Home News Punk AF: Resisting Postmodern Interpretations of Punk Tradition in World Politics

Punk AF: Resisting Postmodern Interpretations of Punk Tradition in World Politics


The distorted guitar sounds, tough recording strategies, and easy music constructions of early 1970’s punk bands just like the Conflict and the Intercourse Pistols have turn out to be iconic. What was as soon as a subculture condemned by political figures like Margret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and occupied the dark, dingy basements of outcast buddy teams, has turn out to be hugely popular with cultural relics now being offered alongside tea towels of the royal household. Now within the twenty-first century, it stays troublesome to outline punk tradition due to the differences in music and styles related to the time period. Nonetheless, mixed with its politically polarizing and anti-establishment lyrics, performances, and acts of revolt, punk tradition has turn out to be ripe for the tutorial highlight subjecting it to varied types of evaluation and critique. This has resulted in an entire discourse of postmodern interpretations of punk music, type, language, efficiency, artwork, and politics.

Regardless of this, little analysis is crucial of linking punk’s key actors, traits, and concepts to world politics by way of a postmodern lens. This text will serve to problematize postmodern attributes of punk to argue that it by no means actually was the anti-racist, counter-hegemonic, and socio-politically resistant power many teachers and members claimed it to be. It has been discovered that some bands which wouldn’t have the identical historical past of structural whiteness as these often spotlighted in postmodern interpretations, seem to kind a counter-hegemonic tradition based mostly on lived experiences and actual discourse, nevertheless, as this text will present, they too don’t match postmodern categorizations.

This text incorporates three sections (or verses). The primary verse will introduce the idea of postmodernism and the way it has been utilized to not simply punk, but in addition world politics, cultural research, and music. Second, the connection between punk tradition, music and world politics will serve to problematize attributes of punk deemed postmodern, particularly how totally different readings of punk tradition both assist or contradict the postmodern canon. Third, points of punk that contradict its beforehand ascribed postmodern attributes can be expanded upon, specializing in the tradition’s anti-racist mythos and individualized company to additional make the connection to world politics.  This text has included quotes from punk figures beneath part titles in order that they continue to be central to the argument. As oftentimes in educational punk research, punks appear far faraway from the dialogue and will not be handled as integral elements. The quotes nonetheless serve to embody the important thing factors made in every part and can proceed to information the reader all through.

First Verse: Postmodern Interpretations Abound

Questioning something and the whole lot, to me, is punk rock. – Henry Rollins, former vocalist of Black Flag, no date.

This part will introduce key ideas of postmodernism originating within the Seventies. It would particularly present how postmodernism has been utilized to the ideas of world politics, cultural research, and music. The aim of this part is to not debate the deserves of postmodernism and whether or not it precisely describes the modern state of the world. Quite, this part will serve to create a extra nuanced understanding of postmodernism as a concept and cultural observe that’s essential and far-reaching, however nonetheless nonetheless in debate. Though this text seeks to problematize scholarship that views punk as a postmodern phenomenon (see Moore 2004; Patton, 2018), it can’t be refuted that like punk, postmodernism stays contentious in debates round world politics and common tradition. This is a crucial high quality shared by each postmodernism and punk which can be touched upon on the finish of this part.

On this article, the time period “postmodern” is known from two key tendencies. First, it suggests a deconstruction of boundaries between “excessive” and “low” tradition, utilizing a observe referred to as “bricolage” to recombine previously incompatible kinds. In cultural research, this collapse of cultural distinctions has been attributed to the commodification of all cultural merchandise beneath world capitalism (Harvey, 1989). Within the music and artwork scene, postmodernism might be characterised by its intertextuality, or its capability to (re)create with objects and pictures from the previous by allocating points from earlier texts inside each the fashionable and “unique” (Jameson, 1991: 280-285). Second, it signifies the rejection of common vantage factors for understanding the world. That is particularly helpful within the social sciences, the place postmodernism represents the deconstruction of metanarratives discovered within the earlier modernist canon changed with localized, self-reflexive, and contingent analyses within the seek for reality (Lyotard et al., 1984: 11-23). Moreover, in politics, postmodernism can signify a way of revolutionary socio-political company based mostly not at school politics, however within the fragmented assortment of identities and variations of latest social actions (Melucci et al., 1989; Gitlin, 1995). Whereas the deserves of postmodernism and its contributions to the broader social sciences and humanities are nonetheless debated upon, its defining traits are essential for understanding why it has been utilized to punk in previous scholarship.

