by Mo Karnage
I’ve been avoiding 2 things recently- beginning to write for Profane Existence and addressing the Miley Cyrus debacle in any serious manner. This morning a houseguest who writes for Afropunk.com pointed out the Vice Magazine article about Miley Cyrus being punk, and I decided that was the last straw. So this is my wading into the intersectional cluster fuck. Apologies. Not sorry.
I live at the Wingnut Anarchist Collective in Richmond, VA and I listen to a lot of pop country, but my background and politics are punk. In August my Aunt bought me tickets to see Ke$ha in DC, cause I like Ke$ha, cause I have bad taste. I’d never been to any mainstream show in my life, and had no idea what to expect. What blew me away was the sheer spectacle of mainstream pop music. There were stripper poles, drag queens, blow up animals, soft porn videos, mini cars, angle grinders shooting sparks, and more. I was convinced by seeing the spectacle in person along with a couple thousand 14 year olds that nothing is shocking anymore. It is with this experience that I address the Vice article on Miley Cyrus.
The concept of punk as spectacle or just fashion rebellion is something that was probably never accurate, and if it was, it is hella outdated. Being raunchy or pushing boundaries has been for some time now completely accepted by consumer capitalism and the pop industry. Spectacle sells. Capitalist scum have at this point completely stopped caring about morals or promoting WASP values, and only care about making money and distracting people from reality. See the Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord for more on this concept.
Shock isn’t punk. Punk has always been about more than shock. The politics of punk are shocking because they undermine mainstream values, not because our clothes are covered in safety pins. Punk is shocking because we want to overthrow the patriarchy and smash the government and free all the prisoners and stop racism. Drugs and excess aren’t punk either. Those have always been privileges of the rich.
If Miley Cyrus’ racist performances are punk, the the KKK is punk. And the KKK isn’t punk. Mainstream society is all about the white supremacy. Ain’t nothing punk about that. If Miley Cyrus not giving a fuck about what people think is punk, then Monsanto and the U.S. Military Industrial Complex are punk. I think its pretty obvious why not giving a fuck doesn’t make you punk.
Miley Cyrus can’t conceivably be working towards her own liberation while contributing to the oppression of others. Shit doesn’t work like that. No issue is one dimensional. Of course slut shaming is unacceptable. But we have to go beyond the white/liberal feminist stance to address the racism and classism and other shit coming from Miley’s corner. And we also have to address the systemic nature of these things. It’s not just Miley and it never has been.
Dan Ozzi (author of the Vice article) writes like a person with a lot of privilege. He thinks not giving a fuck is punk. How original. Sounds like every other white male with unexamined privilege. He can get in line with the manarchists. Punk isn’t for him. And we don’t need people like him to try to define a genre for us. Not giving a fuck about racism or sexism or transphobia or classism is about as fucking normal as you can get.
Capitalism is about what sells. And capitalism is rapidly appropriating aspects of punk that it can turn into consumer products. Those products have never been punk. True punk rebellion includes fighting capitalism, fighting oppression, and promoting a DIY ethic and solidarity and community. Punk isn’t about rebellion for rebellions sake. That’s what capitalists would like for us to think. There are specific values to punk. Punk is queers and people of color and womyn and everyone who refuses to assimilate or perpetuate oppression. Listen to some Crass, Bikini Kill, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, etc. Check out Punks Unite Across Turtle Island – www.nativepunxunite.tumblr.com . Check out radical punk zines like Shotgun Seamstress www.shotgunseamstress.wordpress.com . Punk isn’t dead and shitheads like Dan Ozzi and Miley Cyrus will never kill it. Punk isn’t dead and the capitalists won’t ever be able to market the parts that really matter.
Great article! First, I’d like to commend you on a well written response to the definition of “punk” as put forth by the likes of Ozzi. Second, to clarify matters there are some issues here I think you might be overlooking. While I agree that punk is not dead, you have to recognize the fact that punk is an ever-changing “genre” and “style” and what is “authentically” punk right now, to you (and myself), is not so to all people engaged with “punk.” Also, a big part of the reason punk has morphed into the definition of it that you align yourself with is because of the cultural appropriation of “punk” style(s) by the mainstream. (I’m assuming you’ve read Hebdige because of your safety pin reference.) You have to remember “punk” started with the Sex PIstols, and the Sex PIstols were initially a marketing scheme for a fetish shop. You don’t get more capitalist than that and they’re considered the godfathers of “punk” to many.
