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South Park Agonistes.

“Conservative Punk Rockers?” I said, befuddled. “Well shit, Toby. It must really just be all about the clothes and the belts at this point, huh. I mean, if some kid can listen to a top ten pop song that sounds just like the other 9 top ten pop songs, support the regime occupying the white house, comb his gentleman’s Mohawk down into a respectable hairdo when it’s time for school and still call himself a punk, then it really has nothing at all to do with the ideas and ideals that got me into this whole thing when I was a kid. You know what Toby. Let’s give those fucking Simple Plan listening, Paul Wolfowitz supporting, spiky belt wearing conservative kids the word ‘punk’. It’s pretty useless at this point anyway, and I think that we could come up with a much better and less saleable word for a community based around songs inspired by anger and frustration and played by untalented musicians. Don’t you think, Toby?”

Brendan Kelly, of the Lawrence Arms

Indeed. But:

Hippie was ten years old when punk was born—and that was 25 years ago! At least hippies don’t identify themselves as hippies—let alone whine about weekend hippies—anymore. I think you can safely call punk the far more conservative pattern of subcultural self-identification through the purchase, display and consumption of the proper commodities.

y2karl, of MetaFilter

It’s kinda nice, how those two quotes talk to each other. Then you have to go and follow the links and realize that yes, Virginia, there is a conservative punk movement, and no, Virginia, it’s not bleeding-edge satire.

I was never punk. (Everybody who knows me done giggling up their sleeves? Thank you.) I was never punk; in high school I ended up with the Eclectics, who straddled the divide between art geeks and drama geeks. We didn’t dress any funnier than your average high school student in the late ’80s—okay, there was the fad for hospital pants, and I was famous for my Clint Eastwood serape, and Cith had a thing for porkpie hats. We listened to a lot of Prince and Joe Jackson and Robyn Hitchcock, and I still remember the day I stood in whatever it was we had before Sam Goody’s, staring at the wall display of Lifes Rich Pageant and The Queen is Dead, wondering which to buy (and now I wonder what might have happened if I’d bought the other); X and the Dead Kennedys and the Butthole Surfers and the Sex Pistols and the Violent Femmes didn’t come to me till later, and even so, you can tell: I wasn’t punk. We danced badly on purpose at homecoming and put out one issue of a pseudonymous student paper and worshipped spoons and swore we’d never forget each other. (Of course it all goes back to high school! For God’s sake, when we die we’re going to wake up in heaven and it’s going to be the fucking Westerburg cafeteria.)

I was never punk, but I can tell you this with great authority and a straight face: Stavros is punk. The chumps linked above? Not.

For all the good that does. —Now that I’ve drawn my silly little line in the sand, let’s admit it: DIY is profoundly attractive to the sort of libertarian who walks what so many people would rather talk, and there’s a certain conservative thrill to standing athwart the nasty brutishness of the world and yelling right back at it, and this day and age, if you’re on campus and silly enough to be duped by Horowitz’s moonshine, you might actually think you’re speaking truth to power. (One could also think of the characters in Repo Man as role models, to be perfectly snarky.) There’s no doubt that punk can vote Bush, or fight to repeal the estate tax, or post laudatory galleries of our soldiers at work in Iraq. But there’s a definite divorce of sign and signified here, one that rings some heavy-duty cognitive dissonance on anyone who went to high school back in the day. The plaid pants and the T-shirt panels safety-pinned to the backs of leather jackets, those deliberately ugly haircuts and the fuck-off sneers, the music (because it was always about the music, wasn’t it?)—it didn’t mean much, at least not coherently, but it did mean something, and it meant whatever it was that it meant with great fervor, and now it means—what? Let’s eat sushi, and pay a fair market price?

For fuck’s sake, remember when drawing Reagan with green hair was a sign of disrespect?

(Satire? ’Fraid not. But I still haven’t ruled out astroturf, myself.)

