Adelaide is a grungy, grotty city with its structure of feeling of despair, depression, anger, alienation and a contempt of authority. This structure of feeling is associated with the decay of the centrality of the industrial citizen. This grunge structure of feeling incorporates a sense of the vacuity of a boring existence whose void is filled with sex, drugs, violence and alcohol.
Adelaide still is a rustbucket city with the sense of expectations and entitlements of the industrial citizen and welfare democracy. It hasn't recovered from the decline of low tech manufacturing (Fordism) in the 1980s, the collapse of the State Bank of South Australia in 1991, the subsequent debt of the South Australian state government from having to bail out the bank's bad debts. The Australian economy was shifting from a manufacturing-based economy to services one, and this structural shift was happening inside cities.
Adelaide was bypassed by the post-Fordist global cultural circuit of capital after Australia's economy was deregulated and opened up to the global one. There was little sense of a new future in the emerging services economy for many whose life is structured on unemployment, low skills and a poor public education.
In the new deregulated financial environment of the 1980s during the Labor decade, with its neo-liberal
turn to privatisation, deregulation, and free markets, winding back the welfare state and opening Australia up by removing exchange rate controls. South Australia missed out on the action because all the significant financial institutions were based in Melbourne and Sydney, and they had no interest in South Australia. What emerged in the provincial bank in the 1980s was a new deal making culture as the bank attempted to develop a presence in interstate and overseas global markets.
Under a neo-liberal mode of governance deregulated finance capital was going to replace manufacturing as the new driver of economic growth. This free market economics went belly up in South Australia, but the political rationality of neo-liberalism remained. The emphasis was on shaping and influencing the behaviour of citizens, encouraging new forms of self-managing and self-regulating behaviour of individuals, and relying on the disciplinary power of the market to influence citizen behaviour.
The subject in grunge culture stands in contrast, or opposition, to the healthy, flexible, productive, open entrepreneurial subjects of neo-liberal rationalities and and techniques of governmental and ethical self-formation. The bodies of an unemployed grunge subject outside the world of white male waged worker are wasted, ill, unemployed, abject, diseased, debased and sensory deranged.
A decade and half latter Adelaide is now trying to reinvent itself as an education, university or knowledge city,
as it tries to link into the global economy and a global culture by seeking to position itself for a stronger role in knowledge-based economies.
The dead weight of tradition of old Australia, from the industrial era of protection, tariffs, national building and greater regulation, hangs over this carcity like a dark cloud; and it's conservative current resists change to a knowledge economy. Adelaide is comatose, in an intensive care ward.
There was grunge in music (Nirvana) and grunge in Australian literature ( eg., Andrew McGahan's Praise and Christos Tsiolkas' Loaded), but not necessarily grunge in the visual arts, apart from a stylistic trend in Sydney in the 1990s. Grunge, however, can be found as a visual style in web design-- where its crude, radical and provoking; a dirty look with irregular, nasty, sometimes even ugly and crooked visual elements.
More relevantly to Adelaide, a grunge visual culture is expressed from within the underground graffiti culture and post graffiti street art, whose practitioners move through the urban and suburban areas of the city at night. Theirs is a space of abjection that is situated outside the culture of the deregulated market and is subject to punitive action action because it is defined as a crime against property.
This low culture, with its gesture to the carnivalesque, opens up the possibility for breaking out of the constraints of a law governed symbolic order to create an art that violates conventional rules and dislodges normal social meanings from their original and habitual contexts.
This dissent was one way of recovering a sense of being in control of events in a society that was rapidly changing due to the effects of globalization and the shortcomings of the deregulated market.