Published July 9, 2004
When I moved back to Iceland in 1990, it seemed the scene was still living in the shadow of Rokk í Reykjavík. In fact, there was something of a punk revival going on
Except now it was called Death Metal, and the disaffected wore long hair and trainers rather than Mohawks and steel tipped boots. Metal heads and diehard punks coexisted peacefully, if occasionally attacked by the better groomed but probably worse disposed guys from the pool halls.
The left wing politics of Utangarðsmenn and the Clash had long since disappeared. Instead we had a lot of songs about autopsies and other forms of corpse mutilation. In the absence of anything to say which might have challenged convention, the disgruntled went for shock effect for its own sake. Communism had collapsed, punk had finally killed off the hippies who managed to hang on longer here than anywhere else. But what did we have instead?
The punks, just as the hippies, grew up and got jobs in advertising agencies and at phone companies. The hippies tried to build a better society, and failed. The punks then attempted to tear down that society, but their fire was short lived. The hippies did to some extent achieve equality between genders and races, although problems related to these have refused to go away entirely. But what did the punks leave behind?
Punk may have been the final generational attempt to rebel against capitalism wholesale. Since then, despite periodic complaining, everyone has come to take it for granted. Since punk, there hasn´t been any movement to belong to.
In the wake of punk, we´ve seen the triumph of greed not just as a social system but as an ideology. Were the punks in some way to blame for the decline of western civilisation that came in their wake?
Since punk, caring has been decidedly uncool. “I don´t give a fuck” became the slogan of young rebels. We´ve had postmodernism, artists complaining that everything has been done, philosophers analysing nothing but philosophy and comedians who made fun of the downtrodden rather than the rich and powerful.
Perhaps when punk tore everything down ideologically, there was nothing left to build on. For someone who grew up on anarchism, making the jump to libertarian wasn´t that hard. It was all too easy to be against all rules, even the ones that were set in the poor´s favour. You could pretend to be an anarchist and still make money, as long as you opposed government intervention. Which, if you´re rich, you´d do anyway. As the film Bob Roberts said: “The times they are a-changing back.” The 60s revolution had finally been undone.
Four years into the new century, and things may be changing back again. After September the 11th 2001, ideology has returned with a vengeance. Our leaders are back to using words like good and evil, which in the 90s seemed outdated, in their speeches. We again need to deal with fundamental questions that not long ago seemed to belong to an earlier age. We again need to take to the streets. A new breed of punk swears against drugs and alcohol, is vegetarian and very concerned about the state of the world. Perhaps the time is ripe for a new revolution. But this time, we need to be more clear on exactly what it is we want to achieve.