Punk as Political

As mentioned already in the post what the heck do we even call it?  there is a considerable amount of danger in applying labels to music scenes and the bands involved with them. Another serious danger, on par with walking through a minefield that also happens to be in an avalanche area, is defining the terms being used to characterize the scene, or the movement.*

A term that always comes up when discussing punk is “political.” Some define political, or politics, as actively taking part in the political process – voting, running for office, and the like – the argument is that if you go outside that definition, then everything could be defined as a political action, from watching television to walking down the street.

Now many people, myself included, consider punk to be very political. BUT it was usually outside the normal political channels.  There are some examples when people involved in the punk scene became active participants in the political process – Jello Biafra running for mayor of San Francisco for instance – but mainly you didn’t see punk governors or punk prime ministers (sadly).

What you did see was an increased level of political engagement. A lot of the time, there was an intentional move away from the usual political institutions. The music became the gateway for a whole other political world, where ideas and issues were raised that you didn’t see in mainstream society. And there were different levels to this engagement – some were very radical and heavily involved, and others were just there to listen to the music.

For an example of the latter – I remember when my friend Kent and I went to see the band Propagandi in June 2002. We went because we really liked their music, but really didn’t have any clue about their politics. Well the show really turned out to be a protest against the G8 Summit that was happening at the same time in Kananaskis, and most of the crowd had come from there to the show. As you might imagine, Kent and I were quickly exposed to the issues and left with a much better idea of a) what Propagandi was all about and B) what the G8 protesters really had a problem with.**

If we hadn’t gone to the show, we would have only had a vague idea of the issues surrounding the G8, from the story the mainstream press had given us. Instead, thanks to the gig, we had a more well-rounded understanding of what the heck was going on.

I think that punk is political because it informs and engages people with political issues.  A new understanding, or at least an exposure to those issues can then lead to changes within the more rigid definition of the political process.

What do you think?  How should we define politics, and was punk political?

*“movement,” of course, is one of those terms. Before you can call something a movement, you have to define what a  movement is.  

**Admittedly, by just listening to the lyrics or looking at the song titles of Propagandi, you should have a pretty good idea of what they’re all about.

Propagandi – “The Only Good Fascist is a Very Dead Fascist”

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2 Comments on “Punk as Political”

  1. K's Specials Says:

    Notes on Punk

    I would suggest that punk’s politics are paradoxical but nevertheless political – Like anarchism, which is antipolitical “for it refuses and rejects any existing political system” (Richie 2008), but no one would ever doubt that it is political.

    To your question about the definition of “movement” – I would say that you have to narrow the focus a bit more: punk – to me – is not one big movement. It is a genre, or a style and a lot of smaller and bigger movments and goups used it for their purposes … although I also think that punk is not just a sign without meaning, which can be used for any ideological purpose …

    what do you think of that?

  2. Aye, I would have to totally agree that anarchy is political. According to Craig O’Hara, anarchy is a “rejection of control” and with that comes “a certain amount of personal responsibility” (O’Hara, 83). It seems that an anarchist would place individual accountability over government meddling in people’s business – especially in areas where a local community could effectively handle the responsibility.

    Although anarchy has come to be associated with chaos, this is not necessarily the aim (according to O’Hara). Instead, it could be equated with a lack of outside control. For the anarchist, rather than being controlled by a government telling you what to do – in an ideal world the external force is replaced by people working together, with mutual respect, for a common good.

    This stress on individually accountability and a lack of government intervention, I think, can certainly be equated with political engagement.

    AND as for the definition of “movement” – I think punk can be seen as a sort of umbrella movement, which can be a sort of “springboard” into more specific areas – for example anarchists involved in the punk scene using it as a means to engage people and rally support on issues from organizing protests to police brutality. Punk starts off as a general reaction to mainstream society, creates its own institutions, and then those involved with it could focus on their particular grievances from within the wider movement.

    Hopefully at least some of that makes sense.

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