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Punks on the Left, Punks on the Right
Angie Chamberland • The place of conservatism in punk culture
April 2004

Over the years, the punk culture has been diminished to an MTV-popularized youth movement encompassing both total disregard for politics and unquestioned liberalism. One might assume from the trend of the last decade or so that punk means liberal, that following punk music and aesthetics is incompatible with conservatism. The link between punk and liberalism, however, is now coming into question, as a new surge of conservative punks are creating a disruption in both scenes - punk and politics.

Punk began as a culture of disruption. Ripped shirts, semi-unmelodic music and social disquiet characterized the movement in the early days of the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. Now, the leftist trend in the punk culture is trying to keep its dominant grasp by accusing conservative punks of betraying the culture – of not being “true punks." Conservative punks are fighting against this backlash and working to, in some ways, go back to the roots of punk and keep complacency out of the culture. Some of punk’s oldest and biggest figureheads, such as Johnny Ramone of the Ramones and Michale Graves of the Misfits have been quite vocal about bringing conservative and punk aesthetics and beliefs together, showing that they are not opposed after all. What is opposed to punk is the maintenance of a complacent culture in which everyone agrees politically instead of fighting for what he or she believes in. In other words, punk was always about the style in which one executed the substance, the voice rather than the message.

Looking at a culture so firmly grounded in music, it is easy enough to make this point. While most punk bands in our generation support groups like PunkVoter.com, which promote left-wing politics, this is only a new trend. The early 80s, what most people mark as the “beginning” of punk, show bands such as the Sex Pistols screaming for anarchy and nihilism while the Clash headlined anti-racism events. Saying that there is no room in punk for conservativism is a useless statement that tries to narrow down the politics of a culture that was originally all about upheaval and fighting for one’s cause. And yes, this cause can be conservative.

Conservatives that identify with the punk aesthetic can now feel like they are not the only ones following what some claim to be “contradictory” movements. Forums such as ConservativePunk.com give this emerging demographic a place to discuss conservative issues and the ways in which they work with the punk aesthetic. They have reclaimed the name of punk and made it clear that is it not about following trends, but about making up your own mind about what you believe. And if this leads you to the right wing, so be it.

ConservativePunk.com is not only a useful forum for these issues; it has done much to bring attention to the possibility of bringing punk and conservative politics together. Founder Nick Rizzuto recently landed an article in the New York Times, clarifying the purpose of his website and making a case for its legitimacy.

Hopefully this vocal diversity within the culture promotes discussion of politics in general and encourages more people -- punk, not; old, young; whatever -- to become more involved and “in your face” about the political issues they feel are important. Discontent about the split politics in punk may seem superficial, but it acts to serve the common goal of increasing interest in politics.

With luck, the discussion will force people to become aware of what the issues mean, not just who is telling them to vote how. Politics is no longer for the straightlaced, suit and tie academic but for the masses, and for the subcultures to which they belong.

Angie Chamberland is a freshman in Branford College.


 
 

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