Punk and protest alive and well…?
I’ve been ranting for years against my generation (I’m either Gen-X or post-genX, depending on the cut-off). Each generation typically creates a new form of music, art, and expression. The passion, or displacement, of youth each decade usually fuels response to political and social injustice. Over the decades, there have always been the intelligent creative outcast countercultures: bohemians, dadaists, surrealists, expressionists, hipsters, beat generation, hippies, anarchists, and punks. Look what came out of the ’60s: massive civil rights movements, political protests and the birth of rock and roll. (then glam, then punk, now what? noise, dissonance, atonality, and mixed media have long been done, but that’s another discussion in and of itself) Why hasn’t my generation done anything, or so it seems? Has everyone just become lazy, disinterested, or apathetic since the ’80s?
I think the 2000s in America have been a decade rife with conflict. 9-11. Innumerable comparisons of Afghanistan and Iraq to Vietnam. Patriot Act. continual race conflict. Immigration and Arizona’s heinous discriminatory law. hampering of gay rights. the “bourgeoisie” Religious Right. student loans. devaluation of college degrees. the economic Depression. Walmart and monopolies. stymied rights, respect, and equal wage for women. (hell, even nothing good on “modern” radio…or TV for that matter) There should be plenty of fodder for creative, intellectual, political (etc.) protest. (“A sad state of affairs, is anyone paying attention?“, Dave Allen)
(And my fault as well, as I’m not out on the streets.) Maybe these revolutions are happening, but they go largely unnoticed at the time, to be inaccurately summarized and stereotyped a decade later in a high school history book. Or maybe, at least (and here’s my soapbox) as my cynical and embittered self is inclined to think, the youth aren’t out creating and protesting, because they’re at home, Twittering and texting and Facebooking away. (love the new Toyota Venza ads by the way) My main complaint against Facebook is that I wholeheartedly believe it detracts people from actual relationships, gives an illusion of connection while making people more disconnected.
I know, I know, in spirit, I’m old and crotchety and just railing against the latest new fangled thing and “kids these days”. I stubbornly cling to the “good old days” – except days I never really knew – of record players and letter-writing and when everything, from hairpins to hand tools to cars, was made of quality. We’re now in the Plastic Ages, where nothing’s made to last… (another rant for another time) But, I still miss letters. Handwritten, personalized. From there, everything continually truncates. From pages, to maybe one or two paragraphs in an email, to maybe a phrase in a chat room, to half a phrase in a tweet, to a few letters in code in a text. For anyone who thinks Facebook and texting doesn’t disconnect people, I’ll give two examples: One, I go to the break room, and sit down at a table next to the hum of the vending machines. Two kids are sitting across the table from each other, in poker playing position. But even though they are sitting right across from each other, neither look up. Both are buried, thumbs flitting away, updating their Facebook status from their phones. Two, I’m sitting in a hallway outside a classroom, having arrived maybe fifteen minutes early. Another student is waiting as well and she engages me in light conversation. I’m pleasantly surprised, as it’s hard to find people to talk to these days, people not cut off with their headphones or bluetooths (blueteeth?) or something. We have a good ten minute talk (“hi, what’s your name?” etc.), yet the entire time she’s talking to me, she never looked up from her phone and never stopped texting.
On the other hand, I guess, where there are rebellious youth, these new media outlets are simply just a new way to join together like the “old days”, and the technology obviously allows a faster and much broader reach than, say, pamphlets and fliers. I’m referring to Egypt and, now, London.
When I read about the London riots, I was conflicted by excitement and support of youth upheaval (go punk rock! oops, I mean protest) and disappointment at them using Twitter and texting to do so. But at least the passion and willingness to do something is there, no matter what means they use to organize. I’m linking two very different articles on the London riots, one sympathetic and one more “bourgeoisie”. Obviously, the truth lies somewhere in between. For many, it’s simply a chance to blow stuff up, steal some stuff, and get a “bit of the old ultra-violence”. But riots usually don’t start without cause and, though I’m no sociologist, I’m willing to bet it’s a reflection of poverty and anger against a state that doesn’t care. The only question is whether violence and vigilantism are merited.
I’ve read some articles (including those listed below) regarding the London riots which explain the cause as sheer “thuggery” or reflective of poverty. People who claim, a little as I do, “it’s about time”, and others who say that this generation isn’t so much politically opinionated, as the punks of previous generations, as they are apathetic and desensitized. And the “We’re All Mad” comments, as well as Andrew Coyne quoted therein, seem to suggest that an act is just an act. Like anything else, it only has whatever meaning you ascribe to it. And a warning to those who would use something, like the London riots, to really just espouse their own frustrations and platforms.
The “London’s Long Burn” article in TIME magazine, August 22, 2011, gives statistics of wealth distribution: 30% of the income among the top 5% in the UK and 33% of the income among the top 5% in the US (I was unsure as to which year these stats reflected). The take home message was that Americans actually have more economic disparity than the British, but that the British poor believe they are trapped, whereas Americans still cling to illusions of upward mobility. If so, is this because America actually does have more flexible economic mobility, or rather that the propaganda is just that much more convincing?
The final question, I suppose, is whether rioting actually accomplishes anything. And I say it does. From the point of view of the rioter, it’s a long-needed venting, and perhaps provides a sense of purpose. As a society, perhaps it’s a needed release valve. Give the masses their revolts every once in a while to keep them in check. And as noted in the “sympathetic” article earlier (Fletcher, NBC), it grabs public and political attention. Whether it will elicit political change or improve conditions for the working poor, I doubt it. But better than nothing.
- The sound of a crisis (guardian.co.uk)
- Riots and the endless chatter (inequalitiesblog.wordpress.com)
- “London’s Long Burn”, Nathan Thornburgh, TIME, 8/22/11
- Punk spoke up for angry kids. Why won’t today’s bands follow suit (guardian.co.uk)
- ” We’re all mad here.” (wordpress.com) (no longer available)
- “London Burning, Punk Rock, and a Tea Party dream come true“, Dave Allen (Gang of Four) (north.com)
- U.K. discusses riots with social media firms (cbc.ca) (censorship and freedom of speech and press anyone?)
- Ghost Dogs and the New American Job Market.
Update: Occupy Wall Street!
- Pussy Riot Putin Protest (aka Pussy Riot punk prayer Putin protest) (wordpress.com)
- The Drawings of George Grosz (austinkleon.com)
- Grosz Notes (weebly.com)
- Republican Automatons, a prezi (prezi.com)
- Great Works: Untitled (independent.co.uk)
- BBC: The Grumpy Guide to the ’80s (YouTube)