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Useful Notes / Skinheads

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"Young skinhead, they call you hooligan
Just because you don't make any sense to them
You're a hardworking man who's paid his dues
But they still call you racist on the evening news"
Dropkick Murphys, "Never Alone"

Ah, skinheads. Right up there next to feminists when it comes to subcultures people are most likely to have the wrong ideas about. Quick answer: yes, there are Nazis among them, but they're not all Nazis, and a good number of them are likely to strongly disagree with such an assertion.note 

Skinheads first truly emerged in British culture in the '60s, following the long post-war economic boom. They were working class youth who made use of their money by buying clothes that reflected their lifestyles (straight-leg jeans, work boots, braces [suspenders], and occasionally suits) and going to dance halls to enjoy styles such as ska and rocksteady. They were technically mods (more famously known for their upper-class, more refined image), but broke off from the other mods around the late '50s and became their own subculture, eventually becoming known as skinheads around the late '60s.

Now, as for the racism... in the early '60s, there were individual attacks launched by skins on Pakistani and other South Asian immigrant families. It wasn't until the '70s, with the rise of the National Front, that a number of skinheads organized and adopted racist dogma. At the same time, though, there were still skinheads who joined up with other movements opposed to the National Front, such as Rock Against Racism, or would found their own, such as the SHARPs (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice). It's just that, around that time, there were neo-Nazi groups that operated openly and were made up mostly of skinheads, and the media put two and two together and got headlines. Ironically, many early skinheads were heavily influenced by rudeboys and/or were actually British-Caribbean, making the association of skinhead culture with white supremacist/National Socialist sympathies all the more unfortunate.

These days, the skinhead subculture isn't as large as it was, but it still pervades among working class Brits as well as working class Americans and Australians. However, the stigma remains hard to avoid. It's a little bit easier in Britain, where while skinheads still bear racist associations, there are also vocal and active skinhead groups that speak out against racism, which kind of blunts the stigma (hell, skinheads are something of a fetish amongst European gay men). America kind of developed the skinhead subculture "second hand", however while skins did make their way over from the first days on, and while the SHARPs came together in New York City, skinheads aren't really well understood as a subculture outside of the punk/hardcore/street subcultures assembly. As a result, "skinhead" and "Nazi" are practically synonymous in American media. This is possibly because, in the United States, there has yet to be a single skinhead movement or subculture which has received any media attention at all for being anything other than a pack of neo-Nazi scumbags. SHARP might have got its start in New York City, but by this point it may as well not exist in the US. Nowadays, "bonehead", or less commonly, "hammerskin" is the proper nomenclature for white supremacist/National Socialist skins, and it's often not hard to tell the two apart based on how long their hair is (skinheads usually buzz theirs, boneheads usually shave it off completely) or - of all things - what color their boot laces are (racist skinheads prefer white or red laces, almost always laced in a straight bar fashion).

As has been outlined extensively, skins dance all over the political spectrum, from neo-Nazi skins to anti-fascist skins, who are likely to try and club the shit out of each other if they were to meet in a dark alley. There are also traditionalist skins, who try to avoid politics all together and focus on the working class pride the subculture originally was supposed to embody. Skinhead fashion is mostly uniform among males: flight jackets, Fred Perry and Ben Sherman shirts, suspenders (braces), tight "bleachers" (bleached jeans), and work or combat boots (usually Doc Martens, though many skinheads have switched over to other brands after production for Doc Martens moved out of Britain to countries known for sweatshop labour).

Examples of portrayals of skinheads:

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    Comic Books 
  • In the now-forgotten British 70s comic Action!, the titular character from the football storyline Lookout for Lefty! has a fiercely aggressive and proud skinhead girlfriend, showcasing the original non-Neo-Nazi form of the subculture.
  • There is a minor Spider-Man foe called Skinhead, who was a member of a white supremacist group who gained the power to enlarge and manipulate his cellular structure from his skeleton into a massive amount of amorphous flesh. He uses his powers to continue his hate-mongering ways.

