Is the rejection of popular culture by a group of people a form of popular culture its self? As most Portlanders have noticed, our city seems to be a Mecca for homeless youth. I’m referring to the groups of panhandlers that occupy the sidewalks and store fronts of downtown Portland. With teams of dogs in tow they unabashedly ask passersby for their spare change.
I have been working as a valet for a hotel downtown for nearly six years now (next door to a methadone clinic). For most of my work day I am outside greeting guests as they arrive and parking cars. Basically I am out on the street 8 hours a day. This time working these jobs has given me a vast amount of experiences with street people and their day to day lives. I have seen individuals in downward spirals of drug addiction and seen those same people work to free themselves from those addictions that had bound them. That being said my views on this lifestyle are conflicted but come from personal experience that not all are privilege to.
This rejection of almost every part of our society is an interesting phenomenon. This homeless youth subculture is known in their own circles as “gutter punk”. Although their clothing style and ideology has roots in the “anarcho punk” scene, it seems in a way hypocritical to present one’s self as being opposed to nearly all of the conventions of our society and depend on the handouts from the society they claim to reject. It seems that the lifestyle of rejection of modern western popular culture has become incorporated into the greater cultural sphere despite all the effort remain separate. Now kids from the suburbs, from good homes free of abuse or neglect, are infiltrating the “gutter punk” scene.
Many of the members of this subculture do come from less than favorable backgrounds. Many are the survivors of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Not that having been abused necessarily justifies or validated a life of drugs and violence on the street, but the scars that one carries from abuse are not easily healed. There are many for whom living on the street is an upgrade from their lives at home. There are also many who claim to be the victims of a traumatic home lives in an attempt to make their lifestyle seem more authentic.
The “gutter punk” subculture is for the most part apolitical and nihilistic or anarchistic by nature. There seems to be little foresight to this life style. The “live for today” kind of mentality that is inherent to the street kid way of life is dangerous and conducive to drug and alcohol abuse, violence, and general risky behavior. This kind of “fuck it” ideology is scary and threatening to most of the people that live in our society and from that fear comes resentment. When I am at work, running to retrieve guests cars, and I am asked for money by these street kids I often feel angry that they would even ask me. Here I am doing my job where I work hard to serve people in the hopes that I will receive a few dollars in gratuity for my efforts and this person who has chosen not to make an effort to help them self expects me to support their apathetic lifestyle with my hard earned money. I do not feel that heroin and malt liquor is the best use of money for a person who is living on the street. Of course in these situations I don’t go on a rant to these panhandlers about what they should do with their lives. After all who am I to say? If they want to live that way and people are willing to give them money, what is wrong with being a “gutter punk”?
Basically the conclusion that I have come to about street kids and society is that they are free to live how they choose and I am free not to support them. My own negative feelings toward them are a product of the society and culture that I was brought up in.