Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Pretty Vacant? The Strange Phenomena Of Conservative Punk.

Residents of North London have recently been on the phone to paranormal investigators, complaining of an impassioned yet atonal moaning coming from a nearby cemetery. I can exclusively reveal that the ghostly rumblings are a result of Joe Strummer spinning in his grave.

A recent story on the BBC news website points to the cause of his discomfort. Apparently there now exists in the United States such a creature as the “conservative punk”. The culture wars have reached such a point that now social trends are consuming their own young, with horrific results. I have to admit that this put me off my stride for a minute or two; after all it’s supposed to be the boomer hippies who become turncoat Republicans. Strange paradigm shifts happen all the time in politics; Marxists become supply-siders, liberal hawks become neo-cons, and George W. Bush turns losing an election into a ticket to the White House. For me personally however, this one is a doozy.

At this point, some of you might point out that The Stranglers supported Margaret Thatcher. To you, I say this; The Stranglers were crap. Some others might say that a life long Republican lurked among the Ramones. Proof I suggest that self-loathing, male prostitution, and rampant glue sniffing does have it’s down side.

Although it might seem like the antithesis of punk to suggest that someone is “doing it wrong”, the words “conservative” and “punk” no more belong in the same sentence as “Rumsfeld” and “keeps his job” do. I know that one of the unwritten laws of punk is to shock, but this is taking things out of the realm of the theater of the absurd and putting them in to plain ridiculous. It’s a bit hard to proclaim that “I am the antichrist” when you support the policies of the Christian fundamentalist Right.

Conservatism as currently formulated is all about obedience, acceptance of norms, and the forcible imposition of one’s will, be it on the Iraqis overseas or a woman’s body at home. Punk on the other hand is about rebellion, challenging blind authority, and the expression of individualism. It would be exclusionary to say that conservatives have no right to like punk music, if only because their own musicians are such a sorry lot (fancy cutting a rug to a bit of Gary Numan, Phil Collins, or a huge swath of commercial country music, anyone?) but to attempt to misappropriate a slice of popular culture so intrinsically at odds with their politics is breathtaking.

I’m not one to indulge in petty personal invective so I’ll refrain from pointing out that most teen and twenty something right-wingers are pompous, friendless, and sexually maladjusted twats. These people are the Glen Matlocks of popular culture. However, just picture what might have happened if this conservative punk movement had been in at the start of the phenomena. I’m having a great time picturing them pogoing in chinos, gobbing down the front of each other’s button down shirts, and shouting, “turn it down!” at the stage. A selection of classic punk recordings might have been radically different too:

“Contra” by the Clash
“God Save the Queen (With no Sarcasm Intended)”
“Teenage Kicks (As a Form of Abstinence)”
“I Wanna Be Sedated (Hook Me Up Limbaugh)”
“Factory in Cambodia”

Oh God, please stop me; the nightmare of conservative punks has turned me temporarily into Weird Al Yankovic.

Supporting Bush might well mean no future but I’ve always taken Johnny Rotten’s nihilistic ranting to be a primal scream against entrenched power, not a celebration of it. Since the outset, punk has rejected some of the more woolly aspects of political liberalism but to assume that should lead to an embrace of polar opposite right wing values is to follow a logical blind alley. The punk ethos is more akin to the words of 17th Century English radical Oliver Cromwell, who proclaimed that “I do not know what I would have, but I know what I would not.”

Is this a sign of the apocalypse? I’m not sure yet, but don’t be surprised if Karl Rove morphs a picture of Sid and Nancy onto the deck of that infamous aircraft carrier for use in future campaign commercials.

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