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.

Authenticity in media/reality television?

The film Brand New You: Makeover Television and the American Dream, is a documentary by Katherine Sender about reality television in America, specifically the shows that aim to help you ‘better yourself,’ and to be the best version of yourself that you can be. This documentary raises a primary question about the effects that these television programs, as well as other mainstream media sources have on members of our society. This film creates a platform of criticism for shows such as The Biggest Loser, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, What Not to Wear, and The Swan specifically, however it is not limited to these; there are hundreds of shows like these that are in contempt with this documentary. All of these shows share something in common: they all tell us how we should look, how we should feel, what our measurements should be. Overall, shows like these act as blanketed criticism for people all over the country to conform to standards up to par with celebrities or supermodels.

I would argue, to a certain extent that some of these shows have a more positive spin than others, such as The Biggest Loser for example. I have not seen many episodes of this show, however from what I have seen it seemed to be more positive and uplifting for the contestants. The show seemed to be more about the individual members’ goals, and achieving said goals for a stronger sense of self and security. Contrasting that with a show like The Swan, however offers a very different form of reality television. Granted, I have never seen an episode of this show, I am familiar with its premise: generally, an unattractive female is selected and picked apart to “fix” her appearance (with makeup, dress, and even as far plastic surgery) to ‘beautify her’. This show seems to me to be very negative, morally and ethically empty, and fake.

I think that this critique is very valid, and compelling. I know many people are enjoy these shows, and can sit by watching for hours on end. I have never understood the attraction to reality shows, with the possible exception of Pawn Stars, (for some strange reason I love that show) because they are very bare to me. I prefer to avoid media content whose primary goal is to tell me what I should look like, how I should appear, how I should behave, in order to ‘fit in’. Commercial entertainment represents the ideal of authenticity through mass appeal of their notion of ‘beauty’. One of the foremost programs that comes to mind when thinking about authenticity is The Bachelor. This show follows a man with a dozen (maybe more?) women whom he must filter through until he meets his one, true love. It is a bogus display of romance, appearances, and is most certainly not how reality occurs.

Happiness on Facebook?

The constant debate over whether or not social media offers benefits or negative consequences has been around nearly as long as social media itself. Scientists have argued back and forth on the effects that can be incurred by excessive use of online interactions. In particular, Facebook has really accrued a tremendous amount of attention as its popularity is immense. Does Facebook make us happy? Or does it have a contrary effect? I don’t really think that it is so black and white.

NPR refers to a study conducted at the University of Michigan which demonstrates that people are made to feel worse about themselves after seeing a friend post about their own exciting lives. On the opposite end, ThinkProgress.org posted a study from the University of Portsmouth arguing for the positive effects of Facebook, and how seeing a notification and following that link may indeed make you happier. The latter article also focuses a lot on a nostalgia element, and how reminiscing on past events and photos may reduce anxiety and depression; “Yet this research shows we are more likely to use it to connect with our past selves, perhaps when our present selves need reassuring.”

I can certainly agree with the first article, and how if we spend too much time immersed and absorbed in Facebook, it can truly take us out of our own lives and away from physical people around us. When spending time with friends or family, we can become so focused on the digital world to connect to people who are not with us, while when we eventually do join their physical presence, we may try to interact with the people whom we have just left; I myself have found myself in a cycle in which I am constantly trying to catch up with people who I am not around, instead of the opposite.

With that in mind however, I think it is also very important to look at the other side. The latter article, arguing for the importance of connecting with our past selves, brings up some valid points as well. I use the application “Timehop”, which is very popular in both the Google Play Store, as well as the App Store. This app filters through social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and shows you the items that you have posted on this day last year, two years ago, etc. It is really exciting to see a post that you posted in the past, and how different things are. Seeing how much growth you have overcome, physically or emotionally, is really fascinating.

Lastly, the other benefits that Facebook, as well as other social media have to offer, is exactly what it was made for: connecting people. My sister, who I am very close to, lives in Los Angeles, California. We love catching up on life, movies, and any exciting events going on. Facebook offers a platform on which we can quickly interact, to briefly discuss a recent film we saw, or to share nostalgic, as well as sometimes embarrassing photos with friends and family. It is by no means a replacement to physical and tangible relationships, but when those are not always possible, it is definitely welcome.