David Mandl on Sun, 10 Dec 2006 08:15:40 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Sodom Blogging - "Alternative porn" and aesthetic

On Dec 9, 2006, at 4:43 PM, Florian Cramer wrote:

> Am Donnerstag, 07. Dezember 2006 um 12:25:42 Uhr (-0800) schrieb
> lotu5@resist.ca:
>> Is your point about punk being dominated by heterosexual white men ignoring
>> bands like Crass? The Penis Envy album with heavy feminist themes, came out
>> in 1981, the same year as the Slime album you quote.
> You can even further go back in punk history to The Slits, an all- woman
> feminist band founded in 1976. There were non-white punk bands, too, like the
> Bad Brains. But, to use a German proverb, those artists were rather the
> exceptions that prove the rule. Punk was and continues  to be dominated by
> white males just like hip hop is dominated by black  males - dominated, not
> monopolized.

*Rock music* (not just seventies punk) is dominated by white males.   
But the number of women involved in the original U.K. punk scene was  
very very high by historical standards.  The Slits, the Delta 5, the  
Raincoats, Kleenex, and the Marine Girls are just a few well-known  
names that come to mind.  X-Ray Spex and Essential Logic were both  
fronted by extremely strong women who didn't fit the standard rock- 
chick stereotypes at all.  There were also plenty of U.S. punk bands  
with female members or majorities (the no wave bands, the Bush  
Tetras, Talking Heads), and most of these women were also very much  
working against rock gender stereotypes, without necessarily making a  
big thing about it.

Things have obviously changed, but it's a mistake to ignore that this  
ever happened--particularly in the U.K., where what is generally  
called the "post-punk" scene (~'78-'81) was quite radical in just  
about every way, including its sexual politics.

>> I'm no punk history expert, jsut clarifying and trying to avoid smothering
>> difference for the sake of argument... I mean, clearly  some punks were more
>> than just dressed up as leftist.
> In the 1970s, some punks also dressed up with swastikas. What might  havebeen
> an anti-establishment provocation in England (with its  particular history of
> fighting Germany in WWII), was taken much more literally in other parts of
> Europe. In most European countries, the late 1970s/ early 1980s punk scene
> was mixed left-wing, right-wing and nihilist until it broke up into
> predominantely right-wing skinheads and predominantly left-wing punks.
> To my knowledge, the situation was different in America where punk apparently
> was on the political left from the beginning on. In Europe, it was posing
> against the hippie movement, took pride in its political incorrectness and
> considered the term "alternative" an insult.  American punk on the other
> hand, like American counterculture in general,  seemed to be "alternative"
> from the beginning on and conceived of itself more in continuity of 1960s
> protest movements.

I disagree.  British punk was far more political, and specifically  
leftist or anarchist.  A lot of this was subtle (though very clear  
IMO), but the politics were often quite explicit.  I'm thinking of  
U.K. punk's direct ties to anti-racist groups, the Raincoats doing  
songs with blatantly "feminist" themes, Poly Styrene singing "Oh  
Bondage, Up Yours!" etc.  Most explicitly right-wing punk bands that  
were active in the U.K. at the time (were there more than a couple?)  
were insignificant and pretty much unknown.

The first wave of New York punk bands, like the Ramones and the  
Heartbreakers, had at best no politics.  While Mayo Thompson was (for  
better or worse) working with marxist hyper-intellectuals Art and  
Language in London, the patron saints of N.Y.'s "Punk" magazine were  
the Three Stooges (not that I have against against them).  The N.Y.  
punk scene became less backward-looking later on (with no wave,  
etc.), but I strongly disagree with the claim that it was "on the  
political left from the beginning."

Also, about the claim in the original article that punk was  
"dominated by heterosexual white men--nursing its resentments of the  
poly-sexual, gay-dominated and multi-ethnic disco culture," again,  
this was far less true in the U.K.  There, disco elements, and  
especially non-white elements, were an influence pretty early on,  
most obviously via reggae (much more marginal then than now).  U.S.  
punk was much more white and flamingly hetero, at least for the first  
few years.

I wouldn't trust Spike Lee's take on white American punk-rockers any  
more than I'd trust Johnny Ramone's take on American black culture.   
Lee's portrayal of a white punk in "Summer of Sam" was pretty  
confused and in some ways laughably inaccurate.



Dave Mandl

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