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The Punk Rock Movement | Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3206 words Published: 3rd Jul 2018

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More than a quarter century ago the punk, hippie, mod and skinhead movement had an enormous impact and played an integral part of popular music along with the social messages and persuasive tactics that they used to gain popularity of their movement. This has been an attempt to gain attention of our society to engage in the issues at hand on a global scale. The strategies that were implemented played a vital role in the punk rock movement and gained legitimacy through its use of coactive and extremely confrontational tactics. These extreme tactics ultimately gained attention to bring about social change and to resist the status quo.

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It has been said that the punk rock movement is “an association of people that serve to refute social attitudes that have been perpetuated through willful ignorance of human nature.” (Graffin, 2010) Greg Graffin considers himself the poster boy for the punk rock movement that started in the 1970’s. Graffin is the lead singer of the world famous punk bank Bad Religion, one of the most influential bands connected to the punk rock movement. The punk rock movement started between 1974 and 1976 in the United States, The United Kingdom and Australia as a youth movement through music against mainstream society.

They created fast hard-edged music and the songs were usually short and very often politically motivated with an anti-establishment theme. The punk rock movement’s ethic was DIY (do it yourself).The punk rock movements in these countries had varying histories and cultures of their own but their messages held a similar goal; that of freedom to express their discontent and concerns. The punk rock movement spread quickly around the world and became a major cultural phenomenon which characterized anti-authoritarian ideologies, youthful rebellion and were characterized by a very distinctive style of clothing.

When our ancestors first migrated to cities and started very distinctive societies which were basically from the dawn of human history, certain issues have inevitably plagued all civilizations. Many predicaments such as war, famine and disease have all been an integral part in changing the ebb and flow of history. As VanDorston (2001) explains, many of the most significant movements and revolutions in our history have occurred because the less fortunate, poor and downtrodden masses were forced to tolerate, bear and deal with unreasonable and cruel measures as a result of the corrupt establishment which played a major part in the punk rock movement as well and this will be pointed out in my analysis.

The British punk rock movement was very different and distinctive than the American punk rock movement and came about because of the social environment at the time. After the end of World War II Britain was in economic despair and the people were extremely dissatisfied. There were many immigrants, a huge unemployment rate and an overall declining economy which also led to racial tensions and ultimately race riots. This background created an atmosphere of discontent and along with restlessness the emergence of the punk rock movement evolved. The Sex Pistols flourished in this new scene and they had huge following of fans and inspired members of future bands such as the Clash. The Sex Pistols with their style of dress and performance set the tone for the entire punk rock movement in Britain and they became an overnight sensation. The most important contribution to the punk rock movement was their condemnation of society and their anti-establishment views such as their anthem “Anarchy in the U.K.

This was very different than the American punk rock movement which began with The Ramones who sang mostly about the issues of the youth. In the dark era of the United States, the Ramones came of age. The Vietnam War was ending after more than a decade of fighting a vicious war that the punk rock movement detested. As a result, there were many demonstrations one of the worst which was when race riots erupted on a college campus. Kent State and the National Guardsmen shot and killed four protesting students. Along with the Watergate scandal during President Nixon’s reign he was forced to resign which left our nation disgraced. The violence and social unrest at home just inspired a stronger punk rock movement and it confirmed their feelings that it was a time of change as the government was certainly not working on behalf of the people.

Very early in the twentieth century i.e. 1905, a mass media developed and began to expend, punk rock music became an increasingly admired and popular mode of influence and communication. In an effort to make the punk rock movement heard, the confrontational tactics and strategies used brought about social change but not without resistance. Taking into account that even trough social movements were separated by geography, time and style of music, the next to the last messages sounded across these boundaries to establish and enact change and reform by using these persuasive tactics.

During this time, labor disputes were coming to a boiling point which was predicated by low wages, despicable working conditions and extremely oppressive management. Some working class Americans lacked their own means of production and was thus turning to radical groups like the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). By 1908 the IWW was also commonly referred to as the Wobblies and their message was to spread the message through the contents of their songs e.g. Little Red Song Book and they wrote intense ballads of revolt and then would print the words and music. They would then get them out to the public for a small fee by spreading the words and raising much needed funds to continue to influence their movement in order to make an impact. The Wobblies strongly encouraged and advocated a massive class war that would then end with the entire overthrow of the petty bourgeois or better known as the middle class.

