Punk ideologies are a group of varied social and political beliefs associated with the punk subculture. In its original incarnation, the punk subculture was primarily concerned with concepts such as anti-establishment, equality, freedom, anti-authoritarianism, individualism, direct action, free thought and non-conformity. Punk ideologies are usually expressed through punk rock music, punk literature, spoken word recordings, punk fashion, or punk visual art. Some punks have participated in direct action, such as protests, boycotts, squatting, vandalism, or property destruction.
Punk fashion was originally an expression of nonconformity, as well as opposition to both mainstream culture and the status-quo. Punk fashion often displays aggression, rebellion, and individualism. Some punks wear clothing or have tattoos that express sociopolitical messages. Punk visual art also often includes those types of messages. Many punks wear second hand clothing, partly as an anti-consumerist statement.
An attitude common in the punk subculture is the opposition to selling out, which refers to abandoning of one's values and/or a change in musical style toward pop or more radio-friendly rock in exchange for wealth, status, or power. Selling out also has the meaning of adopting a more mainstream lifestyle and ideology. The issue of authenticity is important in the punk subculture—the pejorative term poseur is applied to those who associate with punk and adopt its stylistic attributes but are deemed not to share or understand the underlying values or philosophy.
Because anti-establishment attitudes are such an important part of the punk subculture, a network of independent record labels, venues and distributors has developed. Some punk bands have chosen to break from this independent system and work within the established system of major labels. The do it yourself (DIY) ideal is common in the punk scene, especially in terms of music recording and distribution, concert promotion, magazines, posters and flyers.
Specific ideologies and philosophies
The following include some of the most common ideologies and philosophies within the punk subculture (in alphabetical order).
There is a complex and worldwide underground of punks committed to anarchism as a serious political ideology, sometimes termed "peace punks" or "anarcho-punks." Whereas some well-known punk bands such as the Sex Pistols and The Exploited sang about general anarchy, they did not embrace anarchism as a disciplined ideology. As such, they are not considered part of anarcho-punk. Notable anarchist punk artists include: Aus-Rotten, Dave Insurgent, Crass, Subhumans (British band), Colin Jerwood, and Dave Dictor.
Some punks claim to be non-political, such as the band Charged GBH and the singer G.G. Allin, although some socio-political ideas have appeared in their lyrics. Some Charged GBH songs have discussed social issues, and a few have expressed anti-war views. G.G. Allin expressed a vague desire to kill the United States president and destroy the political system in his song "Violence Now". Punk subgenres that are generally apolitical include: glam punk, psychobilly, horror punk, punk pathetique, deathrock and pop punk. Many of the bands credited with starting the punk movement were decidedly apolitical, including The Dictators, Ramones (which featured staunch conservative Johnny Ramone alongside left-wing activist Joey Ramone), New York Dolls, Television, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, and Richard Hell & The Voidoids.
Christian punk is a small subgenre of punk rock with some degree of Christian lyrical content. Some Christian punk bands are associated with the Christian music industry, but others reject that association. Examples of notable Christian punk bands include The Crucified, MxPx and Flatfoot 56.
A small number are conservative, rejecting leftist-anarchism, liberalism, communism and socialism in favor of conservatism. Notable conservative punks include Johnny Ramone, Billy Zoom, Joe Escalante, Bobby Steele, Duane Peters and Dave Smalley. Some Christian punk and hardcore bands have conservative political stances, in particular some of the NYHC bands.
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Taqwacore is a punk subgenre centred around Islam, its culture and its interpretation. The Taqwacore scene is composed mainly of young Muslim artists living in the United States and other western countries, many of whom openly reject traditionalist interpretations of Islam. There is no definitive Taqwacore sound, and some bands incorporate styles including hip-hop, techno, and/or musical traditions from the Muslim world. Examples of Muslim punk bands include Alien Kulture. The Kominas and Secret Trial Five.
In the 1990s, some notable members of the New York hardcore scene, including Ray Cappo (Youth of Today, Shelter and other bands), John Joseph (Cro-Mags) and Harley Flanagan (Cro-Mags) converted to Hare Krishna. This led to trend within the hardcore scene that became known as Krishna-core.
Liberal punks were in the punk subculture from the beginning, and are mostly on the liberal left. Notable liberal punks include: Joey Ramone, Fat Mike, Ted Leo, Billie Joe Armstrong, Crashdog, Dropkick Murphys, Hoxton Tom McCourt, Jared Gomes of Hed PE, Justin Sane, Tim Armstrong and Tim McIlrath. Some punks participated in the Rock Against Bush movement in the mid-2000s, in support of the Democratic Party candidate John Kerry.
