“Along the streets that lead away from the apartment, he can never see anything through the concrete and brick and neon but he knows that buried within it are grotesque, twisted souls forever trying manners that will convince themselves they possess quality—learning strange poses of style and glamour vended by the dream magazines and other mass media, and paid for by the vendors of substance. He thinks of them at night, alone with their advertised glamorous shoes and stockings and underclothes off—staring through the sooty windows at the grotesque shells revealed beyond them—when the poses weaken and the truth creeps in, the only truth that exists here, crying to Heaven, ‘God, there is nothing here but dead neon and cement and brick’.” – Robert M Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Since people in general today—especially punk culture—are inclined to be a bit reactionary and take things personally, this series is not a rant about why “punk rockers suck” or any other ad-hominem attack against personal influences that people have decided to incorporate into their lives. As this article in particular will address, this is meant to disassociate the authentic discontent and angst of generations of youth used as socio-economic fodder, from the consumerist agenda that has been advanced by the biggest names in the punk rock culture.
Furthermore, this is not a coincidence, and not even so much as a covert operation (although there certainly seem to be heavy elements of this), as this is the very definition of commercial success within the corporate mechanism. Fugazi fans always respected them for selling CDs at a reasonable price, but for some reason were less inclined to question why they were eventually distributed by some of the largest commercially successful labels around. This, unfortunately, is the overall trend of punk rock— “street art” of “the people” packaged in glossy consumerist shell-cases all through the modern West and beyond, as if this does not inherently contradict everything that the movement stands for. Fans aware of these contradictions have usually been willing to let these things slide with thoughts along the lines of, “Since [insert artist] was so good and authentic, it was only a matter of time before they were picked up by the Mainstream.” While this can’t be denied as the case in some circumstances, there are other cases (such as Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye, Dave Grohl, Kathleen Hannah, and others more like Jello Biafra, who was hanging out with questionable characters like Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary) who have enough of an overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence surrounding them to empirically deduce serious contradictions and hypocrisies in their messages. This is incredibly disconcerting when these names can be traced without controversy to the most original roots of this cultural movement.
To make a long story short, punk culture only exists because a consumerist agenda promulgated it to earn capital gains on the disgruntled youth of the culture. However, this is only half of the equation. Not only were capital gains earned at the expense of youth punk trends, youth punks were transformed from random outlier plot-points into an easily digestible, formulated movement to indeed continue to use the punks as the socio-economic fodder they so desperately sought to separate themselves from. Put simply, modern society is one built around the production of waste, and how to clean up/get rid of the waste. In this equation, bound by their social discrepancies, the punks and hippies, from a socioeconomic standpoint, become the waste of society. This is the cultivation of the bottom of the totem pole. What’s more, it is a self-sustaining operation where the foundation of the punk is inherently proud of their status, boasting it wherever they go with tattered jeans, safety-pins through ear-lobes, and leather jackets.
This is where the “hippie/hipster” comes into consideration.
An insightful, albeit very disdainful, look at this ideology is given by author, Marty Jezer, in his book, The Dark Ages: Life in the United States 1945-1960:
“The hipster world that Kerouac and Ginsberg drifted in and out of from the mid-1940s to the early-1950s was an amorphous movement without ideology, more a pose than an attitude; a way of “being” without attempting to explain why. Hipsters themselves were not about to supply explanations. Their language, limited as it was, was sufficiently obscure to defy translation into everyday speech. Their rejection of the commonplace was so complete that they could barely acknowledge reality. The measure of their withdrawal was their distrust of language. A word like cool could mean any of a number of contradictory things—its definition came not from the meaning of the word but from the emotion behind it and the accompanying non-verbal facial or body expressions.
When hipsters did put together a coherent sentence, it was always prefaced with the word ‘like’ as if to state at the onset that what would follow was probably an illusion. There was neither a future nor a past, only a present that existed on the existential wings of sound. A Charlie Parker bebop solo—that was the truth. The hipster’s world view was not divided between “free world” and “Communist bloc,” and this too set it apart from the then-current orthodoxy. Hipster dualism, instead, transcended geopolitical lines in favor of levels of consciousness. The division was hip and square. Squares sought security and conned themselves into political acquiescence. Hipsters, hip to the bomb, sought the meaning of life and, expecting death, demanded it now. In the wigged-out, flipped-out, zonked-out hipster world, Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Truman, McCarthy and Eisenhower shared one thing in common: they were squares.”
