Authenticity in the punk subculture.

In my few run-ins with the references to punks, they have almost all been referred to with a negative connotation. The first image that comes to mind is a grownup angrily fuming about a punk that just destroyed his or her personal belonging or something to that effect. This essay, Authenticity in Culture, Self, and Society by Philip Lewin and J. Patrick Williams attempts to look at authenticity, and how it is represented by the potentially misunderstood subculture of ‘punks’.

One of the first elements that the authors address is the notion of a romantic ideal of authenticity. This refers to the manner in which punks work towards their own individual authenticities. It originated in the eighteenth century during the Enlightenment Period. Romantics are generally much more open to emotion, and expression, and following “your inner voices and resist the pressures and callings of society”. A widespread belief amongst punks is to “stay true to yourself”, but to also allow room for growth. There is an implicit preference for being, over doing.

Initially, capitalism was a framework that provided individuals with motivation to reach meaningful heights, professionally, or even at home. The rise in industry has moved individuals to stray away from the social norms of behavior, appearance and dress and to question these norms. These people, punks, aim to avoid patterns and function in their own unique ways.

The authors seemed somewhat skeptical of the punk subculture, and of their quest for authenticity, however performed studies to discover more about the group. The studies involved a wide variety of individuals. These people were anywhere from eighteen to twenty-seven years old, and could belong to any group, regardless of religious or political affiliations, or class backgrounds. The two authors described that most were lower-to-middle class, and were either agnostic or atheist (although they later refer to a Christian punk). The studies consisted of participant observations during five months in 2004, as well as five months in 2007 through 2008. They also conducted twenty in-depth interviews with both men and women.

The concern and search for authenticity in the punk subculture is really demonstrated by their unyielding attempts to resist mainstream culture, and avoid falling into systems of thought, actions and beliefs shared by millions of others. Punks believe that by following the guidelines of society, they are not being authentic, and true to themselves. The authors do in fact question how authentic the punk subculture is however, as they have constructed a concept of authenticity that, in itself, relies on commitment to ideals and principles, much like mainstream society.

These principles, which are outlined by the authors, do not seem to be outlined as an actual guide for punks but offer insight on authenticity. The authors describe the process with rejection, reflexivity, and self-actualization. Rejection challenges punks to reject the influence of mainstream socialization, however it does require situational relevance; you cannot blindly reject everything. You must create your own viewpoints, and based on your personal ideologies, decide if you want to reject something or not. Next is reflexivity, which pushes punks to stop trying to be someone, and just be who you are. Your personal self that you believe to be authentic must occur organically, without outside influences. Finally, self-actualization is to create your own personal guidelines, or commitments based on your own ideologies and abide by this individual system of beliefs and values.

There are certain problems within consumerism, commodification, and materialism that potentially conflict with the ideologies of being a punk. Being a punk is not about being something or someone that you aren’t, but would prefer to be. It is about being who you are. One of the interviewees, Dickie describes a real scenario that he encountered in which he reacted strongly towards young high school females. They were all at a punk show, and Dickie suspected that they were there to appear punk, which immediately lacked the basic and underlying understanding of punk ideology. His argument is that they aren’t real, they haven’t exhibited this lifestyle to actually live it, they just went out as consumers, and purchased material items to create a punk façade, which to him is “bullshit”.  This is difficult however, because who are we-as individuals-to judge others’ realness and fakeness? Other informants offered different approaches to authenticity that I preferred immensely: one’s sense of self should emerge organically through a process of active, personal creation.

Here is a an interesting video about authenticity. It does not refer specifically to the punk subculture, but definitely covers material that the chapter addresses, in a quick and efficient manner.

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