I’m not a terribly opinionated person these days. That is a change in me from my punk rock roots.
This isn’t to say that I don’t have opinions, because of course I do. But the fiery, I’m right and you’re stupid brand of egotism that sometimes reared its head in me as a punk rocker are less of an issue with me now. One reason is the realization that I’m not always right, and there may be ways of approaching issues differently that are effective. And the ongoing ridiculousness of punk rock is another.
I’ve always enjoyed the punk scene, the various bands and groups that have passed through my life. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from being involved, and I’ll always be glad that I was. But I needed a small group of dedicated and fun people, which I got in the contained scenes in which I was involved. The punk scene was what me and my friends were doing, not a movement or a subculture or a music magazine. Most of my friends were a part of it, we did most of the work and had most of the fun, and everyone knew everyone else. Often more intimately than was sensible or hygienic. Anytime I ventured into the broader subculture, I was appalled and annoyed. I didn’t get the flag waving, the fashion silliness, the divisions. (Apparently neither did anyone else: indie rock became emo, hardcore became metal. People ask me what my band sounded like and I throw up my hands and scream, “I don’t know!”)
Punk rock was the protest of my friends, and in a small way maybe the protest of my generation. The bands we liked did songs about sexism, capitalism, and gender identity. But somewhere the political expressions of a small group of sincere, silly kids became something like a movement. It crossed paths with the evil hydra of political protest, and went careening into hell.
One large reason for this is that people fall into these little offshoots of pop culture when they don’t do a very good job of fitting into the broader society. Some people form a critique of aspects of their social structure, and decide it isn’t for them. Some simply fail their way into whatever group is too nice or open to kick them out. As is pointed out to my hero Homer Simpson, in any other country they would have starved to death long ago.
So, the reason for this train of thought: I was approached by a gaggle of punk rockers at the bus stop as I was trying to get my kids moving. They asked me for money for the bus. I’m a nice guy, I had a few quarters, so I gave it to them. I wanted to point out, though, that it isn’t anti-capitalist to beg money for the bus from guys who have kids, based on the assumption that they are not poor like you. It’s just that I am doing the capitalist slaving for them. So instead of wasting their precious time being enslaved to the man, my enslavement to the man allows them to ride the bus in addition to allowing my kids to eat. (Technically, I work for myself, kinda. So the man referred to is me. But still.)
I knew a ton of these people when I was more involved with the political world. They lived off of food stamps or disability, and spent their days railing against the system and trying to pick up college girls. Which is fine. (MORE than fine.) But once you fail severely at being a part of the system, you lose credibility when you attack it. I always liked the former big shot businessman who quits and works as an organizer. All six or seven of them that have ever existed.
We need people to challenge the problems of this society. But we need sincerity and self awareness from these people in order for anything real to happen. I see so little of that that I cannot be involved in any way with people that, ostensibly, I agree with. Which says something unfortunate about the state of activism today, or about Americans today.
One big problem is the romanticism of the movement. People protest wars and injustice as though there is something good in it. There isn’t. I would very much like it if there were no problems, and no protests. That is the ideal state of being. If things are bad enough that we must do something about it, that isn’t nice: it’s merely necessary. You almost get the sense that these people are happy that problems exist, so they can protest and fight. I am against unregulated business polluting our environment and paying us crap because that is bad for us. I’m not happy to be against it. It isn’t good that we have to even have the conversation! When it becomes a lifestyle, we’re in a weird area.
I feel about political awareness the same way I do about violence. I don’t like it, I wish it didn’t exist, but I do my duty to my friends and family if I am threatened. Choosing to ignore it and fetishizing it are both poor options, to my mind.
(PS Edit: I have corrected a million things in this post, any more typos just have to be accepted. Or protested!)