Punk Rock is fucking humiliating. It’s fucking awful to be a punk rocker right now. See that? You just laughed at me for saying I’m one. It’s a commitment to humiliation.
Joe Queer (of the Queers) posted the link to the help fund for the cop who shot Mike Brown. You know, the unarmed black kid. No, not that unarmed black kid. Not that one either, I mean the other one. The one that’s been on the news. No, the other one that’s been on the news.
I don’t agree with him, obviously, but I didn’t care to weigh in. Why? There’s absolutely nothing worth weighing in on. There’s no way to change the debate to something meaningful in that environment and there are far better uses of my time such as masturbating. So some old guy who wrote a bunch of pop punk songs I like is a racist asshole. Like Robert Hughes said in the Crumb, “What do you do with anybody [who’s a great artist] whose ethics don’t meet the standards at Berkeley?” Do you stop liking their stuff? Does it change the already-recorded-decades-ago songs I like? No. I just acknowledge what they’re about that isn’t right and move on. I don’t have to justify what I listen to to you.
Then Ben Weasel (of Screeching Weasel) started joining in on the post to troll people which is kind of his thing. Which meant that there was a bunch of dumb thirty-somethings flooding my facebook with righteous outrage over the whole thing. Now, I’ve been studying patterns of trolling for a while. It’s eventually something I want to turn into academic work on fundamentalism and try to get paid by the Southern Poverty Law Center or somebody cool like that for it. It’s actually incredibly fascinating, but I don’t have data to tell you about right now. I’m just getting familiar with how it works. But my point’s about the pop punk (and most of the rest of the punk) community and why I’m fed up with it.
I’m a political scientist in training. I’ve been reading about this round of brutal attacks on Gaza and this round of police brutality centered in Ferguson, Missouri, since it started. It’s like every Necros, Dicks, Reagan Youth, Black Flag and Dead Kennedys song ever in one tweet, one news article, one twelve second clip of terrified people running from armored men after another after another. You don’t even have to TRY to write a good song about it. You can just have a gut reaction and get it out there and you’re doing a great job. How the fuck isn’t everybody who grew up with War on Errorism not screaming about this? Nobody I know from pop punk said more than a few words the first week. I didn’t see any articles on punk-related websites except for MRR posting “Dicks Hate Police” and Reagan Youth, who always talks about this kind of thing. It’s shameful. It’s embarrassing.
Then Ol’ Joe and Weasel say something right-wing about it and everybody comes out of the woodwork, but it’s only directed at them and maybe the people their records get re-released on. I pointed this out in a post on facebook, which I’ll copy here:
Oh look a bunch of dumbass pop punk kids are getting righteously outraged at Ben Weasel and Joe Queer saying dumb shit. If half the anger you boring thirtysomethings have at those two old crackers were translated into songs where you’re ACTUALLY mad about cops and racism I would still have the time for your music. Fuck pop punk.
It’s ridiculous. How did so much of punk rock willingly depoliticize itself so much that it takes Ben Weasel trolling them from the far right to get them to say anything at all? It’s pathetic. It’s humiliating to have to be around people this willingly unengaged when so much of my own political consciousness came from this music and this culture.
There was a back and forth between myself and some people I know that are active, admittedly more than I am, in Bay Area punk rock. If anybody wants me to, I’ll screencap the dialogue with everybody’s info blacked out. But there were some lines of argument against what I was saying. The first was that people are justified being outraged at what the old pop punk crackers said. I didn’t dispute that, but I said the point was they weren’t very busy being outraged until Weasel said something and that kind of passivity is what I’m disgusted by. Someone then rattled off a bunch of statistics I already knew about black people and police brutality to me, said it was a real issue and I had no right to call that person a dumbass thirty-something for caring about this stuff. I had a response and this was it. I’ve added some formatting for clarity/obfuscation:
Wait a minute, who says YOU’VE got a right to tell me what I’ve got a right to say and what not to say?
I mean, I’m almost tempted to say “So what if he [Weasel] meant it or so what if he was trolling people? At least he got a bunch of people who probably weren’t going to care enough to talk about it to say something. and that’s the point. Most of these people weren’t going to talk about this stuff. In fact, as a political scientist it’s a very healthy sign when you have a lot of voices on the left and right even in a forward-thinking progressive state because it keeps people constantly reassessing and evaluating their stances.
And who says I’m calling you a dumbass thirty-something personally? I’m not the one making this personal. This is about my relationship with the culture as a whole, so who are you to act like it’s personally offending you? I’m just saying what I’m observing by that statement [‘that statement’ being “dumbass thirty-somethings”].
My point is we live in a world full of grotesque double standards at every corner. Falling into Ben Weasel’s troll trap and making these asinine regurgitations of the details of the police reports and evidence and arguing about it on that level like most of this has turned into means you’re wasting all your energy on that and not talking about the structural violence that goes beyond killer cops that the people marching in the streets are actually trying to talk about. Punk rock in general used to do that. [talk about the bigger picture] We used to talk about that all the time. Nobody does that anymore. It’s like ever since the steam ran out from saying fuck you to Bush Jr. punk rock and especially pop punk immediately went about de-politicizing itself to the point where old farts and habitual trolls like Joe Queer and Ben Weasel have to say something outrageous for the community to get up in arms and even then, watch everyone denounce them for five minutes and go back to feeling good about themselves for some other dumb reason.
