|HOME FEATURES BOOKS PERFORMANCE GALLERY BUY CONTACT|
THE ASSAULT ON CULTURE CHAPTER 15 (pages 80-86)
Like mail art, punk was a movement in which the majority of the participants were only semi-conscious of its origins. Some critics have made much of punk's recycling of specto-situationist theory. A typical example of this is Dave and Stuart Wise's "The End Of Music" (Box V2, Glasgow 1978):
"A musical situationism was born in the dressed up rebel imagery of punk and New Wave. While, the situationist influence can only be thoroughly credited in the one specific instance of the 'Sex Pistols', the rebellion of modem art forms, first expressed pictorially and in literature, though now recuperated, have increasingly been applied to the production of music through intermediaries like 'The Velvet Underground' and Lou Reed. Antecedents from the old cultural avant garde run into and feed the musical new... Part of the genesis of punk goes back 16 years to the English section of the Situationists and the subsequent, King Mob... Malcolm McLaren, manager of 'The Sex Pistols' had been friendly with individuals versed in the Situationist critique in England and had picked up some of the slogans and attitudes of that milieu... The E.P. (sic) 'Pretty Vacant' was promoted through a poster campaign displaying cut out photos of two long distance coaches heading for 'BOREDOM' and 'NOWHERE' - lifted straight from the pages of 'Point Blank' ....."
Unfortunately, Dave and Stuart Wise completely overestimate the influence and importance of specto-situationist theory, both on punk and in general. This is perhaps not surprising, since at the time the text was produced they were part of the miserable milieu centred on Guy Debord and the Champ Libre publishers in Paris. Although the Wises sneer at the negative influence of the Motherfuckers on King Mob, they ignore the fact that this influence was actually more determinate than that of the specto-SI. (1) Indeed, the English section of the specto-SI were expelled from the International because they refused to break with the individuals who went on to found the Motherfuckers. King Mob were one result of this expulsion. The Wises chide the plagiarism of graphics from Point Blank but conveniently forgets that Jamie Reid, the Pistols' art director, had contributed visuals for a number of Point Blank productions and was merely re-using work he had been involved in producing! (2) Although specto-situationist theory was known by some of those at the centre of the original punk movement, the influence of futurism, dada, the motherfuckers, fluxus and mail art is more obvious and important. Mail artists such as Irene Dogmatic in the States and Genesis P-Orridge in England became involved with punk music during its early stages. It was through these mail artists that the influence of fluxus was spread. The influence of mail art was most strongly felt in the choice of bizarre stage names. The iconoclastic nature of punk identities (ie Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Siouxsie Sioux, Dee Generate and Captain Sensible) echo the assumed names of mail artists such as Cosey Fanni Tutti, Pat Fish and Anna Banana. Through art school training, members of bands like the Clash and Adam and the Ants had been exposed to the influence of Futurism and Dada. (3) The backwardness of British art schools, the environment from which much of the original punk milieu emerged, resulted in a familiarity with early manifestations of the utopian avant-garde combined with an ignorance of its post-war developments. However, the rank and file of the punk movement remained ignorant even of these classical influences.
"Punk is the admission that music has got nothing left to say but money can still be made out of total artistic bankruptcy with all its surrogate substitute for creative self-expression in our daily lives. Punk music, like all art, is the denial of the revolutionary becoming of the proletariat"
Such a position is clearly ridiculous since only an imbecile could confuse punk with art. Besides which, punk very clearly did have something to say, and the fact that this was effectively communicated is demonstrated to this day by widespread teenage identification with it. (4) The Wise brothers go on to repeat the specto-situationist fallacy that art is dead, when from a genuinely materialist perspective there will always be art as long as there is a bourgeois class. Art cannot die, because it is a social process, capitalist societies produce art while non-capitalist societies don't. As we have already seen, to impute an essence to art is mysticism. The Wise brothers compound this idealism with another abstraction 'the revolutionary becoming of the proletariat' . Although, as a lumpen-intellectuals, Dave and Stuart Wise might find solace in such a concept, the proletariat which they mythologise would find such ideas completely meaningless, if by some freak of fate they should ever come into contact with them.
"Glue the locks of all the banks and butchers or kick them in, Spray a message of hate across a Bentley or smash it up, Sabotage the meat in supermarkets poison them all, Go to Kensington and mug a rich bastard of all his cash.
