“Do you know what you’re fighting for
Or are you just fucking bored?
Hello, lovely readers! On top of my regular schedule of album and show reviews, Bucketlist CEO and overlord Liz Imperiale has ordered me to write a monthly column in which I rant about something tenuously related to music. Below you will find the ramblings of a bitter, irrelevant thirty-something. Please enjoy!)
Let me begin by making a series of provocative statements:
1. Genetically Modified Organisms are not inherently evil.
2. World Trade is not, in fact, a death machine
3. Not all police officers are sadistic thugs mindlessly serving fascist regimes/corporate interests/Miley Cyrus. Some of them are decent folk.
A follow up to #3; shitting on the roof of a cop car will not affect positive societal change.
What’s provocative about all that, you might ask? Absolutely nothing, unless your world view is shaped entirely by Infowars, the liner notes of The Casualties’ For The Punx, and the ravings of that dude with a “Meat is murder” patch on his leather jacket. Since its infancy, a good chunk of punk music has focused its fury on important world issues: poverty, war, class struggle, police brutality, the environment, racism, etc… So why is it that 30+ years after the 4-Skins yelled All Cops Are Bastards“ and John Lydon sang about anarchy in the UK are the politics of punk stuck in some sort of grade school groupthink?
Before the patched-pants brigade storms my castle brandishing pitchforks and environmentally friendly torches, let me throw down a healthy list of caveats; first, caring about stuff and questioning the status quo is incredibly cool and absolutely not the exclusive domain of the intelligentsia or some privileged class of elites. Good political punk music doesn’t need to wield Greg Graffin’s impressive lexicon in order to strike at the heart of a subject. Second, holding political views similar to your studded compatriots is A-okay and celebrating these ideals by getting together and screaming about them is ten kinds of wonderful.
But if some aspect of punk is supposed to be about questioning the accepted order of things, maybe it’s time we turn our collective gaze inward and examine with a critical eye a few of the genre’s more prevalent absolutist rallying cries that tend to show up in lyrics, graffiti, and decorative dental floss-affixed clothing accessories:
1. A.C.A.B. (All Cops Are Bastards): I get it: Cops enforce the laws of the state and, as such, are the embodiment of the state’s unfair treatment of the disenfranchised. Contemporary history has given us plenty of reason to believe that police culture is supremely fucking broken, rife with racism, sexism, and abuse of power. The recent deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of the police demonstrate the need to completely reevaluate the role of police in society, so to suggest that the problem is simply that everyone who puts on the uniform is just a giant power-hungry asshole is not only severely fucking braindead, it shifts the focus away from a far more worthwhile discussion.
Catchy Patch-Phrase Replacements: Fuck Police Brutality, Black Lives Matter, Donuts not Indefinite Detention.
2. Fuck World Trade: So wait, are you advocating for an immediate halt to all international commerce? A return to traditional agrarian society in which we consume within our means with careful thought given to both the environment and the means of production, perhaps? Awesome. However, you might want to rethink that position next time your ordering cone studs in bulk from Angry Young and Poor while shotgunning cans of InBev produced lager.
Catchy Patch-Phrase Replacements: Support Fair Trade. Buy Local, People Over Profits, The Sharing Economy Makes Me Horny
3. Anarchy! : I can’t think of a single political philosophy with better branding that anarchy. That encircled A is just so fucking badass! And rejection of centralized political authority does sound pretty sweet; it’s not as if there are many of examples in Western society of government looking out for anyone beyond a narrow group of corporate and privileged interests. Anarchy as a political philosophy is deeply nuanced, with a variety of distinct flavors ranging from the very granola Anarcho-Communism and Anarcho-Syndicalism (my personal fave) to the “Daddy jus’ wanna get paid!” mentality of Anarcho-Capitalism. So when punkrockdom preaches a diluted version that amounts to little more than “Fuck you, Dad, I do what I want!” it leads one to wonder how much thought those who advocate the dissolution of civil society’s current paradigm have given to the aftermath if they were successful. I mean, sure, finally being able to whip my dick out whenever I want without “The Man” telling me I’m causing a public disturbance is great and all, but what happens when I need to get this rash checked out at a hospital?
Catchy Patch-Phrase Replacements: Nothing really beats that classic “A”, but maybe see if you can get someone to add “In which we would strive towards a system of worker-self activity focused on the meeting of human needs and an end the wage system, which we view as a form of slavery” in 2 pt font. Could look dope.
My central point is this; Punk has given us some great conversation starters, but if the discussion begins and ends with a snappy catchphrase, these classic calls to arms become little more than commodified sound bites just waiting to turn into that tattoo you’ll regret in six months. A little critical thinking goes a long way.
Written by Jesse Gainer