As can be seen with an adequate amount of research into the proper source-material, the idea of the hippie/hipster (only marginally different, separated by time more than anything else) was much more a form of propagandized “social engineering” than it was anything authentic (again, the hippie protesting was an inauthentic, commercial expression of real emotions rising within the youth of the day). The punk was a direct and cultivated commercial reaction to the hippie, for the youth who were too fed up with their lives to “sit and chill.” As mentioned earlier in this series, “counter-culture” does mean that it isn’t mainstream. Literally, it only means “countering the culture,” which is the next point of analysis.
The mainstream equation of domestic military intelligence and public relations propaganda/consumerism has always known that the easiest way to misguide someone is not to convince them that they are wrong (which is very hard), but to convince them that they are right (much easier)—the only trick here is to have the person so convinced they are right, that they do not feel the need to think any deeper into the situation. Colloquial phrases like the “red herring” and the “limited hangout” come to mind. The punk/hippie/hipster and the counter-culture were never meant to be a social revolution—if it was a real social revolution, punkers would’ve been throwing molotovs at The Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and Minor Threat instead of worshipping them for whoring themselves out to the media.
Without exaggeration, on record, this is exactly what these people and any of the other “legends of punk” have done. The real punk culture, had it received the proper authentic attention, would not have allowed itself to be co-opted by selling their brain-space to mainstream record labels, because it would have recognized this as a primary infringement of everything they stood for. It’s time to swallow the pill, people: punk rock hates everyone, including the fans, and it has only ever sold half-truths at the very best—and, at worst, direct statist propaganda guised as pseudo-anarchy. Taking a look back at Pirsig’s beginning quote, this journalist asserts that very few “punks” have ever awaited sleep at night without discontent. Their allegiances have alleviated none of their symptoms, and honestly, they have usually exasperated these symptoms. To be fair, this has been a long-time coming. Punk culture should have started asking these critical questions by the time cheerleaders started listening to Blink-182, but anyone who noticed this seemed to be happy considering Blink and “pop punk” as the mainstream, while the bands they loved were the “real deal.”
As for the prevalent “activist” culture associated with punk, it has more or less been the joke that this is what liberal protesting has blossomed into. The Last American Vagabond is openly non-partisan, but the “politically-correct” temper tantrums in the streets, simply need to stop. People should be outraged, but they should be doing something real about their outrage, because quite frankly, the only thing these modern protests ever seem to do is create a mainstream news headline to be circulated for weeks at a time. Punk culture has, on record, always supported the mainstream liberal agenda, and even worse, punk culture has single-handedly desecrated everything that the true political philosophy of anarchism stands for. Thanks to punk rock, most people think of anarchy as free drugs and loose sex, constant rioting and looting, and the total nihilistic deconstruction of society (most of the things that punk stands for), but in fact, that could not be a more misunderstood, loaded and propagandized definition of the anarchism philosophy.
Perhaps the worst part of punk culture, overall, is the specific promotion of neurosis between the fans and the icons. In liberal punk culture, where everything regarding individuality is accepted, anxiety disorder, aggression, depression, confusion, general misanthropy, and excessive sex and drug-use are all heavily promoted throughout the culture. Punk was designed to be the next answer that the youth were looking for—they were tired of being told what they needed to improve on, or how they needed to mature. It no longer became necessary to blossom into their highest social, personal, physical, and even metaphysical potential that a person has to offer themselves. Punk allowed the youth who bought it, the freedom to give up on their personal progression, guilt-free, and engage in a life lacking in responsibility and brimming with self-indulgence at all angles (quite similar to the hippie, no?). “Don’t question yourself, you’re not at fault—it’s everyone else who doesn’t understand,” has always been punk’s mantra.
Furthermore, this article asserts that the tenants of “straight edge philosophy” are impractical at best. It can certainly be agreed that moderation is a healthy general practice towards habits in life, and abstinence towards certain situations and habits has the potential to be a very positive development for a human being—but abstinence is obviously not the only way to go here, and the pretentiousness of punk and straight edge philosophy is just as tedious and tiresome as any organized religion that claims their word is the only “true word of God.”
