“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
Nietzsche is one of my favorite philosophers and it’s not just because I’m still an edgy rebel even though it’s a big part of it. I like Nietzsche because a lot of his ideas and thoughts ring true to my outlook on life. His wisdom has been stolen and poorly interpreted by a motley crew of people, all of whom are also edgy rebels. Nietzsche is often associated with nihilism despite the fact that Nietzsche hated nihilists, those for whom life has absolutely no meaning at all. For Nietzsche, life had meaning, whether it was the meaning brought from religion or the meaning that an individual created for themselves (he tolerated the former and preferred the latter).
“Why is he talking about philosophy when the title talked about punks?” you’re probably asking yourself right now.
Allow me to explain.
Punks are edgy rebels. They are the kind of people who used to possess what Nietzsche would call “master mentality“, the mentality of creating your own meaning and living a life according to your rules. I say used
While waiting for a band to start playing their concert in a ~500 person venue, I started a conversation with one of the security guards and asked him what was the craziest kind of show he’d ever worked at. He answered by saying that despite their appearance, metal shows were like” controlled chaos”: people would crowd surf, mosh and wall of death but there always seemed to be rules to how it all went down. Punk shows, on the other hand, were like a riot. He and the other security guards would have to fight against the punks to try and keep them from getting on stage and from killing each other. He also told me that the average punk who came to the shows didn’t look the part. They were clean cut as if they had just stepped out of the office to go see the concert. He’d even seen some of the people in the crowd wearing suits.
The problem with fighting against the status quo is that it is ultimately a battle you will lose, particularly if you are an outsider. Like trying to build a sand castle in order to stop the coming tide only to have it washed away, all traces of it forever erased, going against all of the mainstream will inevitably see you lose. You cannot make a group of people change all their deeply held views and beliefs simply because you want them to, regardless of how correct your opinion is. You won’t get the Taliban to accept gays out of the blue, so too can you not change the way the world is.
Back to the punks.
Punk culture peaked in the 80s and 90s, before going mainstream and selling out in the 2000s and creating pop-punk. Just that term, pop-punk, is a contradiction. Pop is short for popular, punk to rebel against what is popular. You rebel in a popular way against what is popular. Now, in the 2010s, punk has been dropped entirely from pop-punk. Artists like Billie Eilish, Lady Gaga, Katie Perry all clearly heavily borrowed (read stole) from punk’s rebellious nature yet they are all as milquetoast as it gets. They are so awfully bland and saccharine that I cannot help but think they are a corporate music industry producer’s wet dream. This era of pop music is full of “rebels” but void of the rebellion.
Journalism, too, shows heavy inspiration from punk. Punk, at its heart, has been about rebelling against the idealism of conservatism, having everyone conform to some version of the past that never existed to instead celebrate the quirky differences between us all. Punks were always vocal about various problems affecting the world, from pollution to corporate hegemony. Modern journalism does the same. Journalists tell you what to think so that you are aware of whatever thing the journalist wants you to know about. Gone are the days of neutrally presenting a topic, allowing the reader to come to a conclusion on their own, every article now reads as moral narratives. We are told someone said or did something bad, no longer told what they said or did that was so bad, no longer trusted to come to your own conclusion.
The problem with this is fairly simple: you cannot pretend to be an outsider, a member of counter-culture if you are in the mainstream. To do so is to eat your cake and have it too.
Culture changes slower than we want but faster than we think, just like the tides. Things move in cycles, first coming in higher and higher before going out lower and lower. Change is incremental, gradual when we want it to be radical and rapid. Punks have always been radicals but they have lost the culture war. Like all conquered peoples, they were forced to adapt or die and boy have they ever adapted.
Following the transition of punk to pop-punk, punks have sold-out. They have been forced to conform to the unyielding world around them. Tattoos are now so common that it will soon be edgier not to be tattooed. Of the last eight girls I’ve been with, all had tattoos. Of the last twenty men I’ve fucked, all but two had one. Crazy hair dyes are so common that I now discount anyone with such a haircut as attempting to be edgy and get the attention that they sorely miss from their daily lives. Punks dyed their hair to stand out, to be a big old middle finger to anyone with commonly held ideas of decency. Today people dye their hair to fit in. What’s happened is a perversion of punk’s central tenant: be you, loudly. Now, instead, it is: be you, not too loudly, so long as you fit in.
Punks used to found in the street, in dark clubs and abandoned buildings. They were dressed up for war against a culture they despised, rejecting any and all authority that they could find. Now, you will these punks worshiping authority, working in journalism, working for human resources, dressed in casual wear, proud of their verified blue check-mark.
Because all the punks have sold-out.