The IWW’s ideas, objective and goals were to encourage radical revolution suggesting that the “working folk of all countries” gain solidarity and unite against their oppressors and be “together as one” for the “world and its wealth.” Political and economic issues were not enough for punk rockers to revolt against therefore they revolted against anything and everything. They even rebelled against their very name “punk” which implied that the movement was worthy only of ridicule. All of culture, all of living, all of reality was complete garbage in their eyes. Punk rock music was a reckless, atonal beat with in comprehendible monotone vocals that the sad and misunderstood youth of America and Europe could voice their troubles. Their style of dance “pogo” now “moshing” was merely jumping straight up and down like a stick. It was basically a non-dance.

One thing is certain; punk rockers were and still are staunch non conformists. They didn’t just embrace convention instead they turned it upside down as well as inside out. For instance, instead of dying their hair unusual but safe shades, they went for absurd, bizarre and unnatural colors like pink or green. Their out of the ordinary haircuts, many tattoos and piercings, and excessive use of leather all collaborate to make one interesting and controversial combination. In reality, punk rockers were amongst the original to truly acquire the ‘modern Primitive’ idea.

All in all, the punk rock movement has aged quite well. While it saw its peak of success in the late ’70s as well as early ’80s, just as the hippie movement, it got displaced, but has never really gone away. Today, punk rock bands are still there who continue making music in the original style, and it’s not awfully strange to see somebody walking around with a spiked Mohawk haircut. The more modern Gothic movement, with its own visual ethic of pale white skin and dark black hair and clothing, has taken the terrible desperation to another, even more fatalistic level. Goths are more concerned in calmer nihilistic poetry than the gratuitous anarchy of Punk Rock, although they share countless ideals. Even though the IWW’s goals and their militant messages ultimately led to their decline because of troubles with the government the struggle for economic and social equality has continued to this day through its absence.

The history of the United States and Europe has certainly been an account of social movements striving for emancipation, fairness, non conformism, and a less biased social system. Institutions and movements address and sometimes repress the discontent to sustain the system already in place. Social movements such as the punk rock form to tackle a variety of causes: to end military battles, to conserve the environment, to acquire human rights, to question abortion, and to regulate the power of commercial, legislative, spiritual, and educational bureaucracies. Disagreements over ethical, religious, social, political, and economic ideals stimulate social movements and counter movements (Haenfler, 2004). Globalization and the constantly increasing availability of technological means of communication have assisted social movements to counter perceived threats to identity, principles, and culture.

A variety of theories have tried to elaborate on the emergence, climax and decline of the Punk rock movement. They often try to explain the ways in which they attempted to bring about or resist social change, how the protagonists believed they were advocating for positive social change and how they gained legitimacy through their movement strategies. The punk rock movement as discussed came about due to political and general societal differences within the Caucasian societies. During the post war period, it is apparent that the government sought to take control of the entire system with strict bureaucratic legislations to all citizens. The youth mostly were hardly hit with harsh laws placed upon the education system. Many affected youth and activists in general were unhappy and coalesced to form the Punk rock movement and change the status quo. This community hit the ground running with demonstrations and strikes against the government and most of the issues they raised were felt by many. This connection caused the movement to increase its fan base and therefore grew to become a force to be reckoned with.

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Haenfler (2004) argues that the movement used various ways to deliver their messages, these include; bombs, vandalism, theft, kidnappings not to mention their striking mode of dressing. The government rejected violence as a way of communication, but sought co-operation with protagonists and other activists who preferred aggressive and violent protests. To thousands of hippies around the United States, they personified revolution. They were able to appeal to thousands of youth and to understand the disappointment and frustration many of them felt. Above all, they signified unyielding defiance and resistance in the face of prejudice, discrimination and repression. The groups believed that they were doing more good than wrong. This is true in a sense that they actively conveyed their issues but the mode in which they did was somewhat questionable with violent killings and processions around America and Europe.

Charles (2001) reveals how these punks used dangerous drugs to symbolize “life in the moment” and their self destructive, narcissistic attitudes. Straight edge emerged relatively early in the punk scene and has shared certain values and styles with punks, hippies, and skins ever since. While some punks today are similar, the two scenes have become relatively distinct, and the movement has replaced many of the original antisocial punk values with pro social ideals.

With the decline of the movement, the punk lifestyle lived on to date with many youth around the globe still imitating the dressing and attitude without the violence. Cooper (2010) confirms that the punk music and lifestyle has led to the birth of numerous rock bands like Blink 182 and Sum41 which adapted much of their essence and style from the likes of Ramones (Charles, 2002). These bands have adopted the softer nature of these earlier bands contrary to other bands which have adopted a harder more grunge genre e.g. Avenged sevenfold (VanDorston,2001) It would have been thought that the movement would lead to a literary historical account but on the contrary led to a lifestyle many today follow. This movement cannot be compared to those such as the Civil rights movement, the Feminist movement, and the Environment movement because it was in particular a more romanticized movement as compared to most. It did not seek redress and change like the others but simply was an avenue for youth to vent out their anger and in turn be themselves.

