Decoding Our Culture: Punk Still Undesirable

It has actively shaped our dinner conversations, our values, and our standard of living. It delivers narratives of truth and falsehood to us on a daily basis. Some may even be wont to call it a progenitor of American culture as we know it–the Television. And guess what? Punks, hardcore kids, and rockers of essentially any type have been targeted by it for some time. It’s a popular sitcom trope, a supposedly funny joke, and an inexcusable insult to an entire subculture: The Undesirable, The Delinquent, the kid you hope your daughter isn’t dating. We get it, you don’t think we belong here.

“Do you think that people should be judged until they’re driven into a hole, perhaps even suicide? Let us know!” – Russell Brand

The institutions that fabricate, structure, and reinforce American cultural values are numerous and under-analyzed. Magazines, movies, TV shows, and advertisements are all products of such institutions that the average person tends to accept as facts of reality. Outlets like People Magazine and TMZ, for example, make it acceptable and commonplace to glorify and harass the famous, a sentiment to which actor Russell Brand recently spoke. (For those of you who haven’t yet seen his keen rant on bullying in the media, with specific regards to Bruce Jenner’s so-called transgender “crisis,” watch the above video.) The music that makes it to Top 40 and the advertisements that guide us to buy our chosen brands of liquor economize the female body and human sexuality, helping to make both a battleground. The point being, the products that come from our culture are the very same that create it. This is why we as people, as Americans, and as contributors to the modern Zeitgeist need to be hyper-aware of the way we brand, market, and sell.

The video clip above is a currently running commercial for Downy’s Unstopables air freshener. Notice anything? The son of the woman who wishes the room smelled “like he’s away at boarding school” is playing guitar, has skateboarding and band posters on his wall, and is, arguably, dressed in rocker-like attire. This is the visual that is meant to warrant our, the viewer’s, sympathy and agreement. “Yes, I can see how that is unpleasant for you, Mom. You should ship him off and get an Unstopables air freshener!”

But maybe you’re not as easily triggered as I am. Maybe you don’t think this is enough of an argument to make. No problem. Below is another commercial that ran for DirecTV a couple of years ago.

Miss it that time? I hope not, because “Undesirable” was stressed four times. Of course the delinquents the daughter hangs out with after getting kicked out of school for poor behavior are dressed in studded vests, big hair, and black skinny jeans. DirecTV makes it painfully clear, “Don’t have a grandson with a dog collar.” Run along now and upgrade to DirecTV, like a Type A American.

The same problem that Brand addresses in his indictment of celebrity news as bullying is the same problem that I address here. It is that of Other-ing an individual or a group of individuals; of making such people feel unwanted and somehow wrong for their own self-expression. To put it simply, it is prejudice. If you think the use of the word here is inflammatory and misplaced, I implore you to reconsider. Like Brand aptly remarks, these kinds of media that promote bullying are “not disassociated from the more vivid and violent terrors and horrors of the world. This climate of bullying and judgement and cruelty is a violence of its own nature. It contributes to the climate. All of these things are real.”

How many people are deemed not hire-able because of piercings, tattoos, or dyed hair? Did you know any kids (or were you perhaps the kid) in school who was called ‘freak’ or ‘fag’ or some other ridiculous term, and even beat up for dressing differently or for listening to heavier music? Do you catch people staring at you in a judgmental way because you wear a lot of black or do people label you naive when you tell them “*sigh* Yes, I do still listen to My Chemical Romance”? For not just these daily experiences, but for the very reason that this concept keeps appearing in our TV commercials do I call it prejudice. Commercials like the Unstopables and DirecTV ads referenced in this article tell consumers that there is a certain type of person that does not fit the accepted model of the good ol’ American family. “You don’t want this, so take necessary precautions to avoid.”

Instead of avoiding a certain type of person, how about we make society at large more accepting of different kinds of people? Instead of relegating the American standard of youth to the white (which is a whole other can of worms), cardigan-wearing child, how about we expand our definitions? What if we accept the notion that people don’t occupy clearcut binaries of good and bad, acceptable and not? But what do I know, I’m just a delinquent, a thief who admittedly borrowed that last bit from The Breakfast Club.

Sincerely,

I straighten my hair and wear my black hat backwards and my room smells fine.

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