"A Clockwork Orange" in the Context of Subculture

Term Paper 2003 18 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Culture and Applied Geography



1. Introduction

2. Subculture before ACO
2.1. Short overview: Subcultures in the 1960’s
2.1.1. Teddy Boys
2.1.2. Mods
2.1.3. Rockers
2.2. Inspiration for the novel

3. Subculture in novel and film
3.1. Setting
3.2. The droogs
3.2.1. Dress
3.2.2. Language
3.2.3. Drugs
3.2.4. Violence
3.2.5. Music

4. Subculture after ACO
4.1. Affection on youth
4.2. Punk subculture
4.3. Skinheads

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography
6.1. Primary Literature
6.2. Secondary Literature

1. Introduction

In 1974 – just two years after it had opened – the movie “A Clockwork Orange”[1] by Stanley Kubrick was banned from Bristish screens. It was Kubrick himself who decided to withdraw the film from distribution in the UK. Since Kubrick received death threats and threatening phone calls he hoped that the controversary would subside with the fading of memory. The film had been blamed for several violent acts and Kubrick and Anthony Burgess, the writer of the novel, were made responsible for them.

In fact, the film caused a moral panic because of its violence. However, it seems interesting to me who is behind all this violence. I want to analyse how Alex and his droogs define themselves. Are they rebels without a cause and if not, what are they rebelling against? I will try to take a look at the book and the film in context of subculture: how did subculture influence the works of Burgess and Kubrick, how is subculture presented in their works and how did they influence subculture afterwards?

2. Subculture beforeACO

2.1. Short overview: Subcultures in the 1960’s

The researchers in the Centre for Contemporary Culturaral Studies at Birmingham University developed an sociological explanation for subcultural groups, called “New Subcultural Theory”. This theory sees subcultural groups no more as a compensation but a resistance and opposition to structural problems, in this case the post-war destruction of the working-class community and its traditional values. Working-class culture is dominated by middle-class values through hegemony; however, by negotiating physical or social spaces the values of these subordinate groups can co-exist. Young people who are born into this working-class culture and who are “subject to different experiences and influences from their parents” naturally negotiate space for their own culture as well; they build a sub culture. They want to be autonomous and different from their parents. They also seek for solutions for their problems: unemployment, low pay, educational disadvantage etc. Of course, by joining a subculture their problems do not solve automatically; subculture only suggests a solution on a symbolic level: by dressing in an upper-class style for example a working-class youth can present an image and a status he could never achieve in real life. Subcultures construct styles by taking symbols out of their contexts and placing them into a new context. This recontextualisation (“bricolage”) invalidates conventional meanings and therefore is easily seen as a provocation. Subcultures organize a group-identity; they form a “homology”, expressed by “adopted objects, dress, appearance, language, styles of interaction and music”. Their resistance to subordination is shown in various attempts, which are presented in the following paragraphs:[2]

2.1.1. Teddy Boys

The so-called “Teds” first appeared in London in 1953. They had a dandy-like style, which consisted of an Edwardian style suit, suede shoes and other stylish accessoires. The Teds sought entertainment in gangs and since they were very involved in fashion, which had previously been a “traditional female expression”, they tried to compensate with violence and a tough attitude. Therefore they were associated with disturbance by the media and elder people and were called “folk devils”.

2.1.2. Mods

The Mods – or Modernists – superseeded the Teds in the early 1960’s. They were more “subtle and subdued in appearance”[3] ; they established a cooler, more sophisticated subculture. They wore conservative suits, narrow trousers and short hair. Although they still fought on the street they were highly interested in fashion and dancing. Their whole lifestyle consisted chiefly of nightclubbing, scooters and the abuse of amphetamines. The Mod’s music was “ska or West Indian popular music”[4], but also the working class heroes of the day, ‘The Who’. The new enthusiasm of all ‘mod things’ was quickly capitalised by the industry: special mod boutiques and mod clubs opened.

