Punk rock is (politically) dead


Just after the election, I ran across an interesting post by Mark Judge over at Acculturated titled, “Punk Rock’s Moment.” Growing up listening to and playing in a punk rock band, the post got my attention.

With punk rock’s anti-authority roots, Judge explains that this community “has an opportunity to become relevant again,” in light of President Obama’s re-election:

Punk is often considered an anarchic or at least liberal art form, but politically it has been all over the map. Most famously there was Johnny Ramone, the right-wing guitarist for the Ramones. And while the famous Washington, D.C., harDCore scene, once lead by Fugazi, was–is?–full of left-wing activism, the “straight edge” philosophy of some of the band–no booze no drugs–could almost be considered monastic. The Replacements was always more about parties and poetry than elections.

Arguably the greatest satirical punk band of all time was the Dead Kennedys. To be sure, the band and especially its leader Jello Biafra are not Republicans; Biafra, a Green Party member, was last seen at an Occupy event in New York City. But in its prime, the DKs did something that liberal artists these days seem incapable of: they questioned their own beliefs. In songs like “Hop with the Jet Set” and “Where Do Ya Draw the Line?” the group second-guessed left-wing dogma. It mocked celebrity worship. It expressed healthy self-deprecation. And it did so in a style of high literacy and humor. Hearing the DKs today makes Green Day sound like Britney Spears.

Satirical art has collapsed under Obama. The left is afraid to touch its messiah, and the right is reduced to silly gestures like doing “freedom raps” and other ham-fisted foolishness. When I was coming up in the 1980s, punk groups like Fugazi, Husker Du, the Replacements and the Dead Kennedys meant energy, passion, and, sometimes, political activism. But they also meant self-reflection and aiming the lance at even your own sacred cows. I can think of nothing more energizing for the current arts than to take on the assumptions of liberals–because let’s face it, politically correct spoofing of the right is done and done. Huge, depersonalized bureaucracies, a Messiah-King leader, the cartoonish Hollywood love fest–in capable hands this stuff can be made into comedy gold.

Judge is right to suggest that the punk rock community should start looking at Obama with a skeptical eye. Unfortunately, they won’t.

I was born in 1980, so I got into new school-ish punk — bands like NOFX, No Use for a Name, Strung Out, Propagandhi, and others. These bands have been known to bring politics up in their music from time to time and take part in political causes or protests (Occupy Wall Street is one that immediately comes to mind).

But I’d like to focus on one person who is representative of how far punk rock has fallen from its anti-establishment roots.

Back in 2002, Fat Mike (Mike Burkett), singer and bassist for NOFX, launched “PunkVoter,” an organization that hoped to reach young voters and mobilize against then-President George W. Bush. In a 2003 interview with CNN, Burkett explained, “Bush getting elected was good for punk music,” adding, “Now people have something to get pissed off about.”

Via Fat Wreck Chords, Burkett’s label, PunkVoter released two compliations — Rock Against Bush Vol. 1 and Rock Against Bush Vol. 2 and a line of “Not My President” t-shirts to help raise attention to its cause. NOFX even released a record, The War on Errorism, which was full of anti-Bush tracks, including “Franco Un-American.”

The complaints against Bush were legitimate. Bush had signed the PATRIOT Act, a law that opened the door for infringement on privacy, and pushed for an unnecessary war in Iraq. However, President Obama has been just as dreadful — if not worse — on these issues. And yet, the punk rock community is silent.

From an economic perspective, I don’t expect many in the punk rock community to complain about Obama. Most who identify with this sub-culture support higher domestic and welfare spending. Perhaps the only gripe you’d hear is that Obama didn’t go far enough on healthcare (single-payer is, of course, what the political left desires).

But let’s look at just a few of the things Obama has done during his first term in office; things that should bother punk community:

In NOFX’s song, “The Plan,” Fat Mike sang, “It has to do with freedom and personal liberty. I don’t f**k with you, don’t f**k with me.” One would think that the Bush-esque policies of Obama, based on the words from “The Plan” and similar themes in NOFX songs, would’ve had Fat Mike and PunkVoter working overtime to inform young voters before the most recent presidential election. But unfortunately, he shutdown PunkVoter and has had some nice things to say about Obama. And sadly, it seems like the rest of the punk rock community has fallen along the same line.

While punk rock may have once had a conscience, as noted by Judge, it has gotten lazy. Perhaps it even could be said that laziness is the only principle it has left. Now, I realize that this is a generalization and not everyone in the punk rock community is happy with the things Obama has done. Nor am I naive enough to believe that they would have voted for Mitt Romney or even Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s nominee. However, the acquiescence to the policies pushed by Obama, or at least the willingness to sit silent, speaks volumes.

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