Remember after 9-11 when they pulled all the metal and aggressive songs off the radio and suddenly the only shit that anyone was playing was some John Cougar song about a perfect world and Michelle Branch and Vanessa Carlton? That was weird, right?
I mean, it made sense I guess, and lord knows that anything at all that makes Let the Bodies Hit the Floor seem inappropriate can at least be said to have a silver lining, however infinitesimally small. But I remember thinking, around September fifteenth or so that the country, at least sonically, had undergone a massive pussification. The hardest song that got radio play was Alive by that band of tubby latino dudes in hockey jerseys and braids. And let’s be frank, that was not the best song in the world, but those first couple of notes in the chorus were pretty bombastic and it came about as close as anything that was being peddled at the time to speaking to the feelings of anger, hurt and a desire for some kind of ‘redemption’ (barf) that was being felt en masse by a lot of people who were kind of struck dumb by an extremely senseless act of violence.
Eh, right now would be a good time, I suppose, to call myself on the bullshit of that last statement. “Senseless” is a completely inappropriate word in this context. The violence that a bunch of unfortunate innocents [and probably some real assholes too if we’re just taking the general makeup of the personalities of any randomly selected group of 3 thousand people and applying it here] were subjected to at the WTC was terrible and shitty, but there was a perverse logic to it. In fact, the logic is not even really that perverse. It just sucks.
However, it’s funny, and it seems that in this post 9-11 world there’s become a need to reduce the “Terrorists” out there to a pack of drooling mongoloids with no grip on reality in one breath and then in the next breath whisper about the elaborate networks, global schemes and macgyver like nuclear devices that they’re able to create out of dust and rocks and sneak onto planes and detonate from remote locations. You can’t really have it both ways. Either they’re sneaky geniuses that operate outside our vast network of surveillance somehow, or they’re idiots.
Look, I get it. We’ve got an Orwellian newspeak deal going on with the Islamic extremists and the words we can use to discuss them are words like “simple, zealots, senseless, monsters, evil,” shit like that. That’s all part and parcel with taking sides in a war. The model that our propaganda would have us believe Al Qaeda most closely resembles is that of an ant colony. There’s a familial head that controls everything from deep within its lair. Everyone else is mindless, controlled by compulsion and subliminal directives from inside the ‘brain’ of the operation, but the resulting network is remarkably adept, despite the unfeeling, almost brainless nature of the drones that make it up. But really, it’s not like that at all.
In fact, most of us know, whether we’d like to admit it to ourselves or not, that there in fact was a real, concrete point to 9-11 and it was essentially something like “Hey assholes! You’re in our country making zillions of dollars! We’re all poor and you’re killing us and the results are nothing but a bunch of fatties zipping around in SUV’s from the KFC to the whorehouse and back again halfway across the earth from where my dead mom (who you killed) is buried, and we’re not gonna take it anymore!”
Of course, in actuality, most of this terror is plotted by billionaires who have no practical or visceral reason to be enraged or die (and who are, in a lot of cases complicit profiteers in not only the petroleum business, but also the business of war) and carried out by young people who are super stoked to be part of something and (usually) super angry because western occupation has probably fucked up their family/life/home at some point. In this way, it’s not a stretch to draw a comparison between young terrorists/freedom fighters (depending on who you are) and punk rock kids. Yup. Truth. Look:
Both come from all walks of life and both bring in recruits using jargon, sloganeering and a hefty ‘us vs the world’ mentality. Both are sort of helmed by an extremely loose federation of wildly successful men and in both cases, the young zealots that are newly indoctrinated into the lifestyle are willing to do just about anything to prove their allegiance to the cause. AND, both are remarkably ineffectual, despite what the news would have you believe.
Punk rock is about as significant a catalyst for true social change as a bunch of snickers bars glued together in the shape of a pig is a viable presidential candidate. There’s nothing wrong with that. Punk rock is fun and cool and as someone who spent my entire youth and early adulthood operating completely in the trenches of the punk rock economy, I gotta say it’s an unbelievable good time and a great way to meet people and learn about stuff, but it’s no more of a catalyst for real change than any place that offers an experience. It’s no different than law school or backpacking through Europe or a calligraphy class in Chinatown. It’s something that YOU do and YOU get an experience out of it and perhaps at some point YOU will apply those punk rock experiences and ideas in another avenue and revolutionize something, but punk rock itself is just as much of a tired institution as anything else, and it’s got no momentum. It’s just doing the same shit over and over again as new people discover Crass, Nofx, Blink 182, Fifteen, the Clash or Greenday, and as old, disenfranchised punks get tired of pledging allegiance to the same slogans that they promised to love forever when they were sixteen. Punk rock is a journey in that regard, or a transforming tunnel ride at Six Flags. You go in dumb and you come out jaded (and for most of us, still dumb).
Islamic terrorism is the same kind of thing, but with a real overtly stated mission to change the world. It could be argued that they totally nailed it one time (9-11 is the Clash of terror) but they’re NEVER gonna come anywhere close to achieving what they’re trying to achieve. They’re just a bunch of ragged outsider kids who freak out the squares, talk a big game and when shit gets real, don’t really have a lot of brains in their heads or practical know how to pull much off. I recently watched an interview with a global terror and warfare expert and when he was asked who we, as Americans should fear, he said “fear China. They’re repurposing our military satellites remotely. Al Qaeda can’t even blow up their own underpants.”
And that’s true. That’s remarkably frank and true. And it’s a good reminder that this shit isn’t all just propaganda and idiots that somehow fall ass backwards into pulling of sophisticated acts of mass death; that in the world of terror, there ARE intelligent misguided people. They DO have an agenda that’s maybe evil, but not always senseless and they ARE by and large ineffectual idiots. In punk rock, we are intelligent and misguided people with a smattering of various agendas and in the end, most people are idiots and we’re no different.
The biggest similarity, however, is that while both “movements” fail completely (and always will) at delivering their purported goal (of a harmonious world that thinks and acts just like them) they both completely and unequivocally succeed at their overt, unspoken and distasteful-within-the-ranks-of-the-converted goal. Punk rock is entertainment and Terrorism inspires fear.
And in those regards, both absolutely nail it.
Okay, I’m off to listen to Vanessa Carlton. Enjoy your weekend!
(oh, and just by the way, I'm in no way trying to belittle any suffering at the hands of terrorists or acts of terror anywhere worldwide so don't get all pissy. That shit's horrible, and while it's reductive to call things completely ineffectual that have a concrete result of somebody's loved ones ending up dead, the point that I'm making is it doesn't further any agenda besides instilling fear, so please, please don't misread the point. Thanks!)