Walking Contradiction: Punk Rock Appropriators
In a country addicted to capitalism, it is inevitable that sooner or later the subcultures that many of us belong to will be exploited for the financial gain of the dominate culture. Cultural appropriation is nothing new, and the appropriation of punk culture may be pretty low on the list of importance, but it is still one worth discussing.
There is a reoccurring formula in our society for appropriating a culture. First, the culture is ostracized and oppressed for its difference, in a way that would almost lead you to believe our species has been bred to ignorantly hate and destroy anything they are not familiar with. Overtime, the culture slowly starts to become more accepted by mainstream society, but the people with authentic ties to that culture are ignored and pushed aside so that outsiders can imitate the culture’s way of life in a sterile, white-washed form.
I was turned on to punk rock around the age of twelve or thirteen. Up until that point in my life, I had never felt I had anything in common with any other groups of people at school. The world around me felt stale, ignorant, and superficial. Finding punk rock brought me to life and gave me hope.
Centered around the music, punk was originally formed by lower-class and working-class youth. The music is brutally honest and raw and it expressed the anger people felt about a world controlled by sexism, homophobia, racism, capitalism, and social injustice. Punk music and the punk scene hold strong to those values and don’t tolerate ignorance. What drew me to the scene was the sense of community, art, solidarity, chaos, and equality.
The foundation of punk is music and ideology, but punks needed a way to physically set themselves apart from the rest of society, which brings us to the punk aesthetic. The attire of a punk is a small piece of a much larger puzzle, it isn’t important and it certainly isn’t an attempt at looking “cool”. It is arguable where the punk look came from, but many people credit Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. Punk existed before them and it certainly would have existed without them, but punk attire probably wouldn’t look as it does today, without their influence. They dressed bands like The New York Dolls and even created the Sex Pistols, two bands that had a huge impact on the punk attitude and attire. The punk attire varies dependent on the specific scene, but the usual look would consist of spiked hair dyed in every color imaginable, studded leather jackets and vests, bullet belts, patches, studs, spikes, boots, and tight pants. Tight pants alone were enough to make me a target for getting jumped and called a “faggot” more times than I can count on both hands. The style was all DIY (do it yourself), punks weren’t going out and buying these clothes, we were making them. Punk attire shocked, angered and disgusted mainstream society and punks thrive on that. We dress the way we do because it pissed people off and let them know that we were not like them.
Eventually the attire that gifted me with a broken noses and black eyes as a teenager, started popping up little by little in mainstream culture. The most insignificant aspect of punk culture was plucked from our scene, sterilized, imitated, and injected into the dominant culture that was completely oblivious to the morals, history, and passion associated with the clothes they were wearing. Punk aesthetic began to be flaunted by wealthy pop stars and actors. It was hijacked and sold as “fashion”. It began with celebrities who wanted to appear edgy, throwing on a ratty Ramones t-shirt, that they probably paid over one hundred dollars for, without the ability to even name one Ramones song. It then progressed to the point that dying your hair green, blue or pink became trendy. Then came celebrities wearing leather jackets and denim vests covered in studs and patches of bands they have never even heard of. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I caught wind of the travesty that is now know as the “punk-themed” 2013 Met Gala. Countless celebrities, who live lavish lives, were traipsing down a red carpet in punk costumes. The image had been hijacked while the ideology was neglected. You had excessively wealthy people spending thousands of dollars on cheap imitations of a culture that goes against everything about their life. Punk was not about money or vanity, two things that these appropriators are consumed by. Irony lays in the fact that if any of the superficial culture vultures took a second to listen to the band whose logo is painted on their fake punk jacket, they would realize how much of a walking contradiction they are.
Here are some examples of the sad attempts of people trying to appear edgy and companies capitalizing off of a culture they have no knowledge about.
In conclusion, know the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. If you have a respect for a culture then that’s great, but stealing the image while disconnecting from all other aspects is disrespectful and ignorant. For all the CEOs who want to make a quick buck while riding the trend wave, you are not creative or innovative when you steal ideas from a culture you are know nothing about and are not associated with even a little bit. Your blind superficial capitalism completely contradicts the ideology of punk rock, so your appropriation of that culture specifically just makes you look like an uninformed, money-hungry imbecile. To everyone else, if you are going to steal the punk image, the least you can do is actually listen to the bands whose logo is painted on your purchased leather jacket. Buy their record, read the lyrics, get to know the culture and the ideology. If you don’t have time to do that, or don’t agree with what the bands have to say, then take that studded leather jacket off your back and throw it in the trash, where some real punk will probably find it on their next dumpster diving expedition.