2.1.3. Rockers

The Rockers were – by the media – the adversaries of the Mods. They were mainly low paid, unskilled manual labourers and had a very masculine image: they wore black leather jackets, studs, boots, faded jeans, rode motorcycles and listened mostly to rock’n’roll. The Rockers were even more aggressive than their cultural counterparts and exhibited a rougher style. They were described as “butch, wild, anti-domestic, anti-authority and sexist”[5].

2.2. Inspiration for the novel

Anthony Burgess had two experiences in his life which serve as the main ideas of the novel. On the one hand in April 1944 his pregnant wife Lynne, who was on her way back home from work, was attacked by American GI deserters, dressed in civilian clothes. Although she could escape, she was hit and kicked and therefore miscarried. As a consequence she was told by her doctor that she could never become pregant again. Burgess traces her later alcoholism and her death – she died of cirrhosis in 1968 – back to this violent assault.[6] He calls it an “act of catharsis”[7] when he describes why he has involved these biographical fact in his novel. In ACO Alex and his droogs rape the writer’s wife Mrs. F. Alexander, who is later dead as well. However, it is not explicit said that she dies as a result of the outrage, but it is obvious that her husband is sure of this.

On the other hand Burgess slips socialhistorical facts in, which are interesting in the focus of subcultures:

“My late wife and I spent part of the summer of 1961 in Soviet Russia, where it was evident that the authorities had problems with turbulent youth not much different from our own. The stilyagi, or style-boys, were smashing faces and windows, and the police, apparently obsessed with ideological and fiscal crimes, seemed powerless to keep them under.”

(A Clockwork Orange- A Play with music. Forword)

In this passage Anthony Burgess describes the teenage hooliganism he had experienced on a holiday in Russia, nevertheless the situation of returning to Britain in the 1960’s after being abroad for many years must have had resembled this scenario. Here the police had their troubles with the Teddy Boys who became a nuisance and dominated the British press. In the second volume of his autobiography “You’ve had your time” Burgess describes explitely his thoughts when he and his wife Lynne saw Mods and Rockers in a fight when they made a trip to Hastings:

“These young people seemed to love aggression for its own sake. They were expressing the Manichean principle of the universe, opposition as and end in itself, yin versus yang, X against Y. I forsaw that the Queen’s Peace was to be greatly disrupted by the aimless energy of these new young, well-fed with money in their pockets.” (You’ve had your time, p.2)

These teenage hooligans obviously inspired Burgess for the main characters of the novel.[8]

3. Subculture in novel and film

3.1. Setting

Of course, if the fictional world created in ACO was pretty fine and there was no oppression, there would not be resistance and therefore no subculture. A subculture can always be seen as an indicator that something is seriously wrong with at least the youth and therefore with society in general[9]. And indeed, the scenario of ACO resembles a dystopia rather than an utopia; many things seem worth rebelling against them.


[1] In the following “A Clockwork Orange” will be abbreviated by ACO.

[2] Widdicombe, Sue and Wooffitt, Robin: “The language of youth subcultures. Social identity in action” (pp. 14 – 18)

[3] Widdicombe, Sue and Wooffitt, Robin: “The language of youth subcultures. Social identity in action” (p. 9)

[4] Widdicombe, Sue and Wooffitt, Robin: “The language of youth subcultures. Social identity in action” (p. 9)

[5] Widdicombe, Sue and Wooffitt, Robin: “The language of youth subcultures. Social identity in action” (p. 9)

[6] Stinson, John J.: “Anthony Burgess Revisited” (p. 52)

[7] Hanselmann, Gottfried: “Die Zukunftsromane von Anthony Burgess“ (p. 3)

[8] Aggeler, Geoffrey: “Anthony Burgess: The artist as novelis” ( p. 170)

[9] Widdicombe, Sue and Wooffitt, Robin: “The language of youth subcultures. Social identity in action” ( p. 8)


ISBN (eBook)
File size
434 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
Ruhr-University of Bochum
Clockwork Orange Context Subculture Englisches Seminar Subcultures Post-War Britain



Title: "A Clockwork Orange" in the Context of Subculture