It's 1990 and many people say punk is dead. Others say punk is still dying. Still others say the story of rock and roll is nearly over. Such people have at least learned one thing from punk: they have adopted the same blind pessimism that caused so many bands to burn out so quickly.
Many believers of this theory often see only the superficial qualities of the subculture made visible through the mass media. The fashion and the well-publicized scandals of Sid Vicious and friends were as far as most people saw from outside the subculture. In Facing The Music edited by Simon Frith, Mary Harron reduced the meaning of punk to "the spectacle of middle-class children dressing up in a fantasy of proletarian aggression and lying desperately about their backgrounds."
Harron attributed her perceived failure of punk firstly toward the bands' misdirected hatred -- toward stars of the previous generation like the Who or Rolling Stones, toward their record companies, toward even their fans with more venom than they directed toward the government. Because they had no "real" political focus, no mass consciousness for social change, nor a single issue like Vietnam, Harron believed punk accomplished little besides reviving the British pop industry before it failed.
Harron went on to generalize that punk's "second generation" suddenly switched from "anarchy and mayhem to orthodox left-wing politics," adopting the same ideas of grass-roots networks and alternative distribution systems that the hippies had during the sixties counterculture, adding only rock hype -- rebellion and conscious exploitation of the media. She said it was only briefly that punk was able to "exploit hype while challenging it on its own ground, both through its consistent attack on the values of the music industry and by exposing to its audience how that industry worked." Then their "puritanism" was so bad for the music that "post-punk austerity" began to pall.
Harron's most amusing generalizationwas yet to come -- after simplifying the punk movement into a split into rock and pop, she implied that the two styles transcended and left behind the "punk loyalists" (hardcore?), who clung to the independent labels, the clothes, the sound and "what they saw as the ideals of 1976." In fact, Harron said, they retreated from the present, evolving to a brand of flaccid and impotent neo-hippies with vegetarian, pacifist and mystic deals. Their determinedly non-commercial musical course was described as "abrasive or dirgelike," and while they "joined the ranks of other die-hard rock conservatives," Harron went on to espouse the virtues of disco.
It is clear that Harron merely took a glimpse of the smoke from the forest fires sparked by punk. Underneath the smoke was a whole new opportunity for kids to become active in a culture they could call their own, instead of being force-fed with highly consumeristic advertising of dry commercial culture.
When the superstars of punk dissolved into the corporate rock world, commercial media like Rolling Stone hailed the Sex Pistols and The Clash as the only legitimate icons of punk, and assumed the same thing happened to the whole subculture when members of the respective bands went on to more commercial dance- club success in the form of Public Image Ltd. and Big Audio Dynamite. This is not true. Nor is the other view accurate; that the punk subculture stagnated into a musically conservative, politically passe state of nostalgia.