As Soho’s webmaster I’ve been ‘meeting’ a lot of people online recently who inhabit the alternative fringes of mainstream fashion, music and culture, and have been thinking about how this subculture has evolved, from the first great music revolution (rock and roll) which created teenagers as a group with their own needs, desires and language, through the hippy age of intellectual and creative experimentation, to the punk revolution which was as much cultural as it was musical.
Punk was about more than refusing to conform to society’s expectations, it was about actively sticking two fingers up at them – unlike the hippies, who genuinely thought they were moving towards a better world, punk expressed anger at the state of the world as they found it and engineered social response through provocative behaviour.
What of punk’s legacy though? In the 70’s when punk was at its peak, there were much more rigidly defined expectations of class and gender to chafe against – then, Johnny Rotten was vilified (and admired) for swearing on tv, now no-one would even notice; then, Siouxsie Sioux’s latenight S&M antics were too naughty to be printed, now there are clubs all over the country catering to nothing else. Is it even possible to be truly punk now?
Punk now seems to be much more about music and fashion than about attitudes and ideology – to be a punk these days is more about listening to particular bands and creating a personal style than about kicking against the expectations of a corrupt and decadent society.
Maybe today’s punks are the ones who are still standing against the current of mainstream culture – those who refuse to add to global carbon poisoning by buying cars or travelling by plane, those who steadfastly criticise authority and the decisions of an authoritarian state, those who ignore arbitrary labels of class and status to create their own communities (much like the one I’m finding online)…
Fashion and music were vital tools for the punk movement of the 70’s, but they didn’t define it. I think Johnny’s true heirs are using them to achieve similar goals – outrage against complacency, the destruction of elitist social policies and the search for functioning, representative government.