From these two central tendencies, it’s clear why students have touched upon the seemingly intrinsic qualities that punk, a tradition outlined by questioning the status-quo with acts of rebellion and resistance, shares with postmodernism. The truth is, they gained growing recognition and have been developed in tandem all through a lot of the Seventies and Nineteen Eighties (Patton: 2018, 3). Nonetheless, just like the idea of postmodernism itself, there was appreciable debate about punk’s postmodern attributes. Moore (2004) argues that competing tendencies inside punk (e.g. nihilism, cynicism, sincerity, independence) are all reactions to the identical crises of postmodern society. Whereas others have solely discovered partial proof for deeming punk as postmodern as a result of the realities of its members are subjective and troublesome to categorize as postmodern (Muggleton, 2000). The Subcultures Network, based mostly on the College of Studying, argues that punk is finest understood from its inherent factors of pressure like avant-gardism and popularism, artificiality and realism, or individualism and collectivism (Worley et al., 2016: 7). From previous work, it needs to be clear that punk doesn’t match neatly right into a postmodern categorization. Nonetheless, what makes one thing “postmodern” remains to be debated amongst the speculation’s main figures, particularly for issues regarding tradition and music. Kramer (2002: 13-14) argues that postmodern concept incorporates “a maddeningly imprecise musical idea”. To raised perceive what makes music “postmodern”, he suggests viewing postmodernism not as a historic interval, however as an angle that influences not solely modern musical practices but in addition how we use music of previous generations .

Moreover, in punk scholarship, it’s equally argued that the tradition is finest outlined as an ongoing angle and never a scene that briefly occupied a sure house in time earlier than dissolving (Furness, 2012). Postmodernism and punk considered as ongoing attitudes reveals a path ahead to extra nuanced interpretations of how the 2 relate. That is particularly essential transferring ahead as a result of whereas definitions of postmodernism and punk stay elusive, their connection stays persistent all through academia.

Second Verse: Problematizing Attributes of Punk Deemed Postmodern in World Politics

I don’t assume punk ever actually dies, as a result of punk rock angle can by no means die. – Billy Idol, former guitarist of Era X, no date.

This part will join punk tradition to music and world politics to disclose how totally different readings of the tradition can both assist or contradict the postmodern canon. Like postmodernism, punk has been handled as a fad by students. Cultural scholar Steve Redhead (2019: 23-26) argued that punk occupied a sure second within the historical past of pop and couldn’t be thought of a tradition by itself, however relatively a prolongation of pop music tradition . An argument that resonates with students who’re hesitant to determine as postmodernists as a result of the “publish” signifies a sure dependency or prolongation of modernity (Connor, 1997: 65). Whereas actually helpful for analyzing pop music’s relation to world politics, it’s vital to transcend characterizations of punk that solely reverberate the notorious epitaph: Punk is dead.

Subsequently, students ought to transcend the overall contexts linking solely punk music to wider cultural or political actions common at any given time. The ability of punk as a definite tradition, its relation to world politics and music, and the way this has been interpreted to be postmodern can’t be understood in any other case. Randall (2004: 1) argues it’s not correct to assert that “the facility of music itself can persuade, coerce, resist, or supress”; relatively, “the makes use of to which music is put, the controls positioned on it, and discursive therapies of it” needs to be addressed in academia . Moreover, Avenue (2003: 283) when writing on punk confirms the discursive energy of music and argues it is usually essential to investigate the mechanics and practices that hyperlink music to politics. Subsequently, it’s simply as essential to concentrate on the performers and performances themselves and deal with them as integral elements of political and cultural actions .

Different students have additionally highlighted the essential and extremely political function that music inside a tradition performs in “the on a regular basis”. They’ve famous how punk can take a number of types of resistance (past the music) in on a regular basis life by way of language, angle, type, and social relations (Kellner, 1995: 187). Local underground punk basement shows that happen exterior of the reaches of hegemonic forces (i.e. main file labels and live performance venues) serve for instance of this. Moreover, Patton (2018: 3) connects these types of resistance to bigger globalization actions of the late Chilly Battle period, arguing that punk and its on a regular basis resistance efficiently distanced itself from hegemonic forces just like the rising post-Chilly Battle world and political order by “avoiding, subverting, or co-opting networks of world capital” . Associated to postmodernism, that is useful for connecting punk’s cultural practices like DIY (assume repurposed devices, patched leather-based jackets, and basement exhibits) to postmodern strategies like bricolage (the observe of recombining as soon as incompatible kinds and domains).  Moreover, Reddington (2004) identifies the rise of girls instrumentalists in 1970’s UK to the DIY and ‘anyone-can-do-it’ ethic of the punk rock motion. Nonetheless, it’s a simplification to view punk as an antithesis to the dominant, hegemonic tradition of its time, thus neatly packaged as postmodern.

