There is not any feeling quite like discovering and watching to completion a really good documentary. At least as far as I’m concerned. Although the particular documentary which ensnared me late last night and kept me up until approximately three in the morning left something to be desired in the editing department (think a child’s first PowerPoint, when they were still very excited at the prospect of text animations) its subject matter was enough to keep me more than engrossed. In short, it was an in-depth look at the beginnings and evolution of the punk-rock movement in the United Kingdom, specifically looking at female singers and musicians of groups such as Hagar the Womb, Rubella Ballet, and Poison Girls.
It was during this educational foray into the world of safety pinned trousers and hoarse screaming in a rage against societal norms that I experienced a brief moment of punk-rock, existential contemplation. These women who performed loud, revolutionary music and raged against the all-encompassing “they” seemed so sure in their convictions, so utterly in sync with their non-conformist styles of dress and the anti-establishment music they produced. It was amongst all this self-assured rebellion that I began to seriously question the rebelliousness of my own generation, and of those who may follow. Fringe genres which exist on the decided outside of popular music have become identified with various counter-cultural movements over the generations—the protest anthems of the sixties and seventies, the underground punk anthems of the eighties. What will our label be? From the inside attempting to look out, it’s hard to tell.
We will inevitably be known as the social-media generation. The selfie takers. The Snapchatters. The meme-obsessed. The “but I’m at three percent” kids. Aside from our contributions to the digital archives of our time, which subsequent generations will no doubt spend countless hours pondering over—Pepe memes, cat videos, more references to pizza than can be counted—what will we be remembered for in the world of counter-culture music? The same social media habits that we will be infamously known for are also heavily influencing our ability to be anthem-creators.
In the days of old, if you wanted to be considered an activist or a rebel by society and (more importantly) by your friends, you had limited options. Basically, your only choice was to live that lifestyle—speaking out in public, participating in demonstrations, dressing the part, or, at the very least, loudly complaining about the issues and your inability to enact change with your friends. Active is the key word here—active activism. Jump back to the present and you’ll find that—typical of this generation—we have found a way to remote-in our political and social beliefs. If you have a social media page, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Hashtag activism, viral video campaigns, and all sorts of ways to avoid actually doing anything to enact change, while still retaining the appearance of being an activist.
Our generation’s brand of social media activism was created by the same brand of ingenuity which gave rise to ordering pizza online. Any way you look at it, whether it actually accomplishes anything or not, in essence it’s still centered on the individual doing the posting. If you really cared about the charity being targeted by, say, the famed ice bucket challenge, you could just donate money to the charity. Instead, you take the opportunity to make damned sure that all your friends and friends of friends know how charitable you are. And how good you look in a bathing suit.
Can the same be said of music? Where is our fist-pumping anthem of social change? Where is our quiet, questioning ballad? Our “For What It’s Worth,” our “Anarchy in the U.K.?”
There have been some contenders (Macklemore’s “Same Love,” for instance, or Beyonce’s “Flawless”) but the anthems of our generation seem to be centered on the individual, rather than the collective. They preach acceptance of the self and of others who happen to be different, which is an incredibly important message in today’s world when young people are constantly inundated with unrealistic expectations of how they should look and behave. But have we lost our rebel spirit? Have we just collectively decided to cool it, to phone in our anti-establishment feelings?
Maybe so. The days of punk-rock à la Camden in the late 80s may have passed us by, but that doesn’t mean we won’t also make some memorable and middle-finger throwing contributions to the world of music, even if they happen to be a little more mellow, and a little more self-centered.
See the documentary here.