  1. stavrosthewonderchicken    Mar 9, 02:01 AM    #

    I thank you.

    *barfs a wee bit, discreetly, opens another beer*

  2. Glenn Peters    Mar 9, 05:33 AM    #
    I'll have to consult with some experts, but I believe punk is primarily about revolt, and the idea of an old established punk dogma seems more than a little silly.

    The more outrageous part of this to me is the amazing feat of mass hypnosis that has persuaded the populace that not only is the liberal left horribly, unspeakably wrong, but that it is also in charge. The left which dare not speak its name is nominally the official status quo, giving the modern punk something to rally against -- down with the Politically Correct! Down with taxes!

    Too tragic -- there's no chance of winning back humanity to fighting for humanity if we can't even get people to see the real world through their neowool visors.

  3. julia    Mar 9, 06:12 AM    #
    Middle class white teenaged suburban posers appropriate stylistic conventions of rebellion while planning to move on to ruling the world like mom and dad when they get older.

    Like that could ever happen.

  4. --k.    Mar 9, 07:13 AM    #
    Aw, Julia, why'd you have to go and be all sensible and look at the big picture and stuff? (I mean, part of what makes this so oddball funny is that this dissent was commodified years and years ago. Why keep trying to appropriate it? Sure, there's still an awesome majesty about the corpse, but for God's sake, punk is dead.

    (Long live punks.)

  5. Kevin Moore    Mar 9, 08:16 AM    #
    Punk has historically held an uncomfortable relationship with more reactionary forces. The Clash, for all their socialist revolutionary fervor, grew out of the same white ska stomping scene as the racist brawling skinheads they rejected (and constantly criticized.) Hate Rock, a genre that emerged in the early 90s, borrows aesthetically (cough) from LA garage punk, albeit without the talent or the chops. Really, it's not hard to turn anger and pent-up aggression into a force for punishing the weak at the benefit of the power elite.

    Smart punks, like the Clash, recognized the tension and danced along the fine edge, pulling back just shy of demagoguery to offer some slogans that nonetheless held some real thought behind it. As punks matured, their critique grew more complex and somewhat self-directed (cf. London Calling and The Buzzcock's A Different Kind of Tension).

    But pop culture is a great beast that devours all, spitting out what it can't digest, crapping out the rest. Old school punks I know these days have turned outward to music of the rest of the world, seeking ways of combining different sounds into danceable multicultural soundscapes. Let the suburban Republicans have their nihilism and their commodified DIY, they seem to say; we'll create our own thing, like always.

  6. Theophylact    Mar 10, 02:40 PM    #
    "Whatever we had before Sam Goody's" was Liberty Music.

  7. [No author]    Mar 23, 06:29 AM    #

  8. sasha yohe    Jul 6, 02:36 PM    #
    ok well i think that people should be able to dress the way they want, and not have other people ragging on them like you guys are!!! who cares what you think its not going to make us change who we are!!! no matter how much you cut simple plan down they will not quit singing, they will keep going for ther fans like me!!! so you might not want to post stuff like this publicly because your going to piss someone off!!!

  9. Mark Gisleson    Feb 9, 01:22 PM    #

    I was old when punk came along, but not a hippie. For freaks (look it up but skip the Rick James entries) punk was just what the crappy rock band ordered. I already had a closet full of ripped clothing (factory work is good at that), and a pair of worn steel-toed boots punks used to try to buy off me, so stunningly authentic they were. (1000s of foot pedal operations will do that)

    Was I a punk? Dunno. Seemed to me at the time that punk was the obvious soundtrack to my life. Besides, what else were you gonna do in Des Moines on a summer night in ’82 while Journey rocked Vets Auditorium?

    Can conservatives be punks? No. And the racist skinheads were never punks either. Just the parasitical scum who cling to a dead movement much as Christian rock bands creep moss-like over the corpse of rock music.

    Punk is what it was. I have no clue what this current two-chord bullshit is, but if it’s fresh — it ain’t punk.

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