"We Accept You, One of Us?": Punk Rock, Community, and Individualism in an Uncertain Era, 1974--1985
ProQuest, 2007 - 385 pages
This dissertation is a study of a musical subculture and how it illuminates changing ideas of self and society in a pivotal decade in U.S. history. Punk rock burst onto the Atlantic music world in the 1970s in defiance of existing rock aesthetics and practices but proceeded to challenge the status quo in many realms of society, culture, and politics. This work examines punk in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., and is interdisciplinary, drawing on cultural geography, literary theory, and performance ethnography. The project analyzes a variety of sources, including oral history, printed texts, and visual and audio culture. While this range of methods and theories is useful, they are grounded in history's emphasis on context, narrative, and change over time. By examining punk in a historical context, the dissertation makes two broad claims. First, punks were descendants of an extended line of American cultural rebels -- including bohemians, beats, and hippies -- who rejected their middle-class roots and sought alternative forms of self-fashioning. Second, punk rockers belonged to an international cohort in the 1970s seeking new sources of belonging as trust in traditional sources of community waned. With its increased emphasis on self-actualization and self-definition, the 1970s -- and punk rock -- therefore marked a critical juncture in the history of the self in America. Punk rock began as simple efforts by individual, unconnected people to make music that fulfilled them, something they hoped might revitalize the music industry. Over time, these discrete and disparate people and labors grew into a subculture whose music, publications, art, and lifestyle became a powerful critique of not only the music business but also the family, institutional authority, suburbia, dominant gender mores, and mainstream consumerism. Aesthetically diverse, a punk sensibility valued individuality above all else and allowed participants to be alternately angry, cynical, ironic, or hedonistically joyful. Despite punk rockers' best efforts, these attributes they wore on their sleeves -- individualism, apathy, hedonism, and irony -- could not mask their very strong desires for existential meaning, a yearning to belong to something worthwhile. Punks came together in an inherently unstable community celebrating individualism.
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