    Comic Strips 
  • Modesty Blaise: In "The Murder Frame", the villain hires a gang of skinheads to attack Modesty and Willie in the village graveyard, as part of a much larger scheme. Predictably, Modesty and Willie wipe the floor with them, with Willie delivering a lecture on respecting the sanctity of the graveyard.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The movie American History X is about neo-Nazi skinheads, the protagonist being a young teen whose older skinhead brother just got out of prison for brutally murdering a black man who tried to steal the car his late father left him. In prison, the older bro reformed and learned to accept people of other races. He passes this well learned lesson on to his little brother. Then the younger brother gets shot and killed by a black kid he insulted the day before.
  • The Believer is centered on Danny, a neo-Nazi skinhead who is secretly a Jew. At one point, he runs into a Jewish childhood friend who assumes he's an anti-racist skinhead.
  • Green Room revolves around a Hardcore Punk band who unwittingly get hired to play a gig at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar. Things only go south from there.
  • In La Haine, the main characters (who are respectively Jewish, an Arab, and Black) get jumped by a group of racist skinheads who try to beat them up, but scatter after Vinz pulls Chekhov's Gun on them. A point of drama comes when Vinz has the opportunity to kill one of them, but chooses not to, which in the logic of the film leads to his capture and death at the hands of the cops.
  • Romper Stomper is a 1992 Australian film written and directed by Geoffrey Wright and starring Russell Crowe. The film follows the exploits and downfall of a neo-Nazi skinhead group in blue-collar suburban Melbourne.
  • The British film This Is England focuses on a young boy who ends up befriending a group of mostly apolitical skins (one of them actually being black) during the days of Thatcher's England. When the group's leader returns from prison having joined the National Front, it messily splits into apolitical and white supremacist factions.

  • Barry Kent of the Adrian Mole books is one in the early books. He is racist at first, but in the second book becomes an anti-racist after a politician from the Send 'Em Back Where They Came From Party comes around to the school looking for support to deport everyone not of Anglo-Saxon blood. Kent threatens him with bodily harm and joins Rock Against Racism.
  • The novel American Skin is about a kid who joins an anti-racist skinhead culture, but is sent to prison when the main character is forced to kill a black man in self-defense. Neither the prosecutor or the jury believes him, because he's a skinhead.
  • In the book Bridget Jones' Diary, Bridget and her friends haven't heard from their gay friend Tom for a while and are worried he must've gotten attacked by some bigots and skinhead types. She also mentions that Tom had friends in the non-racist and queer-friendly rival group of the National Front. Thankfully Tom is safe albeit with some cosmetic surgery done to his nose.
  • The Kim Newman short story "The End of the Pier Show" revolves around a young policeman who's gone undercover in a white supremacist skinhead gang, only to get caught up in a more supernatural form of evil to whom the skinheads, depicted as a bunch of over-macho and violent but ultimately inconsequential thugs, pale in comparison (along with the horrors of the people who inspired them). Throughout the story, he expresses discomfort with having shaved all his previously long flowing hair off, but by the end he's used to it and even after getting reassigned to other duties decides to keep the look, deciding that the skin look deserves to be reclaimed.
  • Canadian born English writer James Moffat, under the pen name "Richard Allen", wrote a series of pulp novels focusing on skinhead culture, among other youth subcultures of the 70s. They were very successful sellers at the time, and are pretty much the main thing he's known for today.
  • "Bigmac" from Terry Pratchett's Johnny Maxwell Trilogy is mentioned to be a skinhead. No Nazi, however, more following the example of his elder brother.
    • Although he does wear swastikas, as revealed in the third book. However, he has only the vaguest idea what they represent, or why wearing them when you've time traveled back to 1943 is a bad idea.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Black Books' debut episode had a pair of gags involving Skinheads.
  • Dixon of Dock Green had an early screen appearance by a classic, sixties-style version. The “boot boy” in question was an apolitical teenager with no real characteristics beyond being somewhat aggressive and not over-bright; he was eventually beaten up (offscreen) and found lying on his parents’ back doorstep.
  • In Doctor Who, the show struggled with a middle class BBC approach to young thugs. (See "Silver Nemesis", a Seventh Doctor serial.)
    • In the revival series, the costume theme for each Doctor is (by admission of Word of God) based on a British subculture. Both the Ninth Doctor and the Twelfth Doctor were modeled after different kinds of skinhead - the Twelfth the more classic, 1960s-style kind, with close-cropped but not shaved hair, brogues with Doc Marten's-like soles and a Crombie coat; and the Ninth the 00s, LGBT skinhead kind with a crew cut, more conventional Doc Martens and lots of beat-up leather.
  • Inspector George Gently portrays them slightly more sympathetically than most in "Son of a Gun" when Rachel has to go undercover in a skinhead club to get close to a suspected Arms Dealer:
    John: It's getting to where I don't even understand the crimes anymore.
    Gently: They told my generation, 'keep your nose clean, work hard.' Young people today know that's a lie. What if these toe rags are the future, John? What then?
  • On Life on Mars they were inept clowns (not even the real killers, just a red herring).
    Gene: The NF are far too stupid for that. That lot could stick a shotgun up me arse, pull the trigger two times and still miss.

    Video Games 


    Western Animation 
  • A group of neo-Nazi skinheads sit in the cafeteria of Steve's school on American Dad!. They are racist, but uncharacteristically polite.
    (On Judaism) Yours is a rich and fascinating tradition which we despise.
  • In the Family Guy episode "Tea Peter", the government has been shut down and the town has gone to hell. In one scene, Mort has dyed his hair blond and is hiding from a group of skinheads, and proceeds to sell out his own people.