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Pin Up! The Subculture

Negotiating Agency, Representation & Sexuality with Vintage Style

Kathleen M. Ryan

Dangerous. Sexy. All-American—or rather All-World—Girl. Pin Up! The Subculture is the first book to explore the contemporary international subculture of pin up, women (and men) who embrace vintage style, but not vintage values.

Award-winning filmmaker and author Kathleen M. Ryan spent more than five years in the subculture. It’s a world of cat eye makeup, carefully constructed hairstyles, and retro-inspired fashions. But it’s also a world that embraces the ideals of feminism. Beauty, according to the pin up, is found not in body type or skin color, but in the confidence and sexual agency of the individual. Pin ups see their subculture as a way to exert empowerment and control of their own sexual and social identities—something that is part of the pin up’s historical legacy.

This lavishly illustrated book includes interviews with more than fifty international pin ups and helps readers to understand how they use social media and personal interactions to navigate thorny issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia, sizeism, and other difficult topics. Ryan demonstrates how even within subcultures, identity is far from homogeneous. Pin ups use the safety of their shared subcultural values to advocate for social and political change.

A fascinating combination of cultural history, media studies, and oral history, Pin Up! The Subculture is the story about how a subculture is subverting and reviving an historic aesthetic for the twenty-first century.

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2 Circuits of Community


The Intersection of Oral History, Subculture,and Interactive Documentary

The pin up community has a strong sense of ownership about how its world is portrayed. As a filmmaker and oral historian documenting this subculture, I am venturing onto dangerous ground. I must develop a rapport with the community in order to gain its trust and openness, while at the same time maintain a type of intellectual detachment, actively considering how and when to give the community control in the telling and shaping of its stories. I am operating in multiple roles: a media producer creating content about a community, a participant in community activities, and a scholar observing these interactions.

The circuit of culture (COC) emerged from the British school of cultural studies, offering a way for scholars “to imagine the complex interplay of agency and determination in human experience.”1 The model offers five aspects necessary for the study of a cultural text: representation, identity, production, consumption, and regulation, and was initially conceived as a way to analyze the evolving life cycle of a media product or artifact.2 But as a media producer doing oral history and ethnographic influenced work, using the practices of documentary production, the relationship between me and my documentary “subjects” becomes complicated. I am at once a part of the community and a detached observer, creating media products while also having an intimate ←55 | 56→knowledge of the people who will be consuming and redefining said media project.


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