Lumpen-intellectuals like Dave and Stuart Wise had, a few years earlier, been accusing punk of stealing its ideas from the revolutionary theorists. By the mid-eighties events had come full circle, Class War - a group of anarchoid ultra-leftists - would find their inspiration in punk.
1. But Dave Wise should have been well aware of this since according to Nick Brandt's "Refuse" (BM Combustion, London 1978) he was a member of King Mob during the late '60s - as indeed was his brother Stuart Wise.
2. See page 68 of "Up They Rise - The Incomplete Works of Jamie Reid" by Jamie Reid and Jon Savage (Faber & Faber, London 1987). It is worth noting that when specto and pro-situationists 'plagiarise' other people's work, they call it 'detournement'; but when other people are perceived as 'detouming' situationist property they are accused of 'plagiarism'. Such double standards are endemic within the specto-situationist milieu, and are usually justified on the grounds that - with the exception of the proletariat considered as an abstract category - no one outside this milieu has any credibility as a 'radical'. Everyone from Debord, to Knabb, to the Wise brothers, to Brandt, employ this hypocrisy. It should, however, be noted that "The End Of Music" was published without the Wise brothers consent, after it had been circulated in typescript form. This said, the Wise brothers servile enthusiasm for the Debordist faction of the SI is evident in several texts they have played an active role in publishing; consequently it is not unreasonable to see "The End Of Music" as typifying their thought.
2. See for example the lyrics of "Animals & Men" on Adam and the Ants first Ip "Dirk Wears White Sox" (Do It Records, London 1979).
4. At its most basic punk was saying I'm young, angry, pissed off and I want change and/or excitement. Above all else it was a statement of identity. Even the media understood punk at this level.
5. a) Allen didn't design his own book covers; however the books themselves were consumed as a single package. The 'authorship' of the constituent parts was irrelevant to the readership.
6. And like football, punk emphasised a territorialism which the Super Groups of the seventies had largely eliminated from the rock music scene. In its negative sense this meant many punks saw themselves as opposed to 'teds' and 'hippies'. More positively, it meant that the movement viewed itself as being geographically specific. Thus the Clash were 'the sound of the Westway' (the motorway system that passes through West London); while the Sex Pistols were 'teenagers from London's Finsbury Park and Shepherds Bush' (according to some of their early publicity material). Outside London, Manchester had the earliest developed punk scene and boasted among its top acts bands like the Buzzcocks, Slaughter & the Dogs, & the Drones. Very quickly punk scenes developed in all the large urban centres in the British Isles. Punk was consciously urban, despising the country and the suburbs, and yet because it was also about displacement it eventually found its greatest support among suburban kids.
7. A sample of the lyrics to this song run as follows:
"Sack the teachers, standards fall, You send your kids to a private school.
In the early eighties, Crisis degenerated into the utterly pathetic Death In June who I have dealt with elsewhere.
8. But its impact (in Britain at least) was as great, if not greater, due to the strength of its image. By exaggerating media stereotypes of working class belligerence, punk touched a raw nerve with the British establishment. If sixties rebels had been inspired by the esoteric theories of 'Che' and 'Uncle Ho', bands like the Clash appeared to have more in common with dockers leader Jack Dash; a threat that was much closer to home.
9. The role of the Sex Pistols in the punk movement has been completely mystified. They may have stolen the show, but even so punk would have happened without them - while they wouldn't have achieved fame without punk. What was important about punk was the Do It Yourself attitude, not the few stars who "swindled" their way to the top.
10. Nigel Fountain in "00 Anything Beautiful" (1968 supplement, New Statesman, London 18/12/87) has the following to say about the alternative press and specialisation:
"Al is one fat man... who did well out of the wars of those times. In 1968 he noticed that many of the people who bought the then flourishing American underground press - the Berkeley Barb, the East Village Other, the Los Angeles Free Press, et al were not doing so for their imaginative accounts of the occupation of Columbia University, the exploits of the Yippies, or the battles at the Chicago Democratic Party convention. They were the real army of the night, the dirty raincoat detachment, in search of sexual contact ads. Goldstein acutely perceived as he launched Screw that autumn that 'I am the man in the dirty raincoat.'... Goldstein's trick was to identify one of the crucial undercurrents, sex.
Previous: Beyond Mail Art
OF RELATED INTEREST
Cranked Up Really High: Genre Theory & Punk Rock (book by Home)
|Copyright © is problematic. Some rights reserved. Contact for clarification.|