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Academic Research on Trainspotting

Introduction

The film of Irvine Welsh's book Trainspotting (1993) has been advertised as a Ďcultí film (Sight & Sound:1996) and as such it stands alongside other cult films like Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers.

Trainspotting makes an attractive case study of exploration by Cultural Studies since it offers a wide view on British youth culture. The film portrays the lifestyle of a group of young drug addicts, thus contextualizing its emphasis on youth culture and linking it to drug subculture. It also involves female characters in the drug subculture, thus skilfully interweaving the issues of drugs and gender. These two issues, incorporated in a broad representation of post-war youth subcultures, have been selected for the purpose of this case study.

My intention with this paper is 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. Through an analysis of the film as well as drawing upon an exploration of post-war youth cultures, it will be argued that youth subcultures may go beyond their social class context and their relation to dominant class culture is often one of opposition in style and value ideologies.

Chapter one gives a theoretical background for the position of British youth culture and subcultures to dominant class culture, It explores the possibilities of youth subcultures transcending their social class context and forming a "class" of their own, as suggested by some functionalist theorists (Bilton et al; 1994:121).

Chapter two aims to unfold the cultural dimension of illicit drug use. Drug-taking will be considered both as a source of "moral panics"(Cohen:l994) and as a ground for the constitution of drug subculture. The analysis is focused on the drug subculture of Edinburgh, as it is presented in the film, also exploring the possible reasons for people becoming involved in it.

Chapter three focuses on the gender perspective of Trainspotting. It starts with a commentary on women's participation in post-war and contemporary subcultures. thus offering a prelude to the appearance of the female characters in the film. The central theme to be explored is to what extent the female characters are involved in the drug subculture and what is their position to the male characters in a more general social aspect. This will be carried out through an analysis of several selected scenes.

The last chapter of the case study is an analysis of a small-scale piece of audience research on Trainspotting. This primary research was carried out in the British Council Resource Centre at the University of Veliko Turnovo where a projection of the film was organized and viewers were asked to fill in close-ended questionnaires (April 11th, 1998). The research also included my own participation in two projections of Trainspotting in the cinema halls of Targovishte (March 25th, 1998) and Veliko Turnovo (April 7th, 1998) ∑

The primary research was done with the intention of investigating the audiences' spontaneous reactions to the film and also their views on certain matters, The results of the research were intended to contribute to the formation of my own views on the issues selected for discussion as well as to bring up new ones. The research also sought to provide a background for the problem of drug-taking, situated in a specifically Bulgarian context.


Academic research on Trainspotting

This is a primary Research Questionnaire. Your opinion will be used for the writing of a dissertation. Please tick only one box per question and give written answers where you are asked to do so.

1. Age:

[]  16-18
[]  19-22
[]  23 and over

2. Sex:

[] male
[] female

3. How many times have you seen the film?

[]  once
[]  more than once

4. Would you describe  Trainspotting as a 'youth' film?

[]  yes
[]  no

5. In your opinion, does the film portray drug-taking in:

[]  a positive light
[]  a negative light
[] both

6. Which of the main characters do you identify with the most?

[]  Renton
[]  Begbie
[]  Sick Boy
[]  Tommy
[]  Diane
[]  Alison
[]  Spud
[]  none

7. Which social class do you think the main characters belong to?

[]  working class
[]  lower middle class
[]  middle class
[]  upper class
[]  I cannot identify the social class

8. On the whole, do you think that the female characters are presented as stronger than the male ones?

[]  yes
[]  no
[]  I don't know

9. Which of the female characters did you like the most?

[]  Diane
[]  Gail
[]  Lizzie
[]  Alison

10. Can you say that Diane can be seen as a prototype of the contemporary young woman?

[]  yes
[]  no
[]  I don't know

11. Do you regard the film as:

[]  a 'slice' of real life
[]  a highly stylised piece of art
[]  both

12. If you have seen the film more than once, can you give the reason why in your own words:
 

13. What is your general attitude towards drug use?

[]  strongly against
[]  against
[]  I don't mind drug-taking
[]  in favour
[]  very much in favour

14. If you have any other general or specific comments on Trainspotting please make them here:
 

This is an anonymous inquiry. The information collected will be treated in the correct professional manner with confidentiality guaranteed.

Thank you for your co-operation Apostol Apostolov


APPENDIX
 
Raw data
Academic Research on Trainspotting
Number of respondents : 30 (100%)
 
Age :16-18 (6%)
19-22 (57%)
23 and over (37%)

Sex : male (13%) female (87%)

Questions :
 
1. How many times have you seen the film ?
 

  • once (70%)
  • more than once (30%)
2. Would you describe "Trainspotting" as a 'youth' film ?
 
  • yes (83%)
  • no (17%)
3. In your opinion, does the film portray drug-taking in:
 
  • a positive light (0%)
  • a negative light (47%)
  • both (53%)
 
4. Which of the main characters do you identify with the most ?
 
  • Renton [m(7%)  f(20%)  :  27%]
  • Tommy [m(3.5%)  f(3.5%)  :  7%]
  • Diane [m(0%)  f(13%)  :  13%]
  • Begbie [0%]
  • Sick Boy [0%]
  • Alison [0%]
  • Spud [0%]
  • None [53%]
 
5. Which social class do you think the main characters belong to?
 
  • working class (23%)
  • lower middle class (33%)
  • middle class (27%)
  • upper class (0%)
  • I cannot identify social classes (17%)
 
6. On the whole, do you think that the female characters are presented as stronger than the male ones?
 
  • yes (23%)
  • no (60%)
  • I donít know (17%)
 
7. Which of the female characters did you like most?
 
  • Diane [m(7%)  f(80%)  :  87%]
  • Alison [m(0%)  f(7%)  :  7%]
  • Lizzie [m(3%)  f(0%)  :  3%]
  • Gail [0%]
  • none [3%]
 
8. Can you say that Diane can be seen as a prototype of the contemporary young woman?
 
  • yes [m(7%0  f(46%)  :  53%]
  • no [m(0%)  f(34%)  :  34%]
  • I donít know [m(6.5%)  f(6.5%)  :  13%]
9. Do you regard the film as:
 
  • a Ďsliceí of real life  (47%)
  • a highly stylised piece of art  (3%)
  • both  (50%)
 
10. What is your general attitude towards drug use?
 
  • strongly against  (40%)
  • against  (27%)
  • I donít mind drug-taking  (23%)
  • in favour  (10%)
  • very much in favour  (0%)


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