A sideways critique from a sideways stance, emo presents one of punk’s most fascinating effects: an opportunity for us to think about what a criticism of normativity looks like when it comes from the normative subject. And so while this article will attempt to address the overwhelming question that has haunted the subculture—“What is emo?”—it is also interested in thinking less about emo as subculture and more about emo as a kind of structure: the critical periphery of normativity, from which we might begin to develop new insights into what it means to identify normative masculinity as the dominant logic of privilege and to identify affect as the appropriate idiom for critiquing normative masculinity. In the spirit of this alternative genealogical approach, I will begin by unpacking what it means to say that emo functions as a periphery, and then turn to three essentially emo “moments” of the last three decades—its juxtapolitical emergence from the DC hardcore punk scene, circa 1985; its antipublic dissembling in the late 1990s; and its postmainstream spread across the US-Mexico border in the early twenty-first century—proposing that, in considering emo always in relation to normative trajectories, we can begin to unpack the very contours of normativity itself.

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