“Destruction is a vaguely interesting artistic concept, but it was always the most bullshit, easy-out aspect of punk. Personally, punk empowered me to create, not destroy.” – OBSERVER MUSIC (Tim Sommer • 03/25/16)
This week saw Joe Corre, son of punk fashion pioneers Malcolm Mclaren and Vivienne Westwood, set fire to the first of many pieces of highly-valued punk heritage artefacts (the rest is due to be burnt this coming weekend), claiming that it is the ‘ideas that are important, not the memorabilia’. According to Corre, “it’s time we threw it all on the fire and started again”. This somewhat postmodernist and Foucauldian stance opposes the canonised histories and nostalgia that have evolved around Punk, which he feels defy the ethos of the movement and render it commercialised, and ultimately a nod to the McDonaldisation of society. He also claims that Punk is dead, with the exception of political activists Pussy Riot.
This article examines the public reaction to setting alight such examples of culturally and economically valued heritage and how this act arguably keeps a flame burning for the original ethos of Anarchy.
Social Media Reactions:
Johnny Rotten’s lyric, ‘I am an anarchist’, on the Sex Pistols first single in 1976 , “helped to cement the link between punk and anarchism within the popular imagination” (Dunn, 2012, p201-202). Anarchy should not however be seen as “just a symbolic affectation or fashion accessory”, but a “perpetual struggle against hierarchies of all kind”. With this in mind, Corre’s act of rebellion is against subcultural consumerism, and “the co-option of punk’s legacy by the establishment” (which bizarrely saw the Queen give her blessing for 2016 being the official year of Punk) and a series of authorised heritage events, which the man in question deems to have turned punk into a ‘museum piece’ or ‘tribute act’. In an era of austerity and global economic crisis that simultaneously values music history as playing an important part in our cultural identities, this move hasn’t gone down well in mainstream and social media. Similarly to KLF’s outrageous act of burning £1,000,000 in the nineties, it is generally seen as futile. Because of KLF’s previous stunt, it has also been labeled ‘old hat’.
The music industry’s tendency for constant reinterpretation or reinvention of the musical past, “goading the consumer towards either outright rejection or nostalgia” (Gendron) and cultural and heritage industries’ mediation of “the memories people attach to popular music from the past” (Arno van der hoeven, 2014, p4) is as evident in Punk as in any other genre, with the “resurgence of heritage” having an “economic rather than a culturalsocial or political” role (Kong, 1999, p3). This can be seen in fashion branding’s use of vintage rock T-shirts, with Kardashians sporting Slayer tops simply because they are on trend, and shops like H&M cashing in on the once meaningful cultural capital of yesteryear.
The Queen’s salute to Punk seems an extension of this. Punk has become a commodity with which to promote Britain, and the complete antithesis of what it stood for in its origin. These are examples of a “‘canon’ that threatens to overwrite or homogenise what might be perceived in contrast as the organically homespun authority of vernacular memory” (Roberts, L & Cohen, R, 2013, p3) and Corre seems adamant in reminding the commercial bodies that govern the concepts of legacy of what is at the heart of Punk: the ideas, rather than the objects. The political and cultural dissent of Corre’s ‘Bonfire of Vanity’ has been documented, and that in itself is as powerful as the artefacts in a museum which the vast majority of people would never see anyway.
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