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Tales From The DJ Booth: How The Left Killed Protest Music

by DJ HazMatt

Punk rock, anti-establishment folk and protest music, as a whole, has become an ineffective self-parody that currently appeals strictly to mentally ill adult children with malignant narcissism in well-to-do financial situations.

There, I said it.

Now, I guess I better back the statement up with evidence.

The Cycle Of Rebellion Has Broken

If you revisit the anti-establishment trends that surround any particular era of music, you will notice a predictable pattern—one in which the status quo is directly challenged through subversion of socially accepted practices. Traditions are questioned, categories are redefined and whatever was seen as extreme last year, becomes the standard for the current year. From Elvis having his hips banned on television, to N.W.A. presenting an accurate and unfiltered representation of inner-city life to suburban white teens, the general role of any generation of artists is to piss off the generation who came before it, while, at the same time, making the world a better place for the next breed.

But, this pissing-off-of-the-parents has, until recently, been progressive in the literal (and, not necessarily political) sense of the word—it meant something. Further, activism does not necessarily translate into angst. See, for instance, the peace-and-love hippie response to the Vietnam war. Of course, once Vietnam was over, disco reacted by celebrating excess in a post-war society, while punk reacted to disco by celebrating minimalist and anti-capitalist self-expression, etc.

Of note, most protest genres are seen as "dead" once the mainstream adopts the genre as a whole. At this state, a newer and less-digestible-to-the-masses form emerges, or the genre will die. Take, for example, punk rock versus hip hop. I would argue that punk is beyond dead, while hip hop continues to produce new responses to mainstream adoption. Put simply, the world is no longer scared of pierced kids with weird haircuts, thanks to Hot Topic and Warped Tour. However, since issues surrounding inner-city decay, police violence and racial tension are arguably relevant, hip hop remains equally important inside and outside of the pop charts. In fact, I know at least one 37-year-old white dude who has all but stopped listening to Dead Kennedys and Ministry, but still keeps an ear out for the new Kendrick single (hint: he’s writing this column).

Further, hip hop still embodies extremes, ranging from the classic (west coast gangster rap) to the obscure (Juggalos). But, punk? Well, not so much. You can pretty much guess how the lead singer of Insert Punk Band Here will debut his album, Current Year Politics. Spoiler alert: it’s an anti-Trump song! That will be $15.99, thank you.

Protest, As An Art Form, Has Become An Ineffective Self-Parody

So, where are Jello Biafra and Al Jourgenson? Why isn’t L7 headlining the Women’s March? Where is the Henry Rollins podcast (I’m sure one exists, but you’re getting the point)? In an age of outrage, where’s the outrage?

Let’s break it down, logically. The role of protest music is to identify, expose and oppose totalitarian forms of oppression. Elvis gave a waist-shake to family values. Jerry Garcia gave a joint to the war machine. Ice Cube gave a middle finger to the police. The chick from L7 ripped out her tampon and threw it at sexism (literally). So, why is it boring when the dude from Green Day rips into Trump? Why do we yawn when Miley Cyrus sticks it to gender roles? How has the act of protesting, via music, become so goddamn boring?

Well, because gender roles and reality television show presidents aren’t part of the totalitarian, authoritarian threat—but, the people who constantly talk about gender roles while bitching about the president are.

In short, the most immediate threat to canonical concepts of individual freedom lies in the hands of those who, historically, fought for it. It’s pointless trying to illustrate this to Gen Zed, because they’re also the first generation to completely ignore history (see any "first ever (demographic) superhero/lead/figure" article printed within the last decade...it’s as if the Wonder Woman crowd forgot the Alien franchise). I’m not trying to insult trans democrats who have followed feminist theory through three waves; I’m talking about folks who have followed whatever is trending at the moment and then formed an identity based on what’s hip. Currently, being artificially "woke" is hip, in a mainstream establishment sense. Gender equality and racial equity are basically fidget spinners at this point.

If someone you know was a hippie in high school, a raver in community college, a drug fiend in undergraduate and is, as of last year, a gender-fluid polysexual dragon-kin nonbinary trans-human male feminist who can’t be categorized and takes offense to everything, the statistical probability of them being full of shit is around 98%. That same dude will stop taking offense to "dude," as soon as the gender debate is no longer socially profitable to invest in. Meanwhile, actual trans men, actual feminists and actual (insert marginalized group here) get to sit by and watch a bunch of grown teenagers co-opt their lifestyle, all the while ironically protesting the co-opting of lifestyles.

Back to music, the same shit that has reduced fringe identities and liberal causes to a bastardized version of their former selves, has happened to protest jams. Modern punk rock is laughable at best, with "Trump is bad" being the white, punk equivalent of mainstream rap’s "fuck bitches, get money" mantra—and, just as harmful. If hating the president is trendy, then one is forced to choose to be anti-trend or anti-establishment, but not both. How "punk." Everyone hates the president. Why not write an album about how shit smells bad? Hell, you’ll probably get more backlash from the olfactory positivity movement. That is punk rock.

Moderate Conservatism Has Become The New Punk

In order to protest against the establishment and totalitarian authoritarianism, one must burn every social and political bridge that they’ve crossed thus far. If you’re a straight woman who has a Misfits tattoo and a wedding ring, you may as well have leprosy, as far as either major political party is concerned.

