There’s been a buzz on the internet in the past couple of days after Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s son Joe Corré announced that as an act of protest against the events planned for the 40th anniversary of the birth of punk in the UK, he will be burning his entire punk memorabilia collection worth £5 million. There are events planned by several mainstream cultural establishments in the UK, such as The BFI, the British Library, the Design Museum, Museum of London, The Photographers’ Gallery, Rough Trade, and the Roundhouse, to celebrate punk’s 40th birthday, but the thing that really bunched his knickers is that the Queen of England herself gave her blessing to punk. So he’s announced a public burning of his collection to take place on November 26th, 2016, in Camden, London, to mark the 40th anniversary of the Sex Pistols’ release of Anarchy in the UK.
As a collective of people who appreciate the legacy of punk culture, I thought it would only be right to hear our reader’s feedback on Corré’s plans to destroy a collection that may have a price tag on it, but in terms of cultural impact is most likely priceless. Corré argues that the movement of the cultural establishment in Britain (and worldwide) to canonize punk as a historical movement rather than an ongoing revolution against societal norms is something that must be resisted and fought against. He states in his press release for the event:
“A general malaise has now set in amongst the British public. People are feeling numb. And with numbness comes complacency. People don’t feel they have a voice anymore…the most dangerous thing is that they have stopped fighting for what they believe in. They have given up the chase. We need to explode all the shit once more.”
The Queen’s blessing has only made punk more harmless for the mainstream; ironically, she is saying that a culture that gained momentum with its use of her desecrated image as irony and representative of anti-establishment values is now safe for all to enjoy and is no threat to her way of life and that of the other elite.
Yes, that is scary. It shows that in the West there is a dire need for revolutionary thought and action in generations that have, for the most part, become passive spectators of the world. Many people feel that they can be political and/or revolutionary in a passive way through social media, with a share, a re-tweet or a sassy Instagram caption on a selfie. And while these things can have an impact, as a whole we are missing the mobilization in real time, missing the physical communication and connection that is necessary for true change. One of the things that disturbs me is the use of the term “upgrade” as a reflection of positive change in one’s life, one’s relationships or in the world in general. This system isn’t something you can plug into your Mac and get the latest ios on. It’s not something you can trade in for the latest model. It’s time to acknowledge how downgraded we have become as political autonomous actors, how easy it is for the elite to manipulate our lives because we’re too busy trying to get an upgrade.
But – I would argue that Corré’s actions show more about his own entitlement and participation in that elite than they do about his love for punk culture. He is sitting on a cultural and literal goldmine, something that he could share with the 99.9% of people who love and participated in the era of punk being celebrated, but who could never afford to amass such a collection of memories. And they are memories – today, there’s a thriving underground scene of creators who’s Bandcamp sales may pay for their next recording session, but most likely won’t leave anything to spare for a $2,000 lace lingerie set from Agent Provocateur, the lingerie empire Corré co-founded and then sold for £60 million. There are many, many people who take the values of ’77 punk and 80’s punk very seriously in their lives, and who reject the mores of mainstream society. There’s a community that stretches across the world to connect creative, anti-corporate, anarchist people of all ages, people who create together, share ideas, barter and support each others’ creative output.
Corré is angry that the era of punk that gave him a voice and an entailment to exploit has been appropriated by the mainstream. Fair enough. But I think that there are MANY other ways to say fuck you to the establishment. An exhibition open to the public on a permanent basis. Sell it and donate the proceeds to supporting underground music and culture, of which there is a ton in the UK alone. Fuck, put out a free record for every underground punk/metal band whose music he likes and/or politics he supports. Set up a nice squat, a recording studio for low-income musicians and bands, a music space for low-income kids to experiment with instruments and create their own expression, a media literacy program for kids to encourage them to question the mainstream messages they are inundated with and to foster revolutionary thought. Holy shit, there are endless possibilities. Give it away, for fucks sakes! Just don’t fucking burn it. That’s a bit fascist; and I’m pretty sure punk started out as an anti-fascist movement, right?
I hesitate to even say that his heart is in the right place. I feel the frustration and anger with a society that ignores change and hypnotizes us into accepting the status quo of garbage music and garbage intellect. But I also deeply feel that he will be doing the underground an injustice if he burns a large portion of its ancestral roots. I don’t know which pisses me off more, actually. His decision kind of feels like a big, fat elite “Fuck You” to the underground.
What do you think?