Thursday, August 23, 2007

guest column

I wanted to write something about feminism and politics in punk, this is written in some vague attempt to start a ‘dialogue’ on something that is really important to me. I keep feeling like I have to insert some kind of disclaimer here, I am sort of uncomfortable writing in this forum just bc it feels so permanent, like MRR is the canon of punk rock and these words are now set in stone. Fuck it right… this is more of a collection of random thoughts on said subjects, not a cohesive and conclusive dissertation on feminism in punk today. Anyway! Please respond.
As of recent times my friends have been subjected to epic conversations about the transition from End Racism longsleeves and long instructional song intros about the plight of the downtrodden to messageboard cynicism and ironic dismissiveness in regards to anything that might implicate someone in the crime of giving a shit. It feels like the political culture in punk has gone from the 90s faux sincere personal is political feminist 4 fux to a general feeling of “Hey we’ve achieved feminism now, let’s talk about lipcream flexis!” Everything seems really static and codified. I don’t mean that somehow in thee olden days everyone had a deep understanding of feminist issues and it was like a constant giant group hug at all times in safe spaces across america, maybe more like there seemed to be a willingness to confront uncomfortable issues. And I don’t mean that those confrontations were always fruitful or beneficial, but at least people had to at least pretend they gave a shit somehow… It just feels like things have shifted towards the comfort of apathy, anything that makes anyone feel uncomfortable is ridiculed and dismissed.
The random instance that inspired all of this profound insight is actually one of the most irritating things about about being an active woman in the punk scene. When you are talking to someone at a show say and they don’t bother to introduce you to their friends or maybe they don’t acknowledge what you do. For example a dude will be given a title and background info upon introduction; ‘This is Scott Weed of Douche and the Fuckin Bags” Whereas generally women’s work in the scene is not acknowledged as being part of their punk identity. It seems really superficial perhaps, but when experienced on a constant basis it can make everything you do seem like meaningless background busywork.
Another random point is that I feel like a lot of cool punk girls have jumped ship for the comforts of indie rock/noise/whatever… and why is that? I think underground culture is way more fragmentary and separated out than it was before, and a lot of people (girls/women) see punk/hardcore as a monolithic outdated form, rather than an idea they can own and use for their own purposes. I got into punk thru riot grrrl, via Huggy Bear in London where I grew up. Riot grrrl was clearly contextualized within the punk movement, it was intially at least a spark of DIY spirit in a staid and boring scene. There was a distinct sense of taking things back, and of invigorating a staid and reactionary dude scene with ideas and sounds and words that genuinely freaked people out at least intially… before everything got codified and the rule book was written out and the sense of freedom and adventure dissipated in a flood of press attention and the dogmaticcs of expensive private school liberal artpeak. My question in regards to the after effects of that would be; How did feminism become knowing how to knit yr boyfriend a skull and crossbones scarf? I get so bored and depressed looking at magazines like Bust and Venus. Mainstream indie rock culture magazines, which obviously have their roots in riot grrl but seem to ultimately be about being a crafty entrepreneur and encouraging an alternative girl-culture based on consumption rather than liberation through ideas and sound. It’s so frustrating how pedestrian and mundane feminist culture is right now in that sense. Emulating a crafty mom from a midwestern suburb in the 70s isn’t why I got into punk. I understand the notion of DIY and making your own things and how that could be perceived as an empowering buy-nothing stance but I don’t feel like that is really what’s at work. What do you think?

My last point is a little all over the place but here goes… I know that the internet has revolutionized punk in many good and decent ways, for instance I love the fact that I can now find out in about 5 seconds all I ever needed to know about The Proletariat, seriously I used to have to weasel info from random reluctant to share dudes about that kind of thing in the pre information age, when I discovered that early 80s hardcore was in fact my favourite kind of music. Anyway I digress… does that same instant avalability of info also makes it way easier to not really be into things in the same way that you are when you have to struggle to figure things out on your own via random mix tapes and random pen pal contact? Does it create a mass consumer culture where people greedily consume and regurgitate without thought? Where information about obscure bands formed in Nordic squats in the early 80s becomes almost like currency? Does that make sense… probably not. I have this image in my head of a pac man like game where people are just consuming information hungrily and without pause, just gorging to own and feel important.
I think the internet also re-inforces the idea of punk as a lifestyle choice/consumer phenomenon rather than a spirit, that sounds corny but I can’t think of another way of explaining it really… I can’t imagine a day when I will not call myself a punk, to me punk isn’t so much about bulletbelts and amebix buttpatches but it’s an idea of opposition and freedom. Punk is obviously an aesthetic culture, messing with appearance is one of the fun things about punk and being a punk, but when things become so codified and punk stops being an idea of opposition and becomes a pose with a set collection of visual identifiers then how is it a revolutionary concept? There’s nothing punk about blindly simulating the past, being a total replicant. I like have this cool picture of VOID where they look like diseased preppies, their clothes aren’t particularly ‘punk’ but they just look wrong, out of place, like a question mark. Do kids feel like they have to have a ripped up Articles of Faith t shirt and authentic keith morris style cycle cap to be hardcore now? I mean this is so obvious, but I guess I have just been thinking a lot about punk as being more than just a set of signifiers, the right records, the right reference points, the right outfit. Do people ever buy the ‘wrong’ SSD record anymore?
As I said before this is more of a collection of thoughts and ideas than anything conclusive and it would be cool if people would write in and talk about their feelings on such weighty mattters. Also if girls/women would write in and talk about their experiences/call me on my shiiiiit etc etc. I guess the general gist of all this is something along the lines of me feeling alienated from the politics of punk, trying to figure out how to make feminism and female punk identity and just punk politics relevant to my life/point of view. It feels like a lot of the politics in the scene now are either unspoken, like ‘oh of course we are anti sexist/racist/homophobic’ but …let’s not talk about that! Now back to those 84 Finnish punk demos. Or things are really explicit and cartoony, like watch me destroy society as I puke on myself outside of Burnt Ramen! Or maybe the green anarcho crimethinc types and their notion of politics as a vegan potluck kissing booth, which makes me wanna puke. I like some instances of situationist sloganeering, which they seem to have adopted in a clumsy wholesale way. Turning the sharp witticisms of mai 68 into a mouldy assortment of buttflappatch opportunistic freerider manifestos somehow seems so boring to me. Plus I hate hippies.
Anyway this is super convoluted and was really difficult to write. I wanted to say as a parting shot that the Limp Wrist show at Burnt Ramen was really inspiring and terrifying in many ways, some of which I will not go into, but the audience was truly insane, like a Glen E Friedman photo of some old DC hardcore show, piled up and sweating and totally connected to the moment and the band. It was also truly mixed. There were so many girls, queers, boys, weird homeless dudes, old punks, sxe warrior types, you know. It was super inspiring to see teenage girls at the front screaming the words and holding their own in the pit. Speaking as a wussy aging punk girl who watched from behind the guitar amp on stage the spectacle seemed really timeless, not like a retread of a only jock dudes up front of the aforementioned Glen E Friedman picture reference. Girls holding their own in the pit? Maybe actions speak louder than words. Anyway. What do you think? Please write me! via MRR….

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