punk as social force?

February 21st, 2008  |  Published in Uncategorized

I feel like I’ve gained and reiterated a more critical perspective of perspective on punk in reading and responding to Daniel Traber’s L.A.’s “White Minority”: Punk and The Contradictions of Self-Marginalization.  Michael Eric Dyson spoke at IU this week and talked a lot about hip-hop as an amplification of culture at large (i.e. critics of misogynist rap lyrics failing to acknowledge the connection between those attitudes and cross-cultural ideas of power and masculinity).  Similarly, though not to say that these roles are mutually-exclusive, I think that punk is more often a reflection of culture-at-large than a provocative agent.  Right now, I’m slowly reading through Jackson Katz’s The Macho Paradox and he refers often to the history of the formation of the battered women’s and rape crisis movements.  He quotes Debby Tucker, cofounder of the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence and volunteer in the first rape crisis center in Texas on the beginnings of those movements:

It all started with women learning to listen to each other.  The battered women’s and rape crisis movements drew strength from our understanding that what happened to individual women was not isolated.  At first we just wanted to help … later we began to hear about women’s experiences, and see commonalities and patterns not only in the abuses they suffered but in the responses to them by the police, the courts, the clergy.  We then began to use what we’d learned to confront men both at a personal and an institutional level.

So, the riot-grrl movement in the 90s, strongly connected to punk subculture, can be seen as a manifestation of a larger consciousness of women listening to women and organizing politically around the injustices articulated through those stories.

In the present, I can’t help but see the rising popularity of punk music that talks about connections to family  (e.g. The Devil in My Family by Ghost Mice, or Grandma Song by Defiance, Ohio) as a reflection of a generation whose parents are more involved in the lives of their children (e.g. “Helicopter Parents“) and whose children are more at ease with the connectedness of their parents.  Similarly, I see more subtle departures in ideology and identity between contemporary punks identifying with D.I.Y. practices and values and their parents, especially when compared with the extreme symbolic choices in lifestyle and fashion that punks in the 70s and 80s used to signify a separation from white, middle-class values.

In the case of riot-grrl and feminist organizing, one can see the positive integration of youth-culture and an important social movement.  In the case of changing perceptions of family in punk subculture you can see how different relationships with the idea of family each offer their own limitations, whether through overly symbolic identifications or what borders on conservatism.  In either case though, I come to the conclusion that punk wasn’t the movement or social force driving the connected dynamics.

Writing this is strange for me, because even though I increasingly recognize that punk media and subculture might not be a driving social force, I continue to contextualize other social dynamics through my own punk identity and my history through that identity.