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Punk ideologies are a group of varied social and political beliefs associated with the punk subculture and punk rock. In its original incarnation, the punk subculture originated out of working class angst and the frustrations many youth were feeling about economic inequality and the bourgeois hypocrisy and neglect of working people and their struggles. It was primarily concerned with concepts such as pro working-class, anti-establishment, equality, freedom, anti-authoritarianism, anti-corporate culture/corruption, anti-war, free-thought and non-conformity. One of its main tenets was a rejection of mainstream, corporate mass culture and its values. It continued to evolve its ideology as the movement spread throughout North America from its origins in England and New York and embrace a range anti-racist and anti-sexist belief systems. Punk ideologies range from left wing views (e.g., The Clash) to right wing beliefs (e.g., Nazi punk).
Punk ideologies are usually expressed through punk rock music and lyrics, punk literature such as amateur zines, spoken word performances or 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 statu 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 political 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 and embracing anything in mainstream capitalist culture 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, and photocopying magazines, posters and flyers. The expression DIY was coined by commentators after the fact.
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." While some well-known punk bands such as the Sex Pistols and The Exploited had songs about anarchy, notably the Pistols' Anarchy in the UK, they did not embrace anarchism as a disciplined ideology. As such, these bands are not considered part of the anarcho-punk scene.
Anarcho-punks typically believe in direct action. Many anarcho-punks are pacifists (e.g. Crass and Discharge) and therefore believe in using non-violent means of achieving their aims. These include peaceful protest, squatting, graffiti, culture jamming, ecotage, freeganism, boycotting, civil disobedience, hacktivism and subvertising. Some anarcho-punks believe that violence or property damage is an acceptable way of achieving social change (e.g. Conflict). This manifests itself as rioting, vandalism, wire cutting, hunt sabotage, participation in Animal Liberation Front- or Earth Liberation Front-style activities, and in extreme cases, bombings. 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 liberal 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 Anti-World System, 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, Forgotten Rebels, 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 on 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 (second wave, mid-1990s to 2000s) include: Joey Ramone, Fat Mike, Ted Leo, Billie Joe Armstrong, Crashdog, Dropkick Murphys, Hoxton Tom McCourt, Jared Gomes of Hed PE, 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 on 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 John Lydon.
The Clash was the first blatantly political punk rock band, introducing socialism to the punk scene. Clash frontman Joe Strummer said of his socialist views "I believe in socialism because it seems more humanitarian, rather than every man for himself and' I'm alright jack' and all those asshole businessmen with all the loot. I made up my mind from viewing society from that angle. That's where I'm from and there's where I've made my decisions from. That's why I believe in socialism." 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 (guitarist for British powerhouse, new wave band, The Jam). 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.
Bernie Sanders, a Social Democrat running for president of the United States in 2016, was endorsed by various bands and musicians including Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins, Wayne Kramer, Mike Watt, Brian Baker, Keith Morris, Cheetah Chrome, Flea, Jesse Malin, Belinda Carlisle and Pussy Riot among others. In April 2016, a Richmond, VA artist named Mickael Broth, created a large mural of a Sanders which was inspired by a classic Circle Jerks logo. Sanders has also been credited as having a major impact on the east coast punk scene in the United States. In the early 1980s as mayor of Burlington, VT, Sanders fought a government ban on live music and had a major goal of building a youth center. That center became 242 Main Street, which is currently one of the United States longest running all-ages youth-run DIY punk venues.
Straight edge, which originated in the Washington DC hardcore punk scene with Minor Threat song "Straight Edge" written frontman Ian MacKaye and guitarist Brian Baker. Straight edge involves abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drug use. Some who claim the title straight edge also abstain from caffeine, casual sex and meat. (Although the Washington DC straight-edge scene exhibited a fierce allegiance for Coca-Cola, with supporters rarely, if ever, seen drinking anything else in public. 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. MacKaye has often spoken out against others labeling themselves as being Straight edge, which was never his intentions for it being a label but it became a movement one in which he became annoyed with. Notable straight edgers: Tim McIlrath, CM Punk 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, such as Nazi Punks Fuck Off, criticizing aspects of the punk subculture: "Punk ain't no religious cult Punk means thinking for yourself You ain't hardcore cos you spike your hair...
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
- Protest art
- Rock and roll and the fall of communism
- Rock Against Bush
- Rock Against Communism
- Rock Against Racism
- Rock Against Sexism
- Youth politics
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