Friday, 9 April 2010

Empowering the Misfit.

News of Malcolm Maclaren, the Godfather of Punk's, death this morning generating a string of almost disbelieving tributes to his legacy and vision. I wonder whether Punk as a force did signify a revolution or whether it's simply a footnote to a greater history of popular culture. I was very young when the Sex Pistols attempted their musical rebellion - opening up a possibility to every teenage misfit in the country to pick up a guitar and have a crack - but remember it distantly as an uprising, full of the anticipation of something different. Perhaps the fact it wasn't The Bee Gees or The Wombles was enough? Certainly in that first wave the comforting familiarity of the music and lyrics mattered much less than the attitude and energy.

There's a popular myth that suggests that the excessive threat of the movement helped Margaret Thatcher to be elected in 1979. A form of cultural clampdown, but the reality was that the anarchy of The Pistols, links back to The nihilism of the New York Dolls and the Dadaists' angry rejection of a structure. As in previous generations an overcrowded deck was unsentimentally swept away, allowing a new talent: The Clash, The Jam, Elvis Costello, The Smiths etc. etc room to establish. The legacy is there.

Sometimes I'm overally critical of the acceptance that our students seem to have of the world in which they live. Perhaps I'm over romantic about rebellion and wonder why it's stopped being attractive? Perhaps our students have a more sophisticated maturity than I mustered but I do get concerned that occasionally they don't feel that they are important enough to challenge orthodox opinion.

What Punk championed was the idea that culture wasn't just for the rich and beautiful - that one group or class didn't have to control expressive behaviour. I still think that somewhere in the back of your mind it's healthy to be a punk; to remember that conformity isn't necessary and to understand that it's okay to do something about your boredom.

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