Henry Newell – Punk Rock

Henry Newell

Pop Culture Studies

Topic Choice Essay

One thing that really interests me about pop culture is the way sub-cultures, most notably anti-pop cultures, become incorporated into the mainstream. There have been many movements in which the attitude of the group has been anti-capitalist, anti-society, and anti-authority. How does this incorporation work? Or rather, how is it possible for such anti-societal “trends” or sub-cultures to become part of society?  I chose to look at the commercialization of punk rock in relation to the culture industry theory.

True punk rock has always been an anti-capitalistic for of musical expression. The music is loud, and fast, with heavy drums, distorted guitar, with the singer often singing or yelling anti-societal and anti-capitalistic lyrics. As with every sub-culture (or most), a certain fashion sense is associated with punk rock. Leather jackets, leather pants, a lot of black, a lot of patched up clothes, and spikes. The thing that represents punk rock best, to me, is the incorporation of spikes into fashion. All the studded belts, jackets, and pants – that started with punk rock. The image was supposed to be grimy, aggressive and a little scary.   However, more important than the sound and fashion of punk rock is the attitude and lifestyle of the sub-culture, and the pop-culture it was responding to.  The idea of punk rock, I hope I understand well enough to explain, is basically saying “f*** you” to the world. It’s a bunch of sort of intelligent, drugged out, pissed off, young rock n’ rolla’s saying that they don’t care about the state of things, or anything, because everything is so lousy. They’re going to smash their guitars, break a ton of equipment, start riots at their shows, take a lot of drugs, play loud music, and sort of become cult heroes – and it’s going to piss people off because it’s not “normal”, or what they would normally hear on the radio (back then in the mid 1970’s). Punk rock is aggressive, grimy, and anti-capitalistic in nature. Punk bands often would self-record albums, and distribute them in a non-commercial way.

Punk rock arrived on the scene to respond to the popular rock n’ roll music of the 1970’s. The rock scene was becoming soft, acts like Simon and Garfunkel were highly poplar, and the whole idea of rock and roll was changing. It was becoming tame, not the wild and rebellious music that shaped music in the 1960’s (Jimmy Hendrix). This idea that the industry of the music business was softening down the rough edges of rock and roll was infuriating to fans. In a way, rock was losing it’s edge, because what it had started as was becoming something that seemed quite the opposite: little rock singers with soft voices, wearing blouses, singing about love, etc. Along with this, Punk rock is thought to be against the flowery and light idealism of the Hippie movement that was becoming a national “trend”.  I think punk rock came when it sort of needed to, in a time when the spirit of rock and roll was dwindling. It seems interesting though, that sub-cultures seem to come around right when the world needs a bit of refreshment.

What makes punk rock significant to me, is how it became commercialized and swallowed by pop culture. Today we see middle school girls, soccer moms, and even “J-Lo” wearing studded belts – a significant icon in punk rock culture. The music style has been standardized and softened (think in the vein of Blink 182). The whole attitude of the punk culture was taken and marketed to the people who associated/sympathized with it, and eventually the industry killed the movement.  This, in my opinion, is a perfect example to correlate with the culture industry theory, in which pop-culture is dictated by the industry and means of production. People only “eat” what the industry “feeds” them, and when the society holds profit in such a high degree, the industry needs to make sure that it is only thing feeding us – so we keep buying it’s goods. In the Culture industry, the masses of people are controlled by the richest few, and any attempt that is made by any sub-culture that goes against the pop culture will eventually become eaten by pop-culture and commercialized for profit. This has happened with many sub cultures: street art, the hippie movement, the hip-hop culture, ect. But the griminess, and aggression behind punk makes it interesting to me because it seems like such a hard thing for the culture industry to make harmless, and be able to sell to the millions.



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