Thursday, May 05, 2005

So, You're Too Punk For Me?

Good For You. Now Fuck Off.

So, what is punk? Nobody seems to have a clear answer.

Punk, musically, according to a web search is defined as “a rock form characterized by aggressive volume, short, angry vocals and often bitter political or hopeless emotional content.”

Recently, with the popularity of bands like Not By Choice, and (everyone’s favorite whipping boy) Good Charlotte, the great debate over what is and is not punk has intensified. Despite playing music that sounds an awful lot like punk, so-called punks scream to high heaven that this music is not punk, essentially because only they should be allowed to define what is and is not punk.

They claim this music is not punk because it’s corporate, and it’s not political enough for their tastes. Behind all of this lies the very nature of the punk subculture itself.

So, then, in a cultural sense, what is punk? According to various sources, punk is: anti-establishment, activist, satirical and “underground’. If you aren’t all of these things enough to satisfy the political/social vanity of a punk, then you aren’t punk enough. Many of these people decry education as a tool of the establishment, or as a conspiracy to keep those who are either already downtrodden (or merely consider themselves downtrodden) down.

The message is crystal clear. Apparently, your elitism is better than my elitism. Which makes it all the more amusing that many of these people decry elitism as a symbol of hegemony, even as they seek to create their own hegemonies within their own little movements.

Take, for example, an anarchist friend of mine. Recently, he rather proudly told me a story about how he and a friend of his attended a local punk concert, only, to their chagrin find that it wasn’t punk enough for them.

To his partial credit, he may have an arguable case. He went to this show, held at the local Elk’s Hall, to find that it was full of junior high school kids and soccer moms selling sodas and nickel candies while pop-punk bands played preppy music and the entire show was a huge love-in.

How did he react to this? Well, how does on react to this?

He could have decided that this wasn’t for him, and left like a reasonably intelligent person would. But he didn’t do this. Instead, he (a man in his 20s) did everything that he could to spoil the fun that a bunch of junior high school kids were having. They smoked (which, apparently was against the rules at this particular show), they screamed obsenities (even after being politely asked not to) generally acted like jerks.

But it doesn’t end there.

He proudly tells me that a number of the kids from this show see him in the local shopping mall, and approach him. He tells them to fuck off. After seeing them outside the local fair the following summer, he reciprocates an attempt at friendly conversation by spitting in a guy’s face.

That’s a class act.

One of the alleged tenets of collective anarchism (to which my friend subscribes) is that it’s a society-wide transformation in which everyone unites in order to assure everyone can have a better quality of life. But if you’re telling someone to fuck off because his mom drives an SUV and he listens to Metallica and Good Charlotte, while all the while proclaiming that everyone needs to get along and be friends, than you just happen to a hypocrite. You also just happen to be an asshole.
Of course, not all anarchists are hopeless assholes. Take, for example, Otto Nomus who, in his essay “Race, Anarchy and Punk Rock”, writes: “ As a person of color and an anarchist with roots in punk rock, I have become deeply concerned with the lack of diversity within the anarchist movement. As long as we fail to attract significantly diverse participation, thus remaining isolated and politically weakened, and fail to link-up with and support anti-racist struggles, we shouldn’t keep our hopes up for any radical social transformation.”

Judging from the title of his essay, one may think that Nomus is primarily concerned about issues of racial diversity within the anarchist movement. However, he also wisely connects this with issues of social diversity.

My anarchist friend tells me “ we need to be able to exclude people,” and rationalizes this by explaining how, whenever anarchists have trusted Marx/Leninists, they are fatally betrayed afterward. However, I would ask: if Anarchy is supposed to be a broad-scale transformation of society, how do you expect to exclude anyone and still create a cohesive society? Here, however, is what we should ask:

Exactly how is this not fascism?

George W. Bush, I’d like to note, is a popular target of some of these individuals. He is said to be a fascist, a new Hitler. And while many of them (and many of us) can name many of the horrible things that Bush has done, many of them can name not one single argument in favor of the embattled cocksocker (oops, I mean president). There’s a very good reason for this: many of these people criticize others for never having read anything arguing in favor of anarchism, but they themselves have never read anything that argues against it, or disagrees with their viewpoints.

The result is a horde of cookie-cutter activists, bawling as loudly as they possibly can about how evil corporations are, but can’t actually explain to you what a corporation is. They’re fashionista activists, screaming that the sky is falling because it seems like it’s the ‘in’ thing to do.

As a result, they continually isolate and work against themselves to the point where they are entirely ineffectual. Normus recognizes this, writing, “ No matter how well-intentioned, the anarchist scene has been for the most part so deeply entrenched in the lifestyle of the know-it-all, punker-than-thou, vegan/straight edge-fascist, fashion victims or young, transient, train-hopping, dreadlocked, dumpster-diving eco-warriors that not only do most people find it hard to relate to them but they themselves are at a loss when they actually try to reach out to other communities.”
Of course, the punk and anarchist movement has a lot to offer. Social consciousness (when legitimate, and not just derived from listening to hours of Jell-O Biafra droning on and on while pretending he has a shred of credibility) is always a good thing.

But nobody likes to listen to an asshole, and there are more than a few anarchist punks out there who shouldn’t be so surprised when they’re told to fuck off.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. To read the full essay go to
    PUNK IS: the personal expression of uniqueness that comes from the experiences of growing up in touch with our human ability to reason and ask questions.
    PUNK IS: a movement that serves to refute social attitudes that have been perpetuated through willful ignorance of human nature.
    PUNK IS: a process of questioning and commitment to understanding that results in self-progress, and by extrapolation, could lead to social progress.
    PUNK IS: a belief that this world is what we make of it, truth comes from our understanding of the way things are, not from the blind adherence to prescriptions about the way things should be.
    PUNK IS: the constant struggle against fear of social repercussions.


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