Punk is Dead – Come On!

Chris Dillow has an interesting post – interesting as in well written but completely wrong headed – about generational activism:

Watching Punk Brittania reminded me of a now-lost world – one in which young people’s anger shocked their elders.

Punk was more rebellious and more disquieting to the establishment than anything we see today. Nobody of my generation is as appalled by dubstep as 40-somethings were by punk. It’s unlikely that a single today would be banned for political reasons and get to number one, as God Save the Queen did. And try as I might, I can’t imagine Rizzle Kicks doing to Alex Jones what the Sex Pistols did to Bill Grundy.

In this, music reflects a wider social fact – that today’s young people are much less gobby than we were. Last summer’s riots, for example, contained less political motive than their 1981 equivalents. And much as I love them, today’s ‘voices of their generation’ are pretty tame: Owen Jones is no more radical than some Bank of England economists and Laurie Penny is a milk and water Julie Birchill.

The plea of one of the greatest songwriters of my generation – teenagers, kick our butts – has fallen on deaf ears.

This is not because of a lack of cause. Today’s youngsters have the same grievances as my generation – youth unemployment and police harrassment – and then some.

Chris Dillow is a great blogger but he is wrong on this occasion. Bear in mind that since Johnny Rotten pranced around on a boat we have had the rave revolution, the anti globalisation movement, Gaddafi squat parties and a resurgent feminism propelled mainly by under 30s activists. The 1970s feminist Germaine Greer defends female genital mutilation. Today’s young radicals campaign against it.

Punk changed nothing. The monarchy is still very much alive (as its courtiers have delighted in telling us over and over again this weekend) and Britain is a far worse place in terms of youth chances than it was in the 1970s. The punk movement reached its obvious terminus in this week’s article by the pompous and overrated Tony Parsons in which he declared: ‘like the overwhelming majority of our people – I have nothing but respect, admiration and love for the Queen. She is of course more of a true punk than Johnny Rotten will ever be. Her Majesty has followed her destiny, done what she was born to do – surely the very heart of the punk ethos.’

Rave altered British culture forever. It startled John Major’s timewarp Tory government to the extent that it wrote a proscription into the Criminal Justice Act 1994 that covered ‘open-air gatherings with more than 100 people at which music that includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats’. In terms of feminism, sexuality, individuality, the expectations of the young and poor, rave kicked punk into the Thames. And the music was better. And the drugs were better. End of.

Admittedly my generation were active in Stop the War – half the people I grew up with marched in February 2003 – but that was a coalition led by baby boomer zombies and career SWPers. All youth activism risks raising the ghost of Rik Mayall from The Young Ones. Yet the worst kind of totalitarian left politics today comes from older men and women – Noam Chomsky (born in 1928) Tony Benn (1925) John Pilger (1939) Lindsey German (1951)  George Galloway (1954) Alex Callinicos (1950) Ken Livingstone (1945). These are establishment radicals but you can find many respectable elders of the shire bourgeoisie who enthuse about Russia Today because it dares to tell the truth suppressed by mainstream media, who sign campaign postcards and attend rallies in support of Islamist terror suspects and plane hijackers.

Whenever I hear commentators snigger and moan about the silly idealistic unworkable ideas of the young, I want to shout: what about the stupid, unrealistic and unworkable politics of the old? What about the generation that left us in this mess? Christopher Hitchens, a boomer radical taken too young, said towards the end of his life that ‘when I check the thermometer I find that it is the fucking old fools who get me down the worst, and the attainment of that level of idiocy can often require a lifetime.’

So yeah – I think that Dillow has let his imagination run away with him this time.

(Image from The Prodigy official website. Thanks: Shuggy.)

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2 Responses to “Punk is Dead – Come On!”

  1. chris Says:

    I fear we’re at cross purposes here. I wasn’t endorsing the political effectiveness of punk, any more than its musical quality; punks were as politically daft and ineffective as the 68ers. My point was merely that punk had a rebelliousness that to me seems lacking in today’s young people. Which is really odd, as they have so much to rebel against – including the imbecilities of my generation.
    Your example of rave – the movement that gave us Paul Staines – is surely so old as to support my theory more than yours. Today’s university students were born 4-5 years after rave started, and they were only in junior school during the Stop the War march.

  2. maxdunbar Says:

    Many thanks for commenting here Chris. I’m really speaking generally of the generations that followed punk rather than a single generation in particular. I think the student seige of Tory HQ was as rebellious as anything that happened in the punk era. But you have a point about Paul Staines!

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