This Is Punk?

Punk Girl with Lollipop Strawberry Fields ForeverWith punk as the theme of this year’s Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute benefit, Nitsuh Abebe asks “If a movement known for rage, rebellion, and adolescent id becomes the focus of a high-fashion celebration, is it the final studded nail in the coffin or proof of everlasting life?” for New York Magazine:

Punk rock has always had an easy time living up to E. M. Forster’s view of music as a kingdom that “will accept those whom breeding and intellect and culture have alike rejected.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute benefit—the “Oscars of fashion,” currently co-hosted by Vogue editor Anna Wintour, and perhaps the city’s most glamorous large social event—feels like the opposite: a celebration of rare finery and a discerning elite. The gala’s theme is generally the same as that of the Costume Institute’s spring exhibit; say, Jacqueline Kennedy or Chanel. But this year’s exhibit is “Punk: Chaos to ­Couture,” a look at punk clothing and high fashion’s varied responses to it. A lavish ball pivots on the same word you’d use to describe crusty squatters in ­Tompkins Square Park.

One knee-jerk response to this situation is to see it as a laughable irony, like a steakhouse celebrating how brave and inspiring vegetarians are. I know: It’s tempting. Even a glancing understanding of what “punk” is tends to assume vigorous antipathy toward fashion-industry galas. And it is somehow amusing to imagine socialites commissioning extravagant couture inspired by gangs of raggedy late-seventies miscreants, or Girls actress Allison Williams studying photos of the Sex Pistols and, as she said, getting “really excited to commit to that theme.” In 1976, the year the Ramones released their first LP and cemented the “teenage dirtbag” look that’s persevered through decades of rock culture—before the reek of the CBGB bathroom became one of music’s most famous odors—Diana Vreeland was presiding over a Costume Institute fantasia titled “The Glory of Russian Costume,” for which the air was pumped through with ten gallons of ­Chanel Cuir de Russie perfume. And yes, the whole endeavor comes surrounded with some of the iffy double-talk that arises when cultural institutions celebrate old bits of radical thinking. Exhibit curator Andrew Bolton talks about subverting the mainstream, and of today’s fashion world lacking the energy and freedom of punk—but doesn’t punk’s example suggest that this doesn’t matter? That the fashion world is easily topped, freedom-and-energy-wise, by random glue-­sniffers? If one of punk’s lessons is that people can create their own culture, instead of waiting for it to be dictated from on high, what can elite culture-industry folk learn from that, besides modesty?…

[continues at New York Magazine]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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19 Comments on "This Is Punk?"

  1. InfvoCuernos | Apr 23, 2013 at 12:56 pm |

    “If a movement known for rage, rebellion and adolescent id becomes the focus of a high fashion celebration”… like rock and roll, or jazz, or rap, or grunge? This is the lifecycle of the musical movement. Those angst-y teens grow up, take their musical preferences with them, and then pillage them for all they are worth. Ten years from now, we’ll be hearing dubstep on car commercials. I’m surprised that this is even news to anyone. Its been happening ever since we found a way to record music.

  2. Hasn’t punk been a fashion style for about 3 decades?

  3. “I mean that was me: a trouble maker of the future. The guy that was one of those guys that my parents so arrogantly saved the world for, so we could fuck it up. We can do a hell of a lot more damage in the system than outside of it. That was the final irony, I think. That, and well, this. And “fuck you” for all of you who were thinking it: I guess when all was said and done, I was nothing more than a God-damned, trendy-ass poser.” – ‘Stevo’ – SLC

  4. mole_face | Apr 23, 2013 at 2:50 pm |

    Personally, I couldn’t give the slightest shit about the commercialization of stereotypical punk fashion. That look stopped being edgy in the early 80s, and all the underground punk rock/hardcore bands that have actually mattered since then have pretty much just dressed in low-key utilitarian clothing.