Libertarian punks advocate free market capitalism, a minimal government and private ownership of property. Joe Young of the band Antiseen, Exene Cervenka and Mojo Nixon have expressed support for libertarianism. Though originally a conservative, Michale Graves has shifted towards libertarianism in recent years.
Nazi punks have a far right, white nationalist ideology that is closely related to that of white power skinheads. Ian Stuart Donaldson and his band Skrewdriver are credited with popularizing white power rock and hatecore (for its hateful lyrical themes), or Rock Against Communism. Nazi punks are different from early punks such as Sid Vicious and Siouxsie Sioux, who are believed to have incorporated Nazi imagery such as Swastikas for shock or comedy value.
Centering around a belief in the abject lack of meaning and value to life, nihilism was a fixture in some protopunk and early punk rock. Neil Eriksen wrote: "Though much of the critical realism expresses cynicism and nihilism, it does serve to question existing relations in such a way that listeners are forced to think about what is being said that is different from mainstream popular music.". Notable nihilist punks include: Iggy Pop, Sid Vicious, Richard Hell, Darby Crash, and GG Allin.
The Clash were the first blatantly political punk rock band, introducing socialism to the punk scene.  Some of the original Oi! bands expressed a rough form of socialist working class populism — often mixed with patriotism. Many Oi! bands sang about unemployment, economic inequality, working class power and police harassment. In the 1980s, several notable British socialist punk musicians were involved with Red Wedge. Notable socialist punks include: Attila the Stockbroker, Billy Bragg, Bruce La Bruce, Garry Bushell (until the late 1980s), Chris Dean, Gary Floyd, Jack Grisham, Stewart Home, Dennis Lyxzén, Thomas Mensforth, Fermin Muguruza, Alberto Pla, Tom Robinson, Seething Wells, Paul Simmonds, Rob Tyner, Joe Strummer, Ian Svenonius, Mark Steel and Paul Weller. Neil Eriksen wrote in 1980: "... we feel that elements of punk rock fulfill a revolutionary cultural function".
The Situationist International (SI) was allegedly an early influence on the punk subculture in the United Kingdom. Started in continental Europe in the 1950s, the SI was an avant-garde political movement that sought to recapture the ideals of surrealist art and use them to construct new and radical social situations. Malcolm McLaren introduced situationist ideas to punk through his management of the band Sex Pistols. Vivienne Westwood, McLaren’s partner and the band’s designer/stylist, expressed situationist ideals through fashion that was intended to provoke a specific social response. Jamie Reid's distinctive album cover artwork was openly situationist.
Straight edge, which originated in the American hardcore punk scene, involves abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drug use. Some who claim the title straight edge also abstain from caffeine, casual sex and meat. Those more strict individuals may be considered part of the hardline subculture. Unlike the shunning of meat and caffeine, refraining from casual sex was without question a practice in the original straight edge lifestyle, but it has been overlooked in many of the later reincarnations of straight edge. For some, straight edge is a simple lifestyle preference, but for others it is a political stance. In many cases, it is a rejection of the perceived self-destructive qualities of punk and hardcore culture. Notable straight edgers:Ian MacKaye, Tim McIlrath, and Davey Havok.
Criticism of punk ideologies
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Punk ideologies have been criticized from outside and within. The Clash occasionally accused other contemporary punk acts of selling out, such as in their songs "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais" and "Death or Glory". Crass's song "White Punks on Hope" criticized the late-1970s British punk scene in general and, among other things, accused Joe Strummer of selling out and betraying his earlier socialist principles. Their song "Punk is Dead" attacked corporate co-option of the punk subculture. Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra wrote many songs criticizing aspects of the punk subculture.
Author Jim Goad has been very critical of punk ideologies in many of his writings. In his essay "The Underground is A Lie!", Goad argued that many punks are hypocrites, and he claimed that many punks act poor while hiding the fact they come from middle to upper class backgrounds. In Farts from Underground, Goad claimed that the DIY ethic never produces anything original, and it allows poor quality work to be championed.
In their book The Rebel Sell, Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter argued that counterculture politics have failed, and that the punk understanding of society is flawed. They also argued that alternative and mainstream lifestyles ultimately have the same values.
- Anarchism and animal rights
- Anarchism and the arts
- List of political punk songs
- Music and politics
- Rock and roll and the fall of communism
- Rock Against Bush
- Rock Against Racism
- Rock Against Sexism
- Youth politics
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