Trainspotting: Drug Addiction and Drug Subculture

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"Over the years, heroin and addiction have provided the subject matter for more than a few noteworthy films." The cult film Trainspotting, based on Irvine Welsh's book of the same title, offers an attractive case study as it represents a wide view of British youth culture by considering a large number of issues such as the critiques of consumerism, Thatcherism, class stratification and gender identities. The film portrays the lifestyle of a group of young drug addicts which places its emphasis on youth culture and links it to the drug subculture, and while also involving female characters in this drug subculture it manages to successfully relate the issues of drugs and gender. Therefore I will attempt to trace the links between youth culture, gender issues and drug subcultures in order to reveal their relation to the dominant class culture in Britain. The film begins by introducing us to each character individually whilst also revealing the setting of Edinburgh in the early 1990's. The main character Mark Renton (Ewan MacGregor) enters the film in the middle of a stealing trip to the town center which immediately gives us an insight into a typical day in the life of a twenty-something heroin addict living in Britain. He is shown throughout the film to be someone who has rejected the culture of a nuclear family, material possessions and a paying job, instead rebelling, in not the average youth fashion, but through a culture he views as sick and stifling. The other main characters in the film represent varying problems that are prominent in the working class background from which they meet, with Begbie (Robert Carlyle) being the alcoholic, Tommy (Kevin McKidd) as the AIDS victim, Spud (Ewan Bremner) as another drug addict, and Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) as the sexual abuser. All of these characters except Begbie use drugs, primarily heroin as a form of escapism from the harsh realities of present day living in a post-Thatcherite society. This drug abuse is a life practice for these young people and when this life practice is considered within the frame of youth subculture the function of drug use as a subcultural reaction to the social, political and economic environments becomes more relevant. In an attempt to define subculture John Clarke and Stuart Hall stress, in their book Subcultures, Cultures and Class, that it cannot be efficiently evaluated without relating it to the larger concept of social class:

"In modern societies, the most fundamental groups are the social classes, and the major cultural configurations will be, in a fundamental though often mediated way, ‘class cultures'. Relative to these cultural class configurations, subcultures are sub-sets – smaller, more localized and differentiated structures, within one or other of the larger cultural networks. We must, first, see sub-cultures in terms of their relation to the wider class-cultural networks of which they form a distinctive part. When we examine this relationship between a sub-culture and the ‘culture' of which it is a part, we call the latter the ‘parent' culture. What we mean is that a sub-culture, though differing in important ways – in its ‘focal concerns' and, its peculiar shapes and activities – from the culture from which it derives, will also share some things in common with that ‘parent' culture." It is also essential when studying this topic to realise that sub-cultures have to be analysed in relation to the dominant culture of that society, with Trainspotting in this context presenting the middle-class as dominant and the working-class second.

The graphic images and portrayal of drug consumption in Trainspotting, sparked what Cohen (1994) called a moral panic among the people of Britain in relation to their views and feelings towards the drug culture in their societies. "Since the 1960's, the concept of moral panic has been used by sociologists and criminologists to describe public reactions to...
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