I do like a good stunt, which is why I’m looking forward to Joe Corré burning all of his punk memorabilia in a protest about Punk London in November. Corré, the son of Malcolm McLaren and Vivian Westwood, has amounted a collection of punk atifacts he claims to be worth over 5 million pounds. Despite that this seems like an obvious publicity seeking act, the gesture does at least feel like a true connection to 1976’s nihilistic ‘year zero’ fervour.
I can’t comment on any of the Punk London events having not witnessed any of it first hand, but my one concession to all things punk in 2016 was to read Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming for the first time. The context of the times is detailed with a genuine insight into the revolutionary effect that punk in 1976 had on the lives of its participants. Reading Savage’s account after Corré’s announcement brought home to me that he may have a point about the capital centric ‘celebrations’.
It also bought to mind the situationist statement by Atelier Populaire when they declared their May 1968 revolutionary posters should not become objects of fetishisation: “The posters produced by the ATELIER POPULAIRE are weapons in the service of the struggle and are an inseparable part of it. Their rightful place is in the centers of conflict, that is to say, in the streets and on the walls of the factories. To use them for decorative purposes, to display them in bourgeois places of culture or to consider them as objects of aesthetic interest is to impair both their function and their effect. This is why the ATELIER POPULAIRE has always refused to put them on sale. Even to keep them as historical evidence of a certain stage in the struggle is a betrayal, for the struggle itself is of such primary importance that the position of an “outside” observer is a fiction which inevitably plays into the hands of the ruling class. That is why these works should not be taken as the final outcome of an experience, but as an inducement for finding, through contact with the masses, new levels of action, both on the cultural and the political plane.”
Considering the very strong relationship between Situationism and McLaren’s vision, citing the above statement is only exasperated by McDonald’s marketing department who never miss an opportunity. Their pastiche of Reid’s Sex Pistols artwork for a fast food generation is more sickening than the food they serve. And to make matters worse, The Buzzcocks What Do I Get is played out on their TV adverts—every time I see that ad, I swear a little bit of me dies.
There have been some excellent punk exhibitions of late that put social, political and cultural contexts at the foreground of their raison d’être over and above pure aesthetics, (see Mick Jones’ Rock and Roll Public Library, NUA 2010; Someday All Adults Will Die, London’s Southbank 2012; and Eyes For Blowing Up Bridges, John Hansard Gallery 2015). But after such a run of high quality shows, (and lest we forget numerous weak BBC4 documentaries), I am led to question what Punk London really hopes to achieve, if anything, past a nostalgia hit for those that were there at the time.
Alex Petridis said in The Guardian of the V&A You Say You Want a Revolution? exhibition: “the people involved in the late 60s counterculture have barely shut up about it since. Few generations are as self-mythologising as the baby-boomers”. Of the ‘few generations’ Petridis talks, you can add the mid 70s punk generation to the list. For Punk, like Pop Art and the Swinging Sixties, seems to have a cultural hold on commissioning TV producers and curators. And as shown above, advertisers are always on the lookout for a cultural bandwagon to exploit. Considering this, Joe Corré’s claim of mainstream appropriation of Punk is entirely justified.
In light of all this, it is difficult not to accept Joe’s act as being in the true spirit of ’76. And in this, I also have to admire the cheek of the Punk London curators in adding Corré’s burning to its own list of ‘events’.
Good luck Joe for the 26 November, I hope you don’t get your fingers burnt.