The late David Bowie said, “It’s not politicians who will end oppression. It’s the radicals, with the stink in their clothes, rebellion in their brain, hope in their heart, and direct actions in their fists.”
Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I’m a Punk. No, not the kind that steals your lawn ornaments. Punk, with a capital “P”. Think Iggy Pop. I’m the kind of Punk who strives to make you uncomfortable, who asks too personal of questions, sitting somewhere on the cusp of androgynous. Once upon a time, the entire Punk movement was like that.
No, you read the correctly. The. Entire. Movement.
Look at the political situation going on right now. No, I don’t mean the upcoming election. I mean the unrest that can be found in the working class. That unrest is what punk has always been a frontman for. Whether it was a need for change in the working class or youth, punk was there, symbolic of it all.
You had kids cast out by their families for their appearance, for their beliefs, for their plans for the future (sound familiar?). To these ostracized kids, they found a family with other punks. You didn’t use to see wealthy folks in the scene. If a kid from a rich family went punk, chances were they had denounced their parents and their funds. That was the entire point of punk — to break away from the mainstream, to challenge social norms.
One of the biggest ways this was accomplished was through clothing. Punk got a lot of inspiration from the glitter rock scene and artists like Bowie, so androgyny and eccentric clothing became the calling card for the movement, alongside loud music. Go into any mall now, or do a random Google search. Punk clothing costs money now, and not even a bit of a money. A lot of money. More money than the target audience of average-paid working class and rebellious students can afford, that’s for certain. The only way punk clothing is affordable is through NOT denouncing wealthy parents or making enough money — the opposite of what punk had always stood for.
“Change through education, not revolution.” That’s what punk teaches. Yet, if punk appeals to the poor, how do we educate ourselves with the price of college what it is? Are we truly challenging norms if almost every student goes on to college? Are we doing this to change our lives, to educate ourselves, or are we doing it because we were told this is what we had to do our entire lives?
So what happened to punk? What happened to the earth-shattering movement that shaped a generation of youth and musicians? Where did things go wrong and when did it stop meaning everything it once did? Honestly, I think punk got big, that’s what happened. Punk sold out, just like everything else. The Ramones, Iggy Pop, The Dead Boys, right down to CBGB & OMFUG. It got famous and it sold out. Punk became the mainstream; punk WAS a social norm. It got famous and it became the cool thing to be, no matter how you actually viewed it. And maybe punk, in its truest form, was always doomed. Courage to be yourself, living a truly free life, pushing back on societal restraints and the lines of conformity; maybe it was doomed to be a glamorized fantasy from the start.
One thing’s for certain, punk’s not dead, but punk isn’t poor either. Hell, punk isn’t even punk anymore.
This article was previously written and previously featured in The Spectator, Edinboro University’s student newspaper