Friday, March 21, 2014

Posers and a History of Punk Expectoration



            The issue of authenticity has been an important aspect of true punk subculture, and none hold posers in higher disdain than punk rockers, whose every goal is to live an anti-establishment non-conformist, in-your-face, sometimes even violent lifestyle in opposition to established norms. Among punk rockers, the pejorative term "poser" has been applied to those who associate only superficially with the openly rebellious punk lifestyle.  Posers adopt the superficial stylistic and fashionable attributes of punk life, like Mohawk haircuts, leather jackets, sneakers, torn clothing, chains and jewelry, while not sharing or understanding any of the real underlying values or philosophy behind punk music.[1]  

            Punk musicians mostly grew up impoverished with limited resources.  Sporting few musical toys and gadgets, they were thoroughly into "out of the box" experimenting with musical sound, melody and intonation, using only the basic instrumentation available to them. Punkers are essentially disinterested in the commercial success of glam rockers and the like, seeking instead an individuality which would promote their political and anti-social views at any cost.  

            For many punk musicians music served as a platform to articulate their dissatisfaction more than an avenue to demonstrate their musical talents.  Many punk musicians were not musically trained because they believed training discouraged creativity, which they preferred over performance accuracy. Also, punk music seemed to welcome spontaneity in the studio and on stage, leading to frequent errors and disharmony. Careful observation and critical listening then were naturally given a back seat to simply trusting one's ideas and freedom of expression "in the moment." 

            All of punk music was influenced by an outright desire of the musicians to break away from the corruption of professionalism, phoniness, and the stylish pretense of the rich and proper. As one writer suggested, the effect of punk music was a blatant “giving the middle finger to the established rulers of society” by breaking away from the social behavior of civility and authority with an in-your-face rejection of their lifestyle: this was the purpose of punk music in a nutshell.  One web site put it this way: "In London, punk was about openly rebelling against a very entrenched class system. The brighter, bolder, and more shocking the clothing, the more of a disturbance it made, the better.”  Examples of punk-in-your-face fashion extremes abound; some bolder examples included T-shirts from a store called SEX (where Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols name originated) with designs "that incorporated the notorious serial killer known as the Cambridge Rapist; Mickey and Minnie Mouse having sex; cowboys [exposing themselves]; and a portrait of Queen Elizabeth [pierced] with a safety pin through her lip. These T-shirts and the styles that they spawned were meant to shock and disturb—and they were definitely successful.”[2]

            The next time you’re in a mall, take a moment to check out the talking, tattooing, piercing and fashion … the posing of middle-class white kids (MCWK) … and ask yourself a question: What is it about this whole 'poser' scene that appeals to the middle class white kid? What is it about the lifestyle of musicians that compels young people to mimic their fashion, customs, language, attitudes and feelings, while missing the real underlying values that they strive to articulate? In light of how clueless young people usually are about the people they've come to idolize, why do they try so hard to imitate only the superficial about them?

            My one and only lesson in punk culture was birthed in Anaheim, California in the early 1980’s, at a nice indoor arena. To describe that night as a rare moment in concert history and indeed, one unlikely to be repeated ever again in the annals of punk lore, would be an understatement.  But the fact that few in attendance that night saw the poignant absurdity in what transpired truly transcends the evening’s fascination for me.  Packed in ecstatic anticipation in front of the stage were myriads of MCWK ... Some of Southern California’s wealthiest ‘teenagers.’  You'd recognize the type immediately: “My daddy is President of PG&E; what does your daddy do?” “Oh, my daddy’s Vice Pres. of Continental Bank, etc.” All decked out in their theatrical and flamboyant poser-punk clothes to worship England's current punk band offerings.

            That night featured the Gang of Four, the Clash and the Buzzcocks, and a few other punk bands whose names I can’t recall. From where I was sitting, the first forty feet in front of the stage had been relegated as the general-frenzy-pit-slamming-see-if-you-can-stay-alive mosh-pit area.  [I would have gone down there but I didn't want to hurt any of the kids].

            Enter the opening British post-punk band The Gang of Four, who come out and start playing through a few songs. You can tell Andy Gill (lead singer) is somewhat distracted, but about what?  After a while I realized that (from the safe seats, when the lights are at the right angle), MCWK in front of the stage are spitting huge honkers of snot and saliva projectiles at him. You can see it sort of spraying through the colored lights at him.  And I'm wondering, "How long is this nonsense going to be tolerated?" After 10 minutes of this saliva spewing frenzy, in a fit of absolute rage, the singer stops singing and curses at the top of his lungs into the microphone. The rest of the group slams on its musical brakes.

            The lead singer is incredulous about it; he looks like he might blow a gasket. (I can just see the headlines in the London Times: "Punk artist kicks Anaheim-teen in the teeth for spitting on him during first US tour!").  For a moment, all the front row MCWK stop spitting as they stare in awestruck-wonder at the singer, and I realized: They can't figure out why he's not into getting spit on!  "What? We can't participate," they're undoubtedly thinking? “Doesn't he know about Sid Vicious? Isn't this a punk show? Isn't spitting what punk is all about?"

            And beautifully, poetically, majestically, the singer's rage begins to build to a beautiful, artful, momentous rainbow of intellectual light; a light of reason longing to crescendo before their very eyes, eyes that will only be blinded by it.  Slowly, painstakingly, meticulously, the singer goes into this acrid, biting commentary about how these kids have obviously missed everything about the "spitting" spectacle that made Sid so infamous.  They get what is superfluous about punk music, but nothing more, because they can't get it.  Imagine the irony: having to stop your punk show only to launch into a verbal spanking about the history of punk expectoration; trying to help them to 'get it' in the middle of a song in the middle of a punk concert in the middle of a punk band tour in the middle of MCWK Anaheim, California.

            "Sid and the guys feel trapped by their circumstances see," he tries explaining, "bound to follow their father's empty and meaningless lives of selling out to the drudgery of work in England because there's nothing else anyone can do there because there's no way out except to do what everyone else does. There's no money. You can't move away. Poor isn't the adjective they use to describe their circumstances; desolate is. There's no hope for change.  It's always been the same. It's one of those utterly degrading scenarios, see?” Only then does he unleash his poignant commentary about the spitting. “And so, you posers, the spitting thing, is a commentary on the degrading environment and circumstances that desolate punks can't get away from. Spitting is merely a self-prophesying commentary about the tragic life we’re stuck in. Spitting represents our deplorable situation. It helps ease the total desperation of living a pointless life.”

            “And seeing as how none of you are in that situation, why are you spitting? WHY? You couldn't be more clueless! You have every opportunity for success and wealth handed to you from the day you were born. You couldn’t begin to get a freaking clue about the spitting!" And as he walks off the stage shaking his head in absolute disgust, the band follows him and they’re completely done dealing with the spitting spectacle. A few minutes later The Buzzcocks come on stage and start playing, and right away, you could see the honkers of snot flying through the colored lights at the lead singer. And it's just another day in poser heaven.


[1] WIKIPEDIA. ‘Punk Subculture.’June 2007. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punk_subculture  March 15, 2014.

[2] James Harris. “29 Things You Didn’t Know About Punk Style.” COMPLEX STYLE. May 6, 2013. http://www.complex.com/style/2013/04/29-things-you-didnt-know-about-punk-style/mclaren-westwood-infamous-t-shirts  March 15, 2014.