Racism isn’t just about cops shooting unarmed black kids. It’s not even just about the structural oppression. It’s also about how people can draw lines in their minds and build whole cultures where they don’t ever have to think about this kind of thing unless it’s convenient for them to. THAT’s the point here.
Punk rock is becoming genuinely humiliating for me. There are very few people I know now who want to experience it as a way to break out of all the dumb economic and social and political stagnation and oppression in our lives. Punk has become anti-political. It’s become stagnant socially. And it’s become an economy, not a community. And no, I don’t mean it’s an industry. It’s got more nuance than a single industry, but it’s dominated by groups of consumers with “lifestyles.” Purchasing a faux-rebellious lifestyle is what people do instead of actually rebelling now that punk rock’s been allowed an official cultural space. Sort of like how Frantz Fanon said natives get more tribal and ritualistic the more colonized they are in order to distract themselves from occupation. When you turn culture into an identity, that’s what happens. So now all across the Bay I see these kids listening to Ghoul and drooling over fifty year old Ed Roth figurines on eBay. I force myself to be polite to people who spend a hundred fucking dollars on the Strung Out box set. It boggles my mind. To digress a little, lemme just get this out there: Every band on Fat Wreck that isn’t NOFX sounds like they wish they were a shitty clone of Dag Nasty. And I know people who blow half of what I live on in a year going to fucking Gainseville and five other festivals full of feel-good drunk adult Yo Gabba Gabba crap. I mean, punks have happily become about pretending they’re not a fucking market. It’s like the lite version of how Silicon Valley yuppies go to Burning Man to pantomime being a syndicalist commune for a week and then go back to their exploitative jobs. It’s a joke.
I’m not immune either. Half of the photos I put on my facebook are old records I buy. That’s part of the humiliation. Hell, me and the friends I still like talking about punk rock with spend a lot of time trying to find the cheapest least corporate way to get the records we want. We turned it into a game. Laugh at records up on store racks for fifteen or twenty bucks we paid five or ten somewhere else for. But the older I get the more desperate I am. I sold my Lillingtons box set for two hundred bucks and bought an Effigies compilation and This Is Boston, Not LA. I traded a bunch of my old pop punk 7”s for Fugazi and Gang of Four. Purposefully whiny songs about girls and dumb boring shit don’t interest me at all any more. But the Effigies, Reagan Youth, Ill Repute, Op Ivy…it’s some of the most amazing stuff I’ve ever heard. And when people find out that’s all the kind of thing I listen to, they go “Those bands died and the lead singers O.D.’d before you were even born, kid!” as if I don’t have permission to listen to this shit unless I was crusting my way through Orange County in 1982. The other reaction I get is even more depressing because they think all those old bands are just stepping stones to get to the bands of today, as if everything needs its link to the present to be relevant; like you listen to Minor Threat and the Ramones once through each so that you can go “Okay, I get it” and get back to your boring band. I tell them what I like and all they say is “Oh, cool! You like punk? You should check out Fucked Up (boring copy of Off With Their Heads with janglier guitars) and we’re going to see Neurosis (isn’t that a metal band?) in L.A. and blah blah blah bunch of fucking awful indie or metal bands I don’t care about but they’re apparently the bands playing now so it’s like I’m obligated to think they’re good to support the “scene.” Again, it’s humiliating. I’m sick of doing it.
No, I’m not saying don’t buy anything. Buy whatever the fuck you want, live the kind of “lifestyle” that makes you happy, but don’t use it to shield yourself from the world. You don’t have to be like me and make “dealing” with “the world” head-on your Ahab-like obsessive job. Hell, even if I wanted to I couldn’t cover half of the stuff I’m interested in being active on if I had ten lifetimes to do it. I mean, who can? It’s just gotten to this stupid point where the people arguing with me for criticizing this kind of stuff are people who also like the same or similar bands to me, so we’re supposed to have this sense of community in common but all that really means is I have to politely listen to what they like or they get offended.
As the “discourse” went on about it during the day, I saw people’s opinions change from disgust with Weasel and Queer to people saying stuff like “I’m just disgusted with the whole argument so I’m going to abandon talking about it” and more commonly “Oh, it’s about punk so it’s about defining punk so it’s not punk because you’re telling me what punk is so now I don’t have to talk about it.” It’s like the punk rock version of the fucking escape rope in Pokemon, that stupid fucking joke-turned-tactic. These days it’s like you have to fight ‘punk’ as an identity to keep ‘punk’ as a culture from stagnating. It’s such a dumb waste of time and that’s what it’s designed to be. And that’s a miserable, embarrassing, humiliating place to be. I’m sick of being there. I bet some of you are, too. So my advice? If you kids are so pissed off about racism, WRITE A FUCKING SONG ABOUT IT ALREADY I’M BEGGING YOU.