Back in high school, I would listen to “I Am a Poseur,” the X-Ray Spex song, with absolute fascination. Here was the frontwoman of one of the crucial bands of the punk era saying that this is all a facade. The irony is that it wasn’t. Poly Styrene was the real deal, someone who started a band just because she thought she could. She was a feminist icon for the weird teenagers of my generation, kids who came up in the age of Riot Grrrl.
This song was running through my head when I looked through the photos from the Met Ball that’s celebrating punk or something like that. Those images from last night championed the facade. That’s it.
I don’t make any claims of being punk rock. In fact, I once wrote an essay for Razorcake explaining why I’m not a punk. Essentially, I have a lot of connections to that world, but was never an active participant in it. Despite that, punk has been a huge personal influence. It’s influenced the feminist ideologies that I still hold dear. It had a huge impact on my career choices. My first clips came from the pages of zines like Flipside, Razorcake and Punk Planet and that comic I write now is an absolute DIY effort. Punk is so much more than Sarah Jessica Parker’s mohawk hat. It is Vivienne Westwood’s Bradley Manning badge, but maybe some people didn’t get that.
But, here’s the weird thing about the photos from last night’s Met Ball. It’s not about punk. Everyone with a grasp of that movement will tell you this. It is, however, more relevant to 2013 than actual punk is. That’s what is really pathetic about this whole thing.
We live in an age of reblogged Tumblr photos stripped of any context, of Instagrammed selfies that garner no comments other than “Oh, you’re so cute,” because they tell no story. You can call yourself goth because you wear all black. No one cares if you own a Bauhaus record or not. You can poise yourself as Mr./Ms. Rave even if you have no idea where the next underground party is. And you can apply a few safety pins to your dress and be punk even if you can’t identify a single political event referenced in a Clash song. Scenes don’t exist just as fashion. Youth culture doesn’t exist just as fashion. Every major movement– punk included— has been part music, part fashion, part art, part literature, part politics. Take away one aspect and you have nothing. That doesn’t matter anymore, though, because every smart-ass retort that peppered songs by X-Ray Spex, The Sex Pistols, et. al. has apparently been taken literally. Poseurs and pretty vacants, that’s about all the Met Ball got right.