I also feel that, while you make a good case for punk not being spectacle, you’ve missed the heart of Debord’s argument about what spectacle is and what it does. Punk very much can be considered spectacular, and spectacle is not solely the domain of capitalist pigs. The spectacular does not have to be the shock and awe and spectacle of an overly produced pop concert. Safety pins are spectacular. Vegan, antifa, feminist punx are spectular… just in a different way and with their own agenda. This does not mean I’m condemning any of that. The problem with punk being so radically politicized now-a-days is that we’re as fractioned as the anarchists of old. I can appreciate all the arguments “punk” puts forth without necessarily participating or aligning myself with those perspectives. That’s what makes punk great. It isn’t “not giving a fuck” it’s actually giving two fucks and possibly opening peoples eyes to these issues in an anti-hegemonic way that makes punk special. When viewed in this light Miley Cyrus could be a little bit “punk” or at the very least her performance forced people to think about the issues raised as being “punk.” Not that I’m sticking up for her or her performance. But, the fact that her performance forced a large scale public discussion of issues such as race, gender, and sexuality led people to consider it in the realm of the only other phenomenon they associate that level of discomfort with… and that’s “punk. “
You indicate punk is “queers and people of color and womyn and everyone who refuses to assimilate or perpetuate oppression” and then suggest people listen to Bad Brains. Did they not perpetuate oppression with their attitudes towards and song(s) regarding homosexuality?
“If Miley Cyrus’ racist performances are punk, the the KKK is punk. And the KKK isn’t punk. Mainstream society is all about the white supremacy. Ain’t nothing punk about that. If Miley Cyrus not giving a fuck about what people think is punk, then Monsanto and the U.S. Military Industrial Complex are punk. I think its pretty obvious why not giving a fuck doesn’t make you punk.”
I think you’re assuming there’s some kind of universal coherence or centrality to a punk ideology when there really isn’t any. There are plenty of right-wing punks and to them the KKK could absolutely be punk. I don’t think ‘revolution’ or politics necessarily define all punk scenes either. Since most people develop an interest in punk during their adolescent years, punk is much more a vehicle for coping with feelings of alienation or difference from ones peers. Punk is much more about the incoherent and confused frustrations of youth, not some high-minded social revolution (and I think it’s better that way). Miley Cyrus could absolutely be punk. She doesn’t have to stand for anything but not really giving a shit. That’s pretty much what punk was founded on.
“You indicate punk is “queers and people of color and womyn and everyone who refuses to assimilate or perpetuate oppression” and then suggest people listen to” Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hanna has openly oppressed transgender people.
i think throwing accusations of racism around as well as broadcasting an Us V. Them philosophy is damaging. especially if you in some way are trying to define a group through writing and therefore; trying to, in small way, represent that group. i, as a punk, have bridged some of my issues with capitalism, police, government, idiots, other punks and so on, enough to have something to offer more than alienation for the people involved with those ideas, policies, organizations or ways of life. granted, no matter what my personal journeys lead me to conclude, i certainly don’t expect those same conclusions from anyone else, but that’s my punk ethic; that i don’t define what punk is or isn’t. punk is not the standard for which i judge my pop culture, and i understand that that is mostly what this article is trying to say, however punk’s been in pop culture since it’s inception and there is no way to avoid that. complaining about it and stretching definitions to meet a level of righteous outrage is not going to change it. people will see miley sirus however they chose to see her until she defines her intentions (hopefully as a woman taking full control of her identity in a pop culture that deeply discourages that behavior in women. but i don’t listen to her stuff that much and i’m not paying that much attention). it seems like argument is that miley sirus is trying to culturally appropriate punk by being described that way. my retort would be that punk is no one’s culture to have or to be appropriated from.
