Saturday Morning Jukebox: Punk Privilege
This past week, for some reason, I’ve been re-visiting the music of the 90s punk scene. I guess it’s a balm for the soul when living in a cubicle farm. Punk has always had a socio-political aspect to it, and third wave punk was no different, offering up anthems against the plastic corporate world North America had on offer.
NOFX penned one such anthem, Don’t Call Me White:
It was never one of my favourite NOFX songs (I preferred when they were singing about sexuality (NSFW) or covering Don MacLean), so I never paid it too much attention. It wasn’t a bad way to spend two and a half minutes.
But despite having a worthwhile underlying sentiment (rejecting an unthinking artificial lifestyle), the actual messaging in the song is rather problematic. The first verse has a hint of a you-know-who-the-real-racists-are-? argument:
The connotations wearing my nerves thin
Could it be semantics generating the mess we’re in?
I understand that language breeds stereotype
But what’s the explanation for the malice, for the spite?
It goes on to yell out, essentially, #NotAllWhites:
Does this mean I have to take such shit
For being fairskinned? No!
I ain’t a part of no conspiracy,
I’m just you’re average Joe.
And it finishes with a flurry of misunderstanding systemic racism:
So go ahead and label me
An asshole cause I can
Accept responsibility, for what I’ve done
But not for who I am
Of course, ‘twould be foolish to seek philosophical purity from Fat Mike. I’m not really going to rag on a 20-year-old punk song for a lack of depth in political thinking, but the era really did offer some very good political critiques:
This wasn’t Ten Foot Pole’s* only politically-minded song, but it does demonstrate an issue with much of 90s punk’s socio-economic rage. The scene was dominated by middle-class, suburban white males. This wasn’t Grand Master Flash’s message, the rage was based more in ennui than oppression. It doesn’t negate the complaints, but it does separate these bands from 70s-era punk.
But just because you can’t sing and scream about true oppression, doesn’t mean you can’t make valid criticisms of the disconnected nature of North American society. Offspring** certainly did:
However, if you want to go full-on angry left wing politics–something that would fit in nicely with Ethan, Shawn and Elias–there’s Propagandhi (NSFW).
*For Conor, Mike S. and Burt: Ten Foot Pole was fronted by former ChiSox/Dodgers/Cardinals/Indians relief man Scott Radinsky.