The Punk movement to date has successfully provided a hypothetical structure which challenges the organization of Western capitalism and completely inverts all logic as the conventional understands. But not only did the Punk movement challenge all forms of traditional institutions such as government and religion they also had their own culture, values, structure and attitudes (Cooper, 2010). They sought to unearth the world in its natural state without the fraud and ideology of the parent culture. Punk culture and technique was highly arranged and consistent. Rock music provided the opportunity to reinforce Punk ideologies and clubs provided a place to come together. The music translates the clothing style; it is raucous, untidy and focuses on the underlying message and rhythm rather than the obvious chords. The music demonstrates a longing for change, it demands not to live as an entity in the conformist world but rather to live as a subject of history and yet feel that DIY ideology can make a difference.

On the contrary, the punk culture has still been largely accused of conforming to the conventional with bands such as Sex pistol and Clash reaching the top of contemporary billboard charts. Punks do not bluntly reject capitalism, they particularly how it’s become ‘mass culture’ and lost its sense of skill and hard work. They want to go back to character, authenticity and truth. Thus their focus on authenticity both places the individual front and centre and yet negates any individual manifestations of punk identity outside hardcore punk values. From a neutral perspective, there is a contradiction where as Punks pursue authenticity they are setting a criteria for belonging to their subculture and thus discriminating against poseur or inauthentic Punks who have style of dressing but not the cultural sentiment (Charles, 2001). Thus their focus on authenticity both places the individual front and centre and yet negates any individual manifestations of punk identity outside hardcore punk values. But from a Punk perspective this makes sense.

In true DIY norm, Punk culture successfully inverts mainstream hierarchies by placing Punk culture as better than the individual which are in turn both greater than civilization. As soon as any form of Punk culture is taken up by the mainstream the Punks alter themselves and make the mainstream version anti-fashion (VanDorston, 2001). They constantly work to maintain their own unique style. This creates a constant source of legitimacy for the mainstream and at the same time a constant insertion of Punk culture and values into mainstream culture. Staunch Punks argue that being a Punk has allowed them to move past the conventional and experience utter freedom. Punks foster what mainstream civilization rejects. The pursuit for realness is maintained within the movement through internal policing and dialogues.

These mechanisms of observation are enacted through the continual monitoring of dedication of younger and older members by the subculture itself. This is further adopted within individual members as they all believe the movement to symbolize a kind of essence of nature, and yet practice drug abuse, self-mutilation and loathing exhibiting their mortality

From the 2001 book, Persuasion and social movements, Charles explains that the Punk subculture has in fact emulated a subset of the conventional ethics of normal society. The Punk subculture views itself as being outer society while theory informs us that it is rather inside society right at the very epicenter. In this sense, the Punk movement has created a kind of shell’ maintaining modern capitalist systems but without the general cultural aspects of post modern world. This can be confirmed by the levels of power that exist within the punk movement through gender inequality and patriarchy which exists also in the mainstream society for example, female Punks tend to reside only on the periphery of the culture by still living at home with their parents and performing nursing or housekeeping duties for the male Punks who are at the epicenter of the movement (Banshee, 2008). The Punk subculture has cleverly offered a speculative framework which challenges the system of Western capitalism and completely transforms all forms of logic as the society understands it.

It is clear that the society profit from an objective approach to studies and that the inclusion of the social order is essential to gain a more complete picture of the community. Such an approach utilizes a broader scale of available information. It is clear that the punk rock movement has made an impact not only in US and European society but around the globe. The Punk culture contribution to the scholarly community is absolute and they have ‘done it their way’ because in order to analyze various phenomena we cannot help but become involved in it. The Punk movement informs us, from an objective perspective, that the wealthier the data the more we lose our purpose. The Punk subculture is evidence of the numerous assets of data available which can inform theory through an unbiased approach to research.


The punk rock movement is a notable event in our society that has withstood the changes of society. The very ideologies that conceived the entire movement is what still stand to date. Despite the internal mayhem in the punk movement and entire body, punk rock made several things clear to mainstream audiences and observers; punk Rock, in essence successfully managed to break down many barriers of appearance and language. It furthermore has left a mark in the commercial music industry. It provided a fresh substitute to a boring, dormant music industry. Punk rock is inadvertently the mainstream genre of music in America, Europe, Australia and notable parts of Asia and Africa. The look and style together with the doctrines and philosophies of this sub culture have been widely embraced and it has proven to be a tall order to erase it. The punk rock movement is no doubt a force to be reckoned with, not only that but a lifestyle indeed.


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