Haunted by the Spirit of ’77: PunkStudies and the Persistence of Politics
The contemporary punk scene(s) are today comprised of an enormous spectrum of musical, subcultural, institutional and political practices, many of them only tangentially linked to one another by historical and geographical antecedents. Yetdespite some attempts to acknowledge and explore this musical and subculturaldiversity, academic accounts of the movement have remained largely unchanged sincethe advent of punk scholarship in the late 1970s. While frequently structured as arejection of earlier approaches, punk scholars since the 1980s have continued toreiterate many of the same assumptions which characterized the initial work in theﬁeld: assumptions about resistance, subversion and political radicalism.Punk, remarks Roger Sabin (1999, p. 2) in a recent anthology on the movement, is a‘notoriously amorphous concept’ to deﬁne. Acknowledging the unresolvedness of certain debates about punk—whether it originated in the United Kingdom or theUnited States, for example, or whether it ‘died’ in 1979 or continues to live on in avariety of current musical trajectories—he ultimately settles on the following workingdeﬁnition:
At a very basic level, we can say that punk was/is a subculture best characterized aspart youth rebellion, part artistic statement. It had its high point from 1976 to 1979,and was most visible in Britain and America. It had its primary manifestation inmusic—and speciﬁcally in the disaffected rock and roll bands like the Sex Pistols andthe Clash. (Sabin, 1999, p. 2)
Interestingly, although punk may have its primary manifestation in music, Sabindeﬁnes it primarily as ‘youth rebellion’ and ‘artistic statement’ rather than ‘musicalgenre’. That is, while punk remains a clearly identiﬁable musical style—onecharacterized by high energy, three-chord compositions featuring ‘stiff rhythmsections, overampliﬁed guitar and harsh, almost characterless vocals’ (Savage, 1991,p. 295)—Sabin’s anthology approaches it more as a social and cultural movement thana musical one. In fact, the essays in the volume frequently sidestep the question of music altogether in favour of explorations of punk’s inﬂuence on ﬁlm, literature,comics, and everyday behaviour.
Punk Rock: So What?
is conceived as a radical
ISSN 1030-4312 (print)/ISSN 1469-3666 (online)/06/030383-11
2006 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/10304310600814326
Michelle Phillipov is a PhD candidate in the discipline of English at the University of Adelaide, Australia.Correspondence to: Michelle Phillipov, English DP105, School of Humanities, University of Adelaide, AdelaideSA 5005, Australia. E-mail: email@example.com
Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural StudiesVol. 20, No. 3, September 2006, pp. 383–393