O’Hara (1999): The Philosophy of Punk

The Philosophy of Punk: More Than NoiseThe Philosophy of Punk: More Than Noise by Craig O’Hara
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In The Philosophy of Punk, Craig O’Hara draws from numerous punk bands and writings by punks to outline a general philosophy of punk aesthetic, ethics, and activism. He is clear to articulate that he is discussing a certain “brand” (my word) of punk rock: not generic, more consumption-oriented punk, but rather the more “authentic” punk of the late 70s and early 80s. This punk, he argues, was importantly about “tak[ing:] on responsibility” (39). While punk music involves rage, anti-authority views, and anti-conformity (27-28), O’Hara argues that punk ethics was (and is) one of responsibility.

He blames mass media for misrepresenting (and misrecognizing) punk as violent, negative, and a trend, as well as too simply equating punks with skinheads. Instead, O’Hara urges that in order to understand punk, one must go to the “primary sources” (61). I fully agree with his reading of media representation, and in the scope of his book, it makes sense, but this could have more analytical force if he didn’t rely on the idea that there is somehow a way to accurately represent oneself.

O’Hara’s discussion takes force as he describes punk’s anarchist ethics—and how this is related to responsibility. Anarchy isn’t a matter of checking out because “personal anarchy is elitist, unanarchistic, and counter revolutionary” (87). Those who ascribe to personal anarchy, but have “resign[ed:] himself to the fact that other people are not capable of ruling themselves” might still be participating and spreading ideas, but have given up on the ideals of anarchy (87). To O’Hara, anarchy is admitting responsibility: not simply “no laws,” but “no need for laws” (97).

O’Hara’s last few chapters deal with sexism, homophobia, environmentalism, vegetarianism, and Straight-Edge, and are pretty good discussions, though quickly sped through. For the purpose of the book, though, I thought they were developed enough—though I think the book was a bit too celebratory of anti-sexism and the inclusion of women in the punk movement, if only because a lot of punk can be masculinist and not very inviting to women. O’Hara is claiming to discuss a specific group of punks (“authentic” punks), but at times, seems to idealize them. Perhaps this is