How are youth cultures represented in Quadrophenia?
In the early post-war period, the term youth culture was used primarily to refer to the
mass culture of certain groups of working class men (Abrams, 1959). However, it
steadily changed to be a term used to describe the constructed social group of the
‘teenager’ – a fictitious life stage made by marketers in order for a special group of
products and services to be sold.
Created in the 60’s and 70’s by postwar capitalism as a rebellion against
consumerism, teenagers have formed their own subcultures to help express
themselves – and subsequently young people simultaneously represented ‘a
prosperous and liberated future’ through their disposable income and love for dance
halls whilst also being the faces of ‘a culture of moral decline’ involving late nights
out and frivolousness.
In the film Quadrophenia, we take a look at the mod subculture, which is the
prevalent youth culture shown – with some Rockers being represented too, mainly
as a tool to show how senseless the violence was, and how it was all purely based
on a person’s image.
Mods are the main youth culture
represented in Quadrophenia and hence they
feature quite heavily on the DVD cover. The
colours all come from the Mod symbol – the
red, white and blue. This also emphasizes the
culture as being very British and how it is
unique to the UK.
The main feature on the front of the
DVD is a large, black and white figure of the
main character, Jimmy. He is in the foreground
of the cover, and his head overlapping the top
banner makes him stand out even more. He
appears to be an outsider to the Mod imagery
even though he is dressed like one. This can
be seen to represent the feelings of not
belonging – he doesn’t fit in with the other
mods despite his best efforts so he has been
isolated from them; much like what happens in
The use of black to portray Jimmy is
important too; it’s not a happy colour,
suggesting isolation and dark feelings coming
from this rejection from Mod culture. The blue
mods look confident and happy, and yet
despite being part of their subculture, Jimmy
looks lost and helpless compared to them.
The quote on the front of the cover is also relevant. It uses the pronoun ‘we’
which makes the audience a stakeholder in the story. It emphasizes the fact that the
story of Jimmy’s relationship with Mod culture is relevant throughout the ages,
because people are always going to want to join in with something, no matter the
look – because it is about coming together to rebel against the mainstream and to be
a part of something big that is going to become well known.
The tagline for the film is ‘a way of life’, which makes it seems as though you
are being invited to join the mod culture as it is portrayed over the group. It reiterates
that it is defining of your life, and not just a hobby; every aspect of Jimmy’s life
becomes what he sees to be mod-related, such as his clothing, mode of
transportation, relationship with his parents and the way he leaves his job to become
the best mod he can be – only to find his inspiration for all this is a bellboy at a
The title represents Jimmy’s four personalities throughout the film as through
the use of the word ‘Quad’. Jimmy is supposed to be four people: a tough guy, a
romantic, a lunatic, and a hypocrite, according to The Who’s Pete Townshend – one
of the creators of the film, and the whole word itself is a play on the term
The entire film is based around ‘Quadrophenia’, the rock opera created by
The Who. Therefore, many of the songs are narrative based and tell a story. The
visuals have therefore been created around them and reflect a lot of Jimmy’s internal
emotions at the time of the events that we see going on, which is helpful. For
instance, there is a scene where Jimmy sees the Ace Face working as a bellboy,
and the song repeats the phrase over and over before Jimmy shouts it out loud; as
though he is rehearsing it or reeling in shock from seeing someone he views so
highly as having such a mundane job.
The relevance of the music to the film is interesting as music is an important
part of the youth culture. This is shown even further in the film as Jimmy and Kevin
(the boy who he was friends with at school who is now a Rocker) have a clash when
they are singing in their respective baths at the bath house; Kevin sings a song that
is common to the Rocker culture, and Jimmy tells him to stop singing it, deeming it
as rubbish. He then begins to sing his own song, and they end up warring over this –
though much more lighthearted than the warring in the rest of the film.
There is a lot of interesting imagery in the opening sequence to the film (after
the scene of Jimmy on the cliff top), which reveals quite a lot about Jimmy as a
character as well as the mod culture in general.
As we first meet Jimmy, he is riding his bike to a local dancehall. He looks far
smaller than the bike, and this shows the bike as being a large part of his Mod
identity. His decision to be a mod therefore has overwhelmed him and it is one of the
only things that people can see about him. Therefore, being a mod has become his
The song played on top of the scene of Jimmy riding his bike includes the
lyrics Can you see the real me, mother/father/doctor/preacher, almost in the way of
stating that his Mod identity is not a phase, but part of his integral self. It is
accompanied by I went back to my mother, I said “can you help me?” which is
suggestive of Jimmy not being 100% happy with the situation that he is in.
We see Jimmy’s face in a lot of close ups which allows us to get to know him
as our main character. The camera shows his face quite clearly and this also shows
us how frequently Jimmy’s facial expressions change – for no apparent reason,
which reflects the idea of Jimmy having four conflicting personalities.
Next, some Rockers approach Jimmy from behind on their own bikes, which
he was clearly not expecting. This makes use of Todorov’s narrative theory; a
situation has been established (Jimmy is on his way to a dancehall), the equilibrium
has been disrupted (the approach of the Rockers is worrying to Jimmy), the
equilibrium is restored (Jimmy retaliates and swears at them) and a new equilibrium
is restored (with Jimmy continuing on to the dancehall).
This also shows off the clash between the two groups very early on and infers
that there is likely to be conflict between them at a later stage. The differences
between the two groups are not made too clear in the beginning as it is so dark; but
it is implied that the differences are mainly physical ones rather than anything more
integral, as suggested by the fact that the Rockers are shown as having one large
headlight as opposed to the two smaller ones that Jimmy has on his bike, which is
typical of Mod culture.
When Jimmy pulls up outside of the dancehall, he goes from being a single
Mod with a unique and interesting identity to one of a mass group of people that are
all dressed incredibly similarly. This reflects how being a Mod is not really about
self-expression and being an individual, but more about belonging to a group and
taking solace in that.
We next see that Jimmy is willing to play a lot of money in order to fit in with
the mod culture; he pays what seems to be a substantial amount of money for some
pills, which he then uses inside the dancehall as a symbol of his status; he looks in
the eyes of another Mod in the dancehall as he takes a pill, showing off and
presenting himself as being above the other Mod because of his physical property.
Later on we see Jimmy at a café after the bath house with Kevin, who has
appeared in his Rocker gear. Kevin repeatedly makes efforts throughout the
beginning of the film to be friends with Jimmy, which Jimmy does not respond to as
his pride at being a Mod means that he doesn’t want to be associated with someone
from another social group. Kevin’s attempts then end when Jimmy and his Mod
colleagues beat Kevin up after some other Rockers attack Spider and Monkey, two
of Jimmy’s closest friends.
This shows how Jimmy has let his label become too much of a master status
and has allowed it to take over his life – after all, Kevin was a childhood friend.
Youth cultures are portrayed therefore as being quite destructive. They are
not only shown as being violent and bad for your health (they are all suggested to be
taking drugs throughout the film), but it also seems that they are dangerous in the
way that they remove the true identity of the people that choose to be represented
by them – Jimmy is goes from being a personality rich character in some scenes to
completely void of any true characteristics in others.