People do not become better because they stop doing drugs, eating meat, having sex, and abandon their sense of spirituality (whatever this may be for someone). If anything, it seems like a great way to bog people further down in their own neurosis if they are not careful. Life is most certainly about an oscillation of action and inaction, spontaneity and stability, and a sense of dualism that is characterized by the human being and their constant state of ambient stimuli. This is the philosophical dichotomy of the microcosm and the macrocosm, and it is each and every person’s inherent responsibility to understand how to navigate their own neurological maze.
The dichotomy of the left-handed and right-handed paths of life development in esoteric philosophy also help illustrate this notion at greater depths (left-handed being unorthodox, and right-handed being orthodox, but neither are inherently good or evil). It is the way of the world that each person must find their own path–there is no one-right-way, and if there was such a thing, it would definitely never be straight edge. This article judges no one for finding use out of the principles of the straight edge philosophy, but this form of punk is doing nothing but using all of the basic tenants of a religion, with a caveat that they “don’t support religion.”
This article would posit that straight edge is the definition of an indoctrinating religion that need not have any gods other than music and artists, (anyone who knows a straight-edger knows that there is some strange sense of evangelism that comes with it as well—not always, but often, the person feels the need to preach the good word how “drugs and/or meat are bad”). Even though this article only supports the use of holistic “drugs” (boycott Big Pharma), many straight-edgers suggest that using any sort of inebriation illustrates an inherent sense of weakness within the user—but this article also posits that it is an equal inherent sense of weakness to feel incapable of touching an herb or a drink because one is afraid of the substance’s possibly hindering effects. Either consider all angles of the fear and weakness or don’t use the argument. Straight-edge is a joke, and a completely social ad-hominem attack towards holistic medicinal therapy.
To quote psychoanalyst, Carl Jung,
“We are still certain we know what other people think or what their true character is. We are convinced that certain people have all the bad qualities we do not know in ourselves. If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against… Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.”
Punk culture is not brave enough to step outside of its shadow—it relishes it.
The case in point is the common catch-all answer given by artists when asked about their inspiration. It typically involves something along the lines of, “I wanted to let other people know that they were not alone in their struggles and suffering, and that we were all in this together”. When specifically considering art like punk and heavy metal and the subject matter of the lyrics, these artists might as well be holding a sign saying “Welcome to our collective personal, neurotic hell. We hope you enjoy your stay.”
Let’s point out, one last time, that heavy metal shredding and the thrashy qualities of punk rock are amazing. It would take a prude to deny that some music from both of these aggressive genres is serious quality, and a true piece of art (although, this journalist wonders how the aggressive, thrashy vocals of punk and metal have transformed into the literal shrieking that is heard in these genres today.) However, it is quite undeniable at this point that this slice of consumerist culture was created with an agenda. How precise the agenda was and continues to be, are the next questions. Researchers at the Four Horses Asses of the Apocalypse, and Hoaxbusters Call have been hot on the trail and aren’t about to let up yet. The topic has even recently been discussed by Jan Irvin and Joe Atwill on their research web-show, Unspun.
All in all, what punk culture takes away from the youth is their sense of self-achievement. Picking yourself by the bootstraps, releasing yourself from past traumas, and moving on to bigger, better things is what life is all about—and it is everything that punk is not about. It isn’t wrong to feel the discontent, angst, or even outrage at society that punk culture represents. In fact, we should all feel this way about the world in which we live—but there is no single answer, and if there was a single answer, it would not be “punk.” In a sense, punk culture is parasitic, because it would not exist without a sense of (or attempt at) order to disrupt.
Do not continue to let punk and counter-culture ideologies cloud judgement. It is imperative to think for oneself, question any and all authority, and become a part of the solution to society’s ailments instead of being part of the problem.
Cheers to good music.
Sources: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljP4bSVG4CE, https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Dark_Ages_Life_in_the_United_States.html?id=ePGjS4X1TesC, http://fourhorsesasses.blogspot.com/2017/01/the-origins-of-hippie-and-hipster.html?m=1, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_and_the_Art_of_Motorcycle_Maintenance, http://www.carl-jung.net/psychotherapy.html, http://hoaxbusterscall.blogspot.com/, http://fourhorsesasses.blogspot.com/, http://fourhorsesasses.blogspot.com/2017/01/ginsberg-punker.html?m=1