The neo-left is the new extreme right. You are currently more likely to be silenced by a liberal than you are a conservative. Thus, in order to protest against the current totalitarian majority, one must simply exhibit at least a small level of what was once considered "conservative." What was once considered "counter-culture" is so predictably mainstream, that it’s no longer effective—at least as a protest movement. And, The Victim Olympics and oppression-level pissing contests are ineffective in fighting the mainstream, mainly because said tactics have become the mainstream. The "Satanic panic" of the 1980s has been replaced with the "everything is oppression" dialogue of today. Two sides, same coin.

This is why we won’t see any genuine, organic angst in the form of punk music anytime soon.

How well do you think "Holiday In Cambodia" would go over these days? Does it expose the first-world fascination of authentic blackness with an undertone that suggests how altruism is often ignorant? Or, is it simply the song where Jello says "nigger" and that’s that? Does the black drummer come into discussion as a token with which to erase blame? How the fuck do we even keep score at this point?

Put simply, the left has cried "wolf" so loudly that even the sheep have stopped considering it to be worthy of alarm. There is nothing left to protest, except for the incessant protesting. And, if you speak out against those who wish to silence any and all discourse that even borders on "problematic," you will be met with even more censorship and ostracizing from your peers. If you want to fight genuine racism, misogyny, homophobia or child abuse, you’re going to have to target a foreign ideology or belief system—which is something that the neo-left would never think of doing. Thus, we’ve sewn ourselves into a DIY corner made of guilt and feelings.

Marilyn Manson could cut the head off of an unborn baby, on stage, while jerking off onto a picture of Jesus and rolling around in a kiddie pool full of toddler dildos and methamphetamine, and god-fearing folks would just yawn and wait for the next act. But, if he yelled out "the wage gap doesn’t exist when you adjust for the choices made by women," a wild mob of angry protesters would appear out of nowhere and the man’s career would disappear.

Counterculture Is The New Establishment

The mere act of protesting has been taken over by authoritarian fuckwits who hold the exact same attitudes toward policing others that were once reserved for the Catholic church. From this, we have replaced one set of imaginary demons (Ozzy, D&D, etc.) with another (Nazis, The Patriarchy, etc.), but have failed to understand how the mere act of creating imaginary demons is a tool used for and by the establishment. However, this is the first time in history that the dissidents, the jesters, the provocateurs, the satirists, the comedians, the shit-starters...the punk rockers, have been seen as enemies of the left.

Punk, as a movement, sold out. But, not to the highest bidder, just to the loudest whiners, with the most audible cries of "wolf!" Protesting is, in itself, suddenly the ends and the means. The "anti-fascists" show up with their faces covered, chanting like cult members, while the "radical right" is attracting more and more black, gay, female and Islamic converts by the day. A Stranger In A Strange Land approach to identifying which of our two polarized political sides is the most "diverse," would lead to quite the triggering...yet, it is hard to argue that the once-anti-establishment party of "radical left" has left little-to-no room for artistic dissent. And, with that, no more room for punk.

Dear Punk Rock: We Need You Back

So, if (ahem, when) Trump decides to actually roll back women’s rights, bomb Canada or appoint a KKK member to lead the NAACP, those who were once outraged will likely be passively hesitant. After all, new day, new outrage, right? And, those folks who were once on your side of the argument? Well, you scared them off with threats of pronoun lawsuits and man-spreading fines. Piercings and a Crass shirt used to be a signal for intelligent debate among radical peers. Now, it means "assume my made-up pronoun and go to jail." Let’s not get into the irony of "Do They Owe Us A Living?"

Dissent should not have an instruction manual. Individuality should not be predictable.

Of course, this article will likely produce several responses, each filled with a bunch of "-phobia" accusations, which will claim this entire piece defended the rights of Trump supporters to rape black children while listening to Kid Rock and firing guns at mosques. Any and all identity politicking on my end is useless, because I’m a (say it with me) cis white male. Because of this, facts are irrelevant, my argument is invalid and five men plus five men equals ten rapists, no matter what the calculator says.

But, I am still a DJ. I’m responsible for introducing new, fun, dangerous and rebellious protest music to the crowds I spin for. And, I love playing protest music. Plasmatics. Operation Ivy. Poison Idea. Defiance. Bikini Kill. Blondie. Fear. These artists used to produce emulators by the dozen. But, right now, the most dangerous woman in my rotation is Lady Gaga and the most "punk" thing I can find is a song by Ween that came out ten years ago. There is nothing new that is actually "edgy" without being SJW horse shit or alt-right garbage.

By reducing anything and everything to a personal slight, while, at the same time, equating personal slights with societal oppression, anti-establishment themes become hacky, boring, predictable and mainstream. This opens the market for a rebellious, mischievous, dissident breed of right-wingers to take over. Do we really want this?

I’m sorry for being old fashioned, but porn should be gritty, hip hop should be confrontational, mainstream politics should be shunned and punk rock should be dangerous.

There is nothing dangerous about a balding Billie Joe Armstrong or menopausal Madonna.