Bad Brains said some ignorant stuff probably because they were young and angry, so I am sure they have regret about that. Like when girls get mad and call each other “fat”, guys do the same, but call each other “faggot”. Sadly it’s deep rooted, but I would like to think that way of thinking has changed. What about the Adolescents, the Meatmen..some of their music had homophobic lyrics. As a forty something punk I remember see all of these bands in their prime and running into that mindset wasn’t a surprise. At least the shows I went to were made up of all types of young kids, gay included. Everyone was an outsider. A couple things that punk had back in the early 80’s that it doesn’t have today is a sense of humor, and tongue & cheek sarcasm. There was no internet microscope ready to parse every word or report every event. Sure there were those who were more politically involved, but punk allowed us to have fun and think outside the box which followed most of us into adulthood. They can toss around the word “punk” all they want, but no amount of corporate packaging will ever come close to the original intent of – fuck the system, fuck your idols, I will not conform to your rules.
Mo def did a great job on the article but I think saying punk was never about fashion is historically inaccurate (see definitive punk bands pre-Crass: I.e. Ramones w their leather jackets and the Sex Pistols- a band started by a fashion designer to help sell clothes). That is not to understate where we are today: as (even this may be a bit optimistic) post-fashion-centric punkers who have developed decades of critical analysis/theory regarding various facets of oppression. That being said, I don’t think identity politics are too convoluted/short-sighted to serve as our only defining characteristic.
Not every one develops a class analysis or becomes radicalized through punk music, though it seems an integral catalysts for young, white, middle class folks in the US. Society the Spectacle was penned before the punk rock phenomenon, as was many other radical works… So, to me what’s important is not so much that punk-itself stays alive and vibrant, but the ethos and discourse against oppression have a place to continue onward.
Having read the article in question along with many other of Ozzi’s pieces, it would surprise me greatly if he was being completely sincere. My guess would be that it was intended irritate punk elitists and people who took distinctions between what is and isn’t “punk” way too seriously. There is very little that can link all bands that are “punk” together. A significant aspect of punk initially was that it encouraged individuality and had a different definition for everyone. This notion has of course long since passed and was arguably never really true in practice anyway, but i would say it’s still worth keeping in mind.
Random Side Note: Johnny Ramone is a fervent Replubican who ended his “Hall of Fame” admittance speech with “God Bless Bush. God Bless America.”
. . . .Oh dear, I’m rambling again. Point is : Ozzi’s article was almost certainly written with the intention of pissing off people such as yourselves . . . .it seemed to work. . .
I really like this article, and although punk truly isnt dead, I think a lot of people get it confused. having read thru some of the pending posts that will most likely remain unpublished in response to this article, it seems that the majority of idiotic sheep (oops I mean people) think that for some reason punk has a presence in pop culture. well it doesnt. and as to people who think that punk deserves a spot in pop music, it doesnt. TRUE PUNK HAS ALWAYS AND WILL ALWAYS BE UNDERGROUND. AND IT WILL ALWAYS BE A THREAT TO MAJOR SOCIETY, LIKE A THORN IN THE SIDE IF YOU WILL. punk is collectivist and individualist at the same time. punk is political and having fun at the same time. punk is and will always be: anti – authoritarian, anti – racist, anti – homophobic, pro – womyn bordering on anti – porn, anti – greed, anti – capitalist and anti – money promoting instead a balanced task based society. AND TRUE PUNK WILL NEVER BE RIGHT WING YA FUCKTARDS! that said, punk may not be entirely left wing either, but trying to mix pracitcality with leftist philosophies in order to attempt to make a better world out of this shit hep that we call western civilization. unfortunately the powers that be will never let us achieve this vision voluntarily. we will have to take direct action, and work from the inside out, like a cancer invading the host.
here’s a link from Extreme Noise that you may like. it s called 23 pieces of evidence that punk is dead:
punk is a vacant ideology, “punk rock” is a synonym for cool. every CEO and ad man wants to be fucking “punk rock”. what does punk stand for? individualism and liberalism. we are at end game for both of those. they have completely permeated society. “punk” isn’t rebelling against shit. punk is cool. “hippy” is still a dirty word, “hippy” is still an insult, no one wants to be called a “hippy”. it’s because hippies had values that were a threat to capitalism, a threat to the social order, punk is weak as fuck.