October 17, 2004

No True Punk.

From Greg Graffin's thoughtful A Punk Manifesto on the Bad Religion website:

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 through repetition, flowers into social evolution.

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.

What to make of this very earnest, very Californian definition of punk (and how to address the assumptions about human nature and society underlying it)? These definitions are almost unrecognisable to me. Or, rather, all too recognisable -- they could apply to almost any self-proclaimed progressive movement in the past three decades. It's just too damn vague to be useful -- it defines an enormous bunch of conflicting and often warring ideas, practices, movements, and individuals as "punk" or "punks". Which is probably Graffin's polemic point, but it makes the label meaningless, in the same way that labeling every facet of human existence "political" (from the same era...) empties the word "political" of any meaning at all.

And it smells strongly of wishful thinking, historical revisionism, and the old No True Scotsman fallacy. Punk as experienced in London or Sydney was rarely progressive in any sense that Graffin would recognise or admire -- it was often gloriously reactionary, nihilist, tribally exclusionist, an explosion of frustrated politics and energy with almost accidental dimensions of style and music, and a strong hint of authoritarianism in real life. And as currently manifested by 924 Gilman or the punks on Telegraph, it's still a deeply tribal movement, intensely hostile to outsiders (despite the spin from the 924 Gilman website, as any outsider who's actually been there will ruefully admit), and musically deeply claustrophobic, even reactionary.

Punk was never expected to last, at least by those of us who leaped on the bandwagon back then, and it didn't. I can't imagine any of the punks I knew back then reacting with other than laughter or bemusement at Graffin's first point above -- so much nice Californian touchy-feely newagy sociologyspeak. "If you can't get a girl, get a Mod", as the boys in the band used to say. Were they not True Punks?

(Note: I love Bad Religion -- I can't get the damn imagery from "Los Angeles Is Burning" out of my head at the moment -- but ...).

(Part of Punk (and Later)).


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