Monday, 4 June 2012

The Death Of Youth Revolt

LJ half-heartedly suggests that with all this Punk nostalgia going on there may well be a revival - forgetting that in Camden we've had booze-addled, mohican-haired retrobates staggering around with 'Exploited' sprayed on their leather jackets for decades. That's not revivalism, of course, but the maintenance of someone's idea of what Punk was/is, and opinions will always differ on that, from art school idealists to glue-sniffers.

On BBC2's The Review Show the other night they wondered why it isn't happening now, and Paul Morley came up with the standard response about appropriation, which I've can't argue with. We've known for a long time that all youth cults are quickly assimilated, packaged and presented as marketing ideas for gullible consumers. In time the product becomes a nostalgic product for original participants, many of whom will have long since sold artefacts they once treasured and want them again on a compilation.

The irony, of course, is that Punk professed to blow everything away in a bout of noisy nihilism - the political and musical establishment, as well as cosy nostalgia - destroy the past, never trust a hippy and to hell with tomorrow. All youth movements depend on the belief in a new world, even, as with Punk, one consisting of nothing but ruins. Teds tried to build one based on menace and musical outrage, much like Punk, and those switch blade peacocks soon passed into the history book of Youth Culture. When McLaren emerged as a Teddy Boy in the 70s, he could not have imagined that a few years later the tribe he courted would set about hunting his Punk children up and down the King's Road.

Aside from the obvious point that Punk now would simply be a tame revival, it seems we no longer live in a time when any kind of revolution is possible, be it from unions or young folk. Youthful rebellion is an old idea. And besides, what can't the youth of today have, culturally-speaking? File-sharing means music is free, and all things past can be found on YouTube. Perhaps that facility negates the importance of Now as something to be shaped and radically changed because we're all too busy enjoying The Past.

Everything today is one click away, whereas in '77 so much seemed to be beyond reach, and the effort required to go get your dream, rather than proving too much, spurred some to go out and try. OK, that dream may well have amounted to no more (or less) than making a fanzine, or one 45, but the effort required to do so bore a direct relation to the sense of satisfaction felt in doing so. Recent riots proved that some youths were motivated to grab new trainers and TVs, of course, but that's another matter. The deep discontentment of looters involves complex moral, psychological and cultural issues which have not resulted in a best-selling single airing those concerns whilst being shunted aside by the chart-rigging Pop establishment. We live in a different world, where no 45 can ever symbolise, with such power, feelings of anger and resentment as the Sex Pistol's 'God Save The Queen' did. But let's be thankful for small mercies; at least Chumbawamba didn't try this time.

Optimistically one might say that the death of youth tribes with the power to shock and inspire signals the birth of individualism on a massive scale, yet current popular music does not seem to support that idea. Privatised dreams negate the very notion of a band (ie a gang), in a world where music can be made so easily at home, and the old industry has been shattered into millions of files. The old music biz enemy was a corporate castle that needed storming, resulting in either utilising it's power, or building your own small stronghold from which to fire salvoes in a world where the common (battle) ground was just that. There is common ground today, but it looks very different, and easily caters for anyone's creative efforts. In this respect, the battle may have been won, by dint of technological progress rather than the concerted effort of foot soldiers fighting the good fight.

In this world of celebrity worship on a massive scale and public school Tory rule, of government cuts and financial insecurity, there should be a youthful uprising in the form of cultural shock tactics dressed in outrageous style, accompanied by a radical noise. Unfortunately, the Occupy movement, as John Lydon recently put it in an interview, 'always ends up with some hippy playing a flute.' The Establishment in all forms appears to be on a winning streak that's set to last forever and The Youth, whilst not being content, are content to allow it to continue as long as they can be pacified by easy access entertainment of their choosing. There are many old rebellions such as Punk to enjoy, after all.


  1. An immensely satisfying read.
    YES. That's all. Just *YES!*

  2. I'm maybe still too idealist but I don't think its the end - it's changed and it's in the hands of those who we're probably too old to understand now. Nobody really saw punk coming, so who knows what's around the corner (I guess I'm an optimist too) - its's difficult to rebel when your parents have already done it and, in some cases, still are - it might not be us who rebel but someone always will (and one day we might even get rid of the hippy with the flute....). Optimism aside - I don't disagree with what you've said !

    1. Parents having done it may be part of the problem. Still, I see no signs of forthcoming movements. I'm not looking to 'rebel', of course - quite happy with my pipe, slippers and Ennio Morricone, thanks.

  3. So, the engineers/nerds are the real punks of today then, right? Your nod to technology is an important one as it's impacted far more than a youth revolution ever did/could. In a way, as you mention, technological progress has pretty much handed the youth revolts the fruits of their desired revolutions. Nowadays (unlike in 1977), organic food is readily available, music/videos/books/information are all easily accessible, racism/sexism/homophobia are in considerable decline, etc. Many of the 'personal politics' themes of early punk bands have made leaps forward (though still real). The only reason for not being "informed" or crafting your own lifestyle nowadays is apathy. That said, though the progress has been considerable, the system still rules the day. The large issues (war, poverty, etc) are still the large issues (and perhaps worse).


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