American History X

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate August 2001

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The 1998 film, American History X, starring Edward Norton and Edward Furlong takes a look into the brute and brutal world of Nazi skinheads. The skinheads, a subculture originating from working-class, English youth, were not created under the ideals of Nazi fascism, despite most notoriety going to the racist variety. With shaved heads and wearing steal-toed boots, cuffed jeans, collared t-shirts and braces (suspenders), the male-dominated gangs tend(ed) to be big and intimidating. Ironically, reggae music from Jamaica was and remains a favorite for most skinheads, with Oi! music (a sub genre of punk rock) later becoming the style of music directly identifiable with both Nazi and anti-Nazi skins.

As discussed in John Clarke, Stuart Hall, Tony Jefferson and Brian Roberts' article, "Subcultures, Cultures, and Class," working-class subcultures found the time to congregate during typical free periods off from work like the weekend and over holidays. In American History X, we see Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton), a veteran skin along with his younger brother, Danny (Edward Furlong) attending a do-it-yourself concert where Nazi skinhead Oi! bands are performing.

These "shows" are very typical places for youth involved in any of the punk-related subcultures (hardcore, emo, street punk, Oi!, etc.) to go when they're not working or in school in order to socialize. Of course, what stands out in the movie is where the gathering takes place. Usually shows will take place at some form of venue, some "DIY" and some not, but in American History X it takes place on a neo-Nazi's compound run by a middle-aged man.

Suddenly, what is first perceived as a youth initiated and driven subculture becomes a cult with its ringleader, a man who is manipulating the subculture and music in order to meet his prerogatives. Later on in the film we find out...