Tuesday, August 04, 2009

What the fuck is punk anyway?

So, over the years people have beat themselves to death trying to define the subculture/counterculture/music/movement/lifestyle/fashion of punk.

Of course, the first logical stop in the journey is our noble source of divine information in the age of the internet, wikipedia. Typing "punk" into the search engine yields these results:

"Punk may refer to:
Punk rock, an anti-establishment rock music genre
Punk subculture, a subculture associated with punk rock
Punk fashion, clothing styles associated with the punk subculture
Punk ideologies, a group of social and political beliefs associated with the punk subculture
Punk visual art, artwork associated with the punk subculture
Punk (magazine), a 1970s United States punk fanzine
Punk (fireworks), a utensil for lighting fireworks
Punk, an archaic term for prostitute, as used by Shakespeare
Punk, one of the Mega Man Killers, robots in the Mega Man Classic video game series
"Punk", a single from the 2003 album Right of Way by Ferry Corsten
"Punk", a song from the band Gorillaz's debut album "

from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punk taken on 08/06/2008.

At the basis I think that the problem in defining punk as an umbrella term is that it can't be defined in that manner. Rather, punk exists in 2 different manifestations: punk as subculture and punk as counterculture.

Punk does exist as simply a group of different people who adapt whatever branch of punk fashion and can actually believe politically, socially, and culturally in any sort of system--whether they're republican, anarchist, or simply the "punk's about doing whatever the fuck you want, whenever the fuck you want!!! blarghh!!!!!!!!!!". This is the punk as subculture situation that many of the people you run into within the scene are existing.

The reason those who believe in punk as a revolutionizing force become so frustrated with the scene in general. The people who exist in the left-wing, anarchist, feminist, etc. side of punk are usually hardworking, organized, and informed individuals, and are easily jaded and alienated by the subculture side of punk. This is because in being a part of the counterculture side it is hard to understand or empathize with the subculture side. If the countercultural side didn't exist, there would barely even be a scene for the subcultural side to exist in at all. They would simply be left with commercial shows at the bigger venues with Social Distortion, The Misfits, and whatever other Clear Channel/Ticketmaster/Target-core bands are out there riding punks to the bank-alongside the shitty nihilist/GG Allin local punk shows where the bands just play to their friends at bars. Left to the subculture the DIY scene doesn't exist, and there are no smaller bands from around the world touring smaller bars, DIY venues, and basements/houses.
That is the base of the frustration of the counterculture against the mantra of the scum fuck "punk's all about not giving a shit, and doing what you want" punk. And, the goal of the countercultural punk is to remedy that frustration by attempting to educate-via various media-others about alternative ways of living, being open-minded and feminist, and political and social organization.

I am not insane--I would never be as bold as to say that the subculture will be swayed by the counterculture into being more radically minded. A lot of people that end up in the subculture are just alcoholics who like the music and fashion and could care less about anything else. But, the frustration will always exist as long as there are two conflicting branches within the punk scene. Hopefully, though, the countercultural side will always be willing to work to convert sub to counter, because it is worth while, and there are converts won everyday. It is hard and depressing at times though, especially when the subcultural side is hellbent on their apolitical and apathetic stance. Being apolitical and apathetic create a long line of problems, but one consistent element (and for some reason this is specific to the punk and oi! scenes) is to allow those on the radical right to have a place within the scene which is neither alright nor safe for the scene at all, ever.

Oh well, this rant is complete, and probably should, and might be edited at some point. But, there are my thoughts on defining punk.
The subculture are those who like punk and adapt listening to the music and potentially attending shows, adapting the fashion, but refrain from any of the social/political aspects of the movement-and are often apolitical and apathetic.
The counterculture are those who are not only attracted to the music and fashion, but also immerse themselves in anarchist or left wing movements, and often work within the punk scene in booking, promotion, and/or creating and maintaining alternative spaces to host events.

coun·ter·cul·ture: -noun: the culture and lifestyle of those people, esp. among the young, who reject or oppose the dominant values and behavior of society.
coun·ter·cul·ture: n. A culture, especially of young people, with values or lifestyles in opposition to those of the established culture.

subculture: A group within a society that has its own shared set of customs, attitudes, and values, often accompanied by jargon or slang. A subculture can be organized around a common activity, occupation, age, status, ethnic background, race, religion, or any other unifying social condition, but the term is often used to describe deviant groups, such as thieves and drug users.
sub·cul·ture: n. A cultural subgroup differentiated by status, ethnic background, residence, religion, or other factors that functionally unify the group and act collectively on each member.
sub·cul·ture: -noun: the cultural values and behavioral patterns distinctive of a particular group in a society.