The histories of the United Kingdom’s vibrant underground and alternative cultures are the focus of this essay collection, edited by Gillieron (Plays for Today by Women, 2013) and Robson (Celluloid Ceiling, 2014).
This book’s 15 chapters are each written by a different author, and they cover a broad range of topics as they relate to the U.K. counterculture, including gaming, feminism, environmentalism, online communities, and film. Many essays trace the roots of a particular subculture from the post–World War II years to the present, while others look further back to the earliest decades of the 20th century. A clear passion consistently comes across throughout the collection, with each section looking at the many possible meanings of the term “counterculture.” Their parallels to cultural movements in America, and their divergences from them, will be striking to stateside readers. Still, some chapters stand out more than others. The sections on literature and small-press magazines, black and minority ethnic arts, and the stand-up comedy scene nimbly manage to bring readers up to speed on decades of growth and change while also constructing engaging arguments about their relations to the mainstream. On the other hand, the essays on visual art and music suffer from their attempts to cover too much ground in a limited space. Some major topics, such as the Young British Artists visual art movement and punk rock, get relatively short shrift here, even though each could easily warrant a book-length study of its own. On the whole, the essays benefit from their refusal to get bogged down by obtuse jargon. However, they also draw liberally from the authors’ first-person experiences, which can undermine the credibility of academic writing. But although this rhetorical style isn’t always successful, the examinations of LGBT culture and disability-related arts and activism use it effectively.
An approachable, comprehensive introduction to British culture outside the mainstream, but it may be a bit too general and conversational for academic researchers and scholars.