Punk rock is still politically dead
Back in November, Mark Judge wrote an interesting piece at Acculturated entitled, “Punk Rock’s Moment,” that explained how the punk rock genre and cultural has an opportunity to “become relevant once again” after President Barack 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,” noted Judge. “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.”
Judge explained that the Dead Kennedy was one of the “great satirical punk bands of all time,” pointing to the band’s ability to question their own beliefs, which is something he says is sorely missing in today’s punk scene. Instead, he explains, punk bands of today are “afraid to touch [their] messiah,” President Obama.
“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,” wrote Judge. “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,” he added. “Huge, depersonalized bureaucracies, a Messiah-King leader, the cartoonish Hollywood love fest–in capable hands this stuff can be made into comedy gold.”
Back in December, this author wrote a response to Judge in which a ton of skepticism was expressed. President Obama has now been in office for more than four years. During the course of his presidency he’s reauthorized the PATRIOT Act twice, authorized the indefinite detention of American citizens, continued intervention in countries that posed no threat to the United States, authorized the use of drones to assassinate American citizens who were merely accused of terrorism, and has, in fact, expanded the war on drugs.
The last two months have given even more reason to express concern. In that timeframe, Americans have learned that the Internal Revenue Service targeted groups that were merely trying to engage in the political process and that the Justice Department has tried to intimidate reporters in its continued war on whistleblowers. If those revelations aren’t concerning enough, the we now know that the National Security Agency has been surveilling the phone records and Internet activity of Americans, even if they aren’t suspected of a crime.
Keep in mind that , in 2007 and 2008, then-Senator Obama opposed to this sort of broad, unconstitutional surveillance. He rejected, what he called, the “false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide.”
Unfortunately, President Obama defends the very same surveillance tactics that he once so vehemently and articulately opposed. So basically, Barack Obama is George W. Bush, who was, justifiably, the target of so much anger and animosity during his administration.
But the punk rock community has been curiously silent during Obama’s presidency, despite the fact that he has continued and, in fact, expanded many of the exact same policies that began under the Bush Administration.
While there are plenty of examples of this sort of intellectual bankruptcy. Fat Mike, bass player for NOFX and founder of the now-defunct political advocacy organization, PunkVoter, is an easy target. His organization had a stated goal of defeating Bush in 2004 and was behind the Rock Against Bush compilations, which were filled with anti-Bush protest songs.
Again, the animosity toward Bush was understandable. But despite the fact that President Obama has continued the policies of Bush, Fat Mike is, conveniently, nowhere to be found. Apparently unworried about being inconsistent and hypocritical, he’s shutdown PunkVoter and actually said some nice things about Obama.
But the most recent example of this hypocrisy comes from Joe Principe, bass player of the punk rock band Rise Against.
Rise Against prides itself on being socially aware. Themes of their songs have included poverty, homelessness, anti-war, and social responsibility. Back in 2011, Tim McIlrath, the band’s singer, participated in the protests against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining reform efforts.
During a recent interview with Corey Jones of The Inertia, Principe gave a curious answer to a question about, what the interviewer preceives to be, the changing political landscape among punk rock fans; what the interviewer surmised as many “taking openly conservative stances.”
The first part of Principe’s answer was encouraging.
“I think the whole intent of the punk rock movement was originally based in politics and change. Whether you’re left or right, punk rock is a great platform to voice your opinion. You’re always going to notice the extremes,” Principe told Jones. “That was the intent of punk rock initially. I guess I really haven’t noticed that there are more people voicing conservative opinions overall.”
But then, it went down hill.
“But unfortunately, sometimes a lot of people change with the majority and with what’s going on around them. That kind of sucks. Even in the punk rock scene, I have kind of noticed that,” he continued. “Today, everyone is so quick to bash the Obama administration and it’s like, ‘yeah, okay.’ He didn’t do everything he said he would do, but he had a ton of bullshit to try and fix and clean up. No one could possibly take that on and be 100% effective in everything they said they would accomplish.”
“I guess with politics I just go with the lesser of the two evils – like maybe the candidate that’s less likely to bring us into war,” he added. “I remember [Minor Threat, Embrace, and Fugazi guitarist] Ian Mackaye saying that in an interview once and it always stuck out to me.”
Look, Romney was a terrible candidate with a questionable foreign policy. No argument there. But with that said, there was virtually no difference between Romney and Obama on that particular issue.
Yes, Bush was terrible on foreign policy and civil liberties. We get it. Romney was from the same party and, therefore, an unacceptable alternative to Principe. Understood. But Obama has been in office for over four years. He’s in his second term. And as noted before, he’s continued and expanded the policies that the punk rock community found so objectionable.
And here’s the thing, the punk rock community was right to criticize Bush on foreign policy and civil liberties. But at what point do you stop making excuses for Obama and begin realize that he lied to you to get elected? It’s a serious question that deserves, you know, an actual answer, not excuses and intellectual dishonesty.
Obama ran on the platform of unicorns and fairy dust. He was the arbiter of “hope” and “change.” He told fawning audiences, “Yes we can!” and said that they were the “change that we had been waiting for.”
But he simply hasn’t lived up to the rhetoric. It’s not that Obama “had a ton of bullshit to try and fix and clean up,” as Principe said, but rather that the message that he and so many others in the punk rock community unquestionably bought into was bullshit.
But instead of realizing the obvious, some in the punk rock community simply don’t want to admit that they were wrong about Obama. They would rather come up with excuses and latch onto the rhetorical Obama rather than admit that they were wrong. That’s completely dishonest and incredibly hypocritical.