Punk Rock Culture Essay

If there was no set dress code, the only way to identify fellow punks (especially in the days when school dress codes were more rigid in most of the country) was by wearing the correct button, scrawling the correct band names on a notebook, or wearing the right band patch provided passwords and codes that only the initiated understood.As American punk positioned itself intentionally outside of the mainstream of American music, and even increasingly outside of the major label dominated music industry, having the correct taste in bands became a sort of cultural capital, or form of "musical currency" that legitimized those in possession of the necessary knowledge.

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While it certainly is true that the British version of punk rock was intimately based along class lines, this simplistic version fails not only to recognize that punk rock is primarily an American creation, but also is distinctly American in its relationships with both taste and the generation of cultural capital.

Even a cursory look at the formations of punk, as demonstrated by recent works such as Legs Mc Neil and Gillian Mc Cain's Please Kill Me, and Clinton Heylin's From the Velvets to the Voidoids, reveals that the origins of punk rock clearly lie not only in the late 1960's aggressive rock of the Stooges and the MC5, but also in the self-consciously artistic Velvet Underground, who's alliance with Andy Warhol and debt to Delmore Schwartz and Lamonte Young reveals punk rock to be a creation of the well-educated and art-school trained upper classes.

While using popular music identified with the counter-culture in advertising is nothing new (the controversial use of the Beatles "Revolution" in Nike commercials is a notorious example), still the use of a genre as universally identified as being against the values and political identity of mainstream America is a new, and some would say, a disturbing trend.

The use of songs by punk stalwarts such as the Buzzcocks, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Black Flag and The Minutemen, bands who were closely associated with the DIY movement (literally "Do It Yourself"- a term applied to the creation of production and distribution networks within the community and outside the influence of major labels and distributors), as well as "alternative" bands such as The Cult and The Smiths, and even the use of club and dance identified music by Air, Dimitri from Paris and others, could be seen as simply the inevitable commodification of subcultures by the mainstream.

According to Hebdige, musical-based subcultures in general, and punk in particular, are engaged in a constant struggle for identity with mainstream culture where meaning is constantly negotiated and renegotiated.

Subcultures such as punk try and create an identity set in resistance to the dominant culture and the dominant culture in turn tries to reintegrate the aberrant subculture, or at least place it within the dominant framework of meanings.In many ways, this is no different than other forms of musical fanaticism, but punk rock's canon of authenticity was by no means a static one.The canon was always capable of revision as endless debates of what was and was not "punk" began to dominate the 'zines and public discussions about punk rock.Variations in musical style were not overt considerations in whether a band was considered authentic or not, rather a dedication to the ephemeral "principles" of punk rock were the main criteria.Maximum Rock and Roll, a 'zine often considered the "bible" and chief validator of authenticity for punk rock once tried to sum up the punk aesthetic simply as "honest music, not money making." Likewise, the recent plethora of advertisements using punk rock seems on the surface a direct challenge to the closely guarded authenticity of punk rock, and another inevitable step towards the commodification of a subculture. Pei's La Pyramide du Louvre: A Diamond in the Rough or Merely Junkspace? Moyer :: The Culture of the Fence: Artifacts and Meanings By Christina Kotchemidova :: On the Significance of Death in Culture & Communication Research By Charlton Mc Ilwain, Ph. :: Swept Away By An Unusual Destiny In The Blue Sea Of August: Lina Wertmller, 1974 - Guy Ritchie's Swept Away 2001 By Laura Meucci :: What Do I Get?Stuart Ewen noted in his book All Consuming Images that punk itself became a form of conspicuous consumption, one where those who chose to identify themselves as punk could adapt mainstream commodities to create a sense of identity not based on the British punk "uniform" but by using (at least during the early days) disparate styles to self-identify as punk.The baggy overcoats of Pere Ubu were as punk as the leather jackets of The Ramones, and as punk as the flightsuits and goggles of Devo.In an article by Frank Cartledge, "Distress to Impress: Local Punk Fashion and Commodity Exchange," punk rock can not be seen so much as a resistance to mainstream culture, but as a sort of virus whose "success" can be measured in terms of "introducing new forms of dress and behavior." In this construct, punk rock functions as an active agent, or in the words of Douglas Rushkoff, a "Media Virus," that infects society almost subliminally with aspects of its worldview.I believe that while Cartledge's view is much more realistic and optimistic than the usual dissections of punk's legacy, it fails to break with the usual British cultural studies' identification of punk rock as a uniquely British phenomenon based on British class structure. PDF version After years of alternately being declared either dead, irrelevant, or simply too outrageous to be accepted into the fabric of American culture, and almost thirty years after it first reared it's mohawk'd head in public, the musical genre known as "punk rock" has finally been accepted as part of mainstream American culture.This is, unfortunately, not the result of changing musical tastes or a growing acceptance of subversive subcultures on the part of the American audience, but rather, is due to a single factor loathed by most participants in (the wide and diverse variety of) insular punk communities, the increasing ubiquity of the music itself in television commercials.


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