consider how individuals can react to significant changes within the economy or ideology. This is one of the questions that are not widely discussed in historical studies.

Apart from that, it is important to remember that Ryan Moore relies on primary sources. First of all, the author refers to the lyrics of various musical bands that became very popular in the seventies or eighties. For example, when speaking about Metallica, he refers to such songs as Ride the Lightning, Fight Fire with Fire, or Fade to Black11. This approach helps the writer to examine specific social issues that are reflected in the lyrics of various musicians. One has to admit that these texts are open to various interpretations. Therefore, one should not suppose that Ryan Moore’s analysis is always accurate. This is one of the shortcomings that should not be disregarded. Additionally, the scholar does not clear what kind of research methodology he applied while collecting or analyzing information. Overall, the writer relies on the qualitative methods of research, and they are quite useful for the formulation of theoretical models or hypotheses. Nevertheless, they cannot be used to substantiate an argument or assumption. Yet, one can still say that Ryan Moore skillfully incorporates various sources into his book.

One can say that this text can enrich many historiographical debates that are related to the origins and development of popular culture. This book and its reviews show that many scholars are interested in the factors that can shape youth culture. Historians attempt to examine how social, ideological, or political changes influence the experiences of people. The main contribution of Ryan Moore is that he relates the changes in the macro-environment to the life of people whose worldviews and values have not been shaped completely. As a rule, the behavior of adolescents or young children is studied by psychologists or sociologists. In contrast, Ryan Moore pays close attention to the impact of economic changes on the life of American youth. This is one of the main issues that should be distinguished. Judging from the reviews published in academic journals, this book has been well received by historians. They agree that Ryan Moore can see the connections between various macro-environmental forces and the subcultures of teenagers. In the opinion of these scholars, some limitations do not undermine the value of this book as a good source of cultural history.


Overall, Ryan Moore’s book demonstrates that the development of subculture may be driven by a great number of forces such as the changes in the economy of a country, mainstream ideology, perceptions of masculinity or femininity, or ideological shifts. The author gives a detailed discussion of how young people responded to various trends such as deindustrialization, unemployment, the conflicts between the right-wing or left-wing ideologies. Ryan Moore examines both primary and secondary sources to highlight the connections between the formation of cultural forms and the transformation of American society. Certainly, there are some limitations such as the lack of attention toward numerous musical styles that cannot do not fit the author’s theory. Nevertheless, the value of this source should not be overlooked it can demonstrate how young people can respond to the changes in the phenomena.

Works Cited

Evans, Douglas N. “Ryan Moore: Sells Like Teen Spirit: Music Youth Culture And Social Crisis.” Journal Of Youth & Adolescence 39.4 (2010): 434-435. Print.

Haenfler, Ross. “Sells Like Teen Spirit: Music, Youth Culture, And Social Crisis.”American Journal Of Sociology 116.3 (2010): 1015-1017. Print.

Luhr, Eileen. “Sells Like Teen Spirit: Music, Youth Culture, and Social Crisis by Ryan MooreReview”, Southern California Quarterly 93.3. (2011): 358-360. Print.

Moore, Ryan. Sells like Teen Spirit: Music, Youth Culture, and Social Crisis. New York: New York University Press, 2010. Print.


  1. Ryan Moore, Sells like Teen Spirit: Music, Youth Culture, and Social Crisis. (New York: New York University Press, 2010) 19.
  2. Moore 4.
  3. Moore 108.
  4. Moore 88.
  5. Moore 112.
  6. Moore 49
  7. Eileen Luhr. “Smells Like Teen Spirit: Music, Youth Culture, and Social Crisis by Ryan MooreReview”, Southern California Quarterly 93.3. (2011): 358-360.
  8. Ross Haenfler. “Smells Like Teen Spirit: Music, Youth Culture, And Social Crisis.” American Journal Of Sociology 116.3 (2010): 1016.
  9. Evans, Douglas N. “Ryan Moore: Sells Like Teen Spirit: Music Youth Culture And Social Crisis.” Journal Of Youth & Adolescence 39.4 (2010): 435.
  10. Moore 100.
  11. Moore 99.