I finished watching BBC4’s Punk Britannia series the other day.
Inevitably, after watching three programmes that charted the movements birth, growth and fragmentation (in the best possible way), the makers included comments from the contributors that seemed to ‘sum up’ what punk was all about.
You know, in that way that seems to address our need to understand our complex, changing culture in soundbites of pseudo significance.
Or with executive summaries.
Anyway, in this instance I’m glad they did.
At points while watching the series I’d started to get that nagging ‘sell-out’ feeling. Anyone reconciling artistic heroes with a career in marketing has this now and again, I reckon.
But more than that, I worried about how unlikely a ‘new punk’ seemed, and how much we’d miss the opportunity it gave to re-invent the way we did things.
It seems like it’s no longer possible to stand ‘outside of society’ and provide a critique in the way that punk did. Today’s reflexive culture assimilates where it used to resist, it co-opts and spits out the very voices that dissent and scare. Our post-modern world leaves no singular dominant philosophy to kick against, except perhaps plurality itself.
But then Mark Stewart of The Pop Group said that if punk was about anything then it was about experimenting.
And I started to feel a bit better.
And when Lydon declared that, after all was said and done, punk was the notion that you had to
“do it yourself, because no-one is ever going to do it for you”
I realised there was no contradiction at all.
Punk, far from being destructive, was incredibly creative. Anarchy was never really an end in itself. Instead it was a metaphor, its extremity reflecting the desperate desire for an alternative to the stultifying present.
Punk was about not accepting what was being handed down to you, but instead inventing a new way of doing.
Individuals’ self-belief, talent, expression and unbound enthusiasm became more important than their restricted access to the conventional platforms.
So, no, there may no be ‘another punk’ that sweeps away old cultural assumptions and re-sets society.
But instead perhaps we have something more revolutionary.
We have a cultural, social and business world that has adopted the punk spirit of DIY as its own credo. Access to communication platforms, creative self-expression and spreadable ideas has never been more democratised. We celebrate innovation, lateral thinking, and the people who reveal the new paradigms.
We are the new punks, and we can do anything we want.