Though I have my misgivings about Ireland’s ‘paper of record’ The Irish Times, I still read a lot of it online, and have often linked articles to it. I suppose it is a bit of a love/hate relationship. I cancelled my subscription to them last year, for two reasons. One was their skewed, vested-interested reporting on the housing market (the paper owns the property website myhome.ie, and garner a large amount of their revenue from their own property pages). The second reason was their frankly ‘guilty until proven innocent’ coverage of the (exonerated) Jobstown protesters last year. Even after the not-guilty verdict, the Times insinuated that the defendants use of social media affected the trial. Bear in mind that this was a kangaroo court set up to demonise protesters, and undermine the right to assembly. The case was littered with holes in the prosecution’s story, and it was evident that the Gardai were lying about the events of the day. Yet the Times still joined in the establishment’s narrative against Paul Murphy and the other accused (just as Ryan Tubridy did on national television, which I mentioned here).
But on the flip side, there are still many excellent writers working for the paper, and many of their articles and editorials are written to fine journalistic and linguistic standards. Chief among those writers is political commentator Fintan O’Toole. While I don’t always agree with his pieces, they are always eloquent and well-crafted. He’s a writer to aspire to. Which brings me to this thought-provoking piece he wrote last week, and brings me to, yes, an link to the Irish Times. I think there are a lot of interesting points in the article, particular as it progresses. But I have to argue with the underlying analogy – likening Brexit to the British Punk cultural revolution of the late 1970s.
The mention of punk in general does conjour up images of anti-authoritarianism and a reckless, carefree existence. For many, if may even evoke stereotypes of nihilism, hooliganism, and self-harm. And these are indeed stereotypes. It is true that punk is anti-establishment. Many punks are anarchists, which is in itself a misconstrued term. Anarchism is about collective and cooperative living without a central authority, not a violent mob-rule mentality that the tabloids and other right-wing (and centrist) institutions would have you believe. While many in the punk community do subscribe to the anarchist philosophy, many more are communists, socialists, or environmentalists. In my experience, not many are neoliberals. I have personally yet to meet a hedge-fund manager at a punk gig. There is (more like was) a small far-right movement that co-opted the punk image during the 1980s. They even stole the phrase skinhead, a style originally associated with dub-reggae culture, not with far-right thugs. The inimitable Jello Biafra told them where to get off.
Speaking of image, one doesn’t need to have a mohawk or wear ox-blood docs to be a punk. The term itself is about a mindset, not about fashion*. It doesn’t mean you have to glue Discharge’s Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing to your turntable (as the legend goes – does anybody know of anyone who actually did this?). Punk is about being open-minded, about having a social conscience. About giving a shit. About respect, about community. It’s anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobe. And it’s about being conscious of the world around you, both in your local community, your town, your country, and in the world in general. If you want evidence of that, check out a local punk gig. I can confidently assert that the people you will find there will be much more politically aware and active than the crowd that you will find at your average mainstream rock or pop concert. Come to think of it, I’m not sure there is any genre of music where you could guarantee such social awareness and activism among those in attendance.
Because of all this, I must strongly disagree with the venerable Mr O’Toole on his comparing punks to Brexiteers. He does a disservice to punks by labelling them as being self-destructive and reckless. All while mentioning John Lydon in the piece, a man who openly supported the Remain vote (though it is noted that the erstwhile Johnny Rotten has acknowledged the referendum result and supports it). Also mentioned in the article are The Clash, who were fronted by my personal greatest hero in all of punk, the late Joe Strummer. I would venture that the great multiculture advocate Joe must be spinning in his grave with how divided his native England has become. I’m sure he wouldn’t have voted Leave. And I’m sure he would have reacted to Boris Johnson’s use of the Clash’s London Calling in the same way that Johnny Marr reacted to David Cameron claiming to be a Smiths fan**.
I should acknowledge at this point there were some on the left, no doubt punks included, that did vote to leave Europe. These were a minority on Leave side however, and their motivations were completely different from those who followed the anti-immigrant and bogus ‘save the NHS’ campaign. I myself am a Eurosceptic (I was very active in campaigning against the Lisbon Treaty. Twice), but still don’t advocate for leaving the union. I think the positives outweigh the negatives. But that is a discussion for another day.
In the end, despite being a misunderstood, mislabelled, and often vilified subculture, punk is most certainly not dead. Nor is it misinformed, self-destructive, or nihilistic. It is very much alive and well, the already iconic Idles*** are testament to that. I have met many amazing people and formed many friendships at punk gigs over the years. And long may that continue. Next week, evergreen street-punk pioneers GBH return to Dublin to play a gig with local legends Paranoid Visions (pictured). Hope to see you there.