    People who bemoan the commercialization or “death” of punk rock probably have zero knowledge of the DIY underground. Punk rock never went away and it’s as vibrant as ever – you just don’t hear about it if you don’t spend some time digging. It’s easier than ever in the internet age when you don’t have to tape trade or send money orders for 7″s through mailorder. The internet and its instant free access to pretty much every album that was ever recorded has exposed more bands to a wider variety of formerly-obscure influences and has resulted in some crazy mutant forms of hardcore in recent years.

    • Yeah, totally agree…

      Here’s some lyrics excerpted from Dillinger Four-2002

      “New Punk Fashions for the Spring Formal”

      man, this place feels like a catalog
      I wonder if your close-ups takin too long
      would you like a snapshot to send to your mother, boy?
      I don’t care. I don’t wanna know. It’s never been apart of me.

      I wonder if it’s just another role we play
      like a celebrity on minimum wage.

      Three cheers for anything holding us down.
      Watch as aesthetic overpowers the sound.
      Sorta like a martyr so proud of his picture
      I never understood. Never thought I should. It’s never been apart of me.

      Taking notes at your all-ages show
      It’s like the marketing department has finally figured out
      that “the Pit” could always make more room.
      I’d love to sneer in the camera for your revolution,

      but I just can’t afford the fucking costume!

      • mole_face | Apr 23, 2013 at 4:51 pm |

        Yeah, D4 have some of the greatest punk rock lyrics of all time.

        Come to think of it, the only time that the mainstreaming of punk fashion has ever bothered me was back in the late 90s/early 2000s when that whole “Disney Punk”/Avril Lavigne trend got huge and suddenly Chuck Taylors and Dickies work pants shot up in price. Prior to that, it was nice that anyone who had good simple functional taste in clothing could go into a random chain store with barely any money and come out with all the apparel they’d need for a long time.

        But as for stereotypical Sex Pistols punk fashion and shit like that? Fuck it. Who cares if that stuff’s commercially exploited? All of that started out as Malcolm Maclaren’s marketing gimmick for his clothing store in the first place, so I couldn’t care less if it gets periodically resurrected by the fashion industry when they’re desperate for ideas.

      • sorry but Dillinger 4 is far from punk

        • mole_face | Apr 23, 2013 at 5:32 pm |

          You’re way off. D4’s “Midwestern Songs of the Americas” is one of the greatest albums to come out in the last 20 years. Read the lyrics to a song like “Superpowers Enable Me To Blend In With Machinery” and try to tell me the band isn’t punk. I’m mostly into hardcore and noisy stuff and I still hold D4 in high regard. Not all melodic punk rock is California skater bullshit. In the eyes of a lot of people, that whole whitebread Warped Tour scene has unfairly tainted every band that sounds remotely like fast melodic punk rock.

        • I thought the “punk police” would show up!

          Speaking of not punk….I think Jawbreaker said it best in
          You’re not Punk
          and I’m telling everyone…
          Save your breath,
          I never was one.

    • Anarchy Pony | Apr 23, 2013 at 6:43 pm |

      I do love myself some Strike Anywhere.

  5. Craig Bickford | Apr 23, 2013 at 3:18 pm |

    Holy fuck, do people still not realize that punk died about 30 years ago? This is so funny.

  6. DeepCough | Apr 23, 2013 at 7:01 pm |

    No, this was the final studded nail in the coffin known as “Punk Rock.”

    (If you had to pick an “official time,” this would be it.)

  7. “Punk’s not dead, it just deserves to die.” -Jello Biafra (sorry, forgot what song)

    • I remember reading an interview with Jello like 10 years ago and he was talking about all the kids in Brazil playing Death metal with shitty guitars through loud crappy amps and he described it as being like what he thought about “punk” rock.

  8. The Well Dressed Man | Apr 24, 2013 at 12:38 am |

    “You ain’t no punk, you punk” – The Cramps, Garbage Man.

    To me, this track exemplifies everything about punk rock that endures: It’s raw, fun, and simple. Aggressively working-class without being preachy. Makes no effort to conceal the prevailing influences of garage rock and rockabilly.

    Even the sneering, hypercritical Dead Kennedys couldn’t hide a genuine love for rock n roll.. it shines through especially on Plastic Surgery Disasters:

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