Regardless of ethics of the tradition that match nicely throughout the postmodern canon, like DIY or ‘anyone-can-do-it’ that empower members, punk is usually complicit within the rise of hegemonic energy that additional marginalizes the exact same folks many declare the tradition empowers. It is a main flaw in attributing punk to postmodernism as a result of whereas members and students declare tolerance, inclusion, and progressive considering to be on the core of the punk ethos, this text argues that this isn’t totally true and solely serves to create an anti-racist mythos round punk tradition. For instance, writing on the historical past of punk and racism, Roger Sabin (1999: 204) notes that regardless of the actual fact folks of South Asian descent have been the bulk victims in racist murders in late 1970’s UK, punk musicians remained silent. There was some “ambivalence, and even hostility in direction of Asians” in punk as a result of Asian immigrants have been perceived as rivals to Britain’s largely homogenous, white working class of the time . Moreover, punk-scholar Gerfried Ambroshch (2018) discovered that punks and skinheads maintain three issues in widespread: their angst, their disillusionment, and their discontent with mainstream society. Originating within the predominantly white working-class neighbourhoods of 1960’s London, skinhead teams have been predominately made up of white British youths with deep-seated nationalistic, neofascist, anti-Semitic, and racist views – notably notorious within the Seventies for attacking Pakistani immigrants in London’s East End.

All through the late Seventies and early Nineteen Eighties, these labelled as immigrants, gays, feminists, and racial and ethnic minorities have been all focused as scapegoats by the skinhead neighborhood, and a small portion of punks (Ambroshch, 2018: 903). For instance, the notorious British Nazi punk band ‘Skrewdriver’ and their songs like “White Energy” (1983) made to incite racism and violence towards minorities within the UK epitomize this strand of skinhead punks. Nonetheless, it is very important distinguish this small fraction of punks from the broader common punk scene on the time, as many bands like Metal Pulse, the Tom Robinson Band, and X-Ray Spex staunchly condemned racism and anti-homophobia. This part has served to problematize postmodern categorizations of punk and its relation world politics. The following part will reveal how a extra crucial studying of punk and its historical past of racism additional deconstructs postmodern attributes of punk.

Third Verse: Punk Tradition’s Anti-Racist Mythos and Individualized Company

F**okay them for not serving to me, for getting me all amped about all these politics. – James Spooner, documentary filmmaker and co-founder of Afro-Punk music pageant, 2015.

The anti-racist mythos of punk often types a well-liked narrative that goes like this: lots of the punks who held racist and fascist views got here to grasp that their anti-authoritarian wrestle was towards the hegemony of white capitalism, thus, they started to see the marginalized teams they previously used as scapegoats as sturdy allies (Ambroshch: 2018). In some methods this seems to be true. For instance, the institution of Rock Against Racism (RAR) and the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) is proof that many historians have used to “co-opt punk right into a extra long-term custom of countercultural—left wing—dissent” (Sabin, 1999: 199). Nonetheless, as this text additionally argues, each Sabin and Ambroshch in the end imagine that punks popularity for being anti-racist and anti-fascist was a results of ideological mythmaking by the British music media and punk performers themselves in response to the hanging recognition of the racist National Front amongst white, working-class youth within the Seventies (1999: 200; 2018: 904). Consistent with the interrogation of punk’s postmodern qualities, this pertains to arguments by critics like Habermas and Ben-Habib (1981) who condemn postmodernism for being merely a response to the modernist philosophical canon. This part will present additional proof for why postmodern readings of punk are misguided as a result of they serve to create grand narratives.  

Students and commentators have linked this racist historical past of punk to the historical past of white outsiders and their identification with racial and cultural others (Mailer, 19: 2011). As a result of punks have traditionally come from white middle-class backgrounds, they don’t face the identical marginalization as these they culturally applicable. Therefore, calls for “white riots” by the Clash (1977) or white punk pioneer Patti Smith’s self-identification as a “nigger” in her music “Rock N Roll Nigger” (1978) are selections, albeit extraordinarily racist and misguided, and don’t signify the structural racism, violence, or marginalization that they face. Different examples of this are evident with the co-opting of reggae music by white punks within the UK and US (Sabin, 1999) and MC5’s identification with black rebellion in Detroit (NPR, 2018).

As this text argues, the racist historical past of punk is often uncared for by students who attribute it to postmodernism. This studying of punk reveals its contradictions to the postmodern canon, totally different from these of the punk that “arose by way of transnational conversations that emerged in tandem with postmodernism alongside avant-garde creative networks that stretched the world over” (Patton, 4: 2018). Nonetheless, this quote depicting punk as a postmodern globalized phenomenon is fascinating when associated to world politics as a result of punk-scholars have usually described the story of punk as “certainly one of company and empowerment usually ignored by conventional worldwide relations” (Dunn, 2008: 193). This studying of punk particularly utilized to world politics additional contradicts postmodern interpretations of particular person company as “a passive cacophony of language video games during which all that’s strong melts into air” (Gubrium and Holstein, 1995: 555). Nonetheless, punk does current itself to be synonymous with particular person company (i.e. DIY) and resistance. It has been characterised by daring shows of particular person revolt. For instance, angered by the recognition of punk merchandise and its appropriation by the mainstream, the son of the late punk icons Westwood and McLaren burned £5 million worth of punk memorabilia on a ship on the river Thames (Guardian, 2016). Bands that wouldn’t have the identical historical past of structural whiteness as these spotlighted in postmodern interpretations, additionally seem to kind a counter-hegemonic tradition. As can be expanded upon, that is additionally a deceptive interpretation of punk that ignores its structural whiteness.

The argument right here is that inside punk tradition, it issues much less what a participant says and/or does and issues extra how they do it. Dunn (2008: 200-208) argues these acts of resistance can have desalinating results round the remainder of the world. Citing examples from Latin America, North Africa, and the Center East, he argues that these people and teams “make the most of the assets of the punk cultural discipline for company and empowerment inside worldwide relations” . Nonetheless, Dunn makes it seem that these cultures have borrowed punk (as if it’s a solely western phenomenon) to assist their very own counter-hegemonic resistance. This isn’t an correct narrative as a result of it reinforces neoliberal claims that globalization represents the “free” move of products, folks, and concepts. For instance, the vastly common Mexican punk band, Los Monjo, was unable to obtain a visa to tour the US as a result of they may not afford to lose the $200 processing charge (Vice, 2014).

Moreover, the chief of the transnational punk band Gogol Bordello, with rotating band members from Ethiopia, Mexico, El Salvador, and China, sarcastically expressed his disdain for US immigration, and the convenience that he, a white man from Ukraine (albeit nonetheless extremely deprived and racialized), was capable of cross by way of immigration in comparison with his fellow band members: “Upon arriving to the melting pot/ I get penciled in as a goddamn white…Now that I’m residing up in God is aware of the place/ Someday it will get exhausting with no buddy” (2005). The punk bands, positioned exterior of the US and UK scenes most often categorized as postmodern, have needed to develop their very own type of punk resistance based mostly on their very own social assets and politics unborrowed from the west. Nonetheless, this nonetheless represents quite a lot of punk tradition that sits exterior of the postmodern canon as a result of their discourse will not be performative, however relatively, consultant of an actual on a regular basis resistance to hegemonic forces.


Quite than interpret punk and postmodernism as totally developed ideas, this text has handled them as associated interrogative practices to argue that postmodern readings of punk that depict the tradition as anti-racist, counter-hegemonic, and socio-politically resistant are misguided. The goal has been to problematize punk’s attribution to postmodernity and query whether or not the tradition was ever actually the anti-racist, counter-hegemonic, and resistant power many claimed it to be. For punk, like with postmodernity, the problem will not be that they’re educational or cultural fads that solely serve to upend the status-quo (i.e. modernity or mainstream common music). Each the idea of postmodernity and the tradition of punk are right here to remain. They’ll proceed to evolve by way of the large assist they obtain from numerous educational, music, and political scenes, just like the punk-scholars cited all through this text. Nonetheless, the willingness of some punk bands, commentators, and teachers to treat punk as symbolic of postmodernity is of nice concern as a result of it creates a deceptive grand narrative that punk tradition, regardless of its structural whiteness, was anti-racist, counter-hegemonic, and socio-politically resistant.  


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