Punk rock values still relevant

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Ryan Orloski

Starting with the The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, and the New York Dolls, transitioning into bands like the Sex Pistols and Bad Religion, the punk rock movement changed the face of music entirely. These bands confronted hot-button social issues of their time, and all brought an energy that had yet to be seen in what was a then-stagnant industry.

In 1970s England, times were tough and the youth were angry with a lot of time on their hands. Britain was run down and trash littered the streets. Thousands were on strike, and the education system was prejudiced. Out of these ashes arose the Sex Pistols, widely regarded as one of the most influential musical groups of all time despite only releasing one studio album.

While they were not the first to adopt the punk rock genre, the Sex Pistols certainly made it relevant, with their gaudy attire and rebellious attitudes that would become the template for young, angry musicians. They spoke harshly of the British class system and were infamous for their rowdy behavior.

Later bands followed in these footsteps, and, despite their differences, they all carried with them a similar desire—the desire to create change. Bands like Bad Religion offered intellectual and seething social commentary, as did later acts like NOFX and Rise Against. During the Occupy Wall Street movement, many punk groups including Anti-Flag encouraged listeners to stand up for their beliefs and pursue change.

Why does this matter? Why should any of you care about spiky-haired punks who have hung their hat on simple, three-chord progressions? You should care because of the thread that holds all of these bands together: the insistence to create change, the unrelenting pursuit of equality and equity.

When you look at the events in Russia and Ukraine, the values of punk rock are as important now as they ever were. Groups like Pussy Riot, a feminist punk rock group based in Moscow, are attempting to create change in a society through protests and use of social media, but it is not enough.

It has been a dangerous progression overseas: Russia has advanced on neighboring Ukraine, and other world-powers have been hesitant to intervene with more than a verbal warning. While it would be ridiculous to ask you to journey to the White House and insist that our government take action immediately, it is our duty as citizens—as human beings— to seek out injustice and fight against it.

Sure, here on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus, we might not be confronted with such life-threatening issues as an unchecked political leader bearing down on our homeland. But injustice comes in all forms and sizes, even if it’s as simple as a lie to avoid a commitment to a friend.

Injustice isn’t confined to global issues. Avoiding someone you might not consider to be a close friend in his or her hour of need is an injustice. Belittling another person, be it to their face or not, is an injustice—even if that person committed an undesirable act towards you.

An eye for an eye makes the world blind, as the great Gandhi once professed. Getting even is not justice. Getting even simply drags you down and leaves you worse off than you were previously. What I’m trying to say is this: we must take heed of the message these bands have laid down and aspire to be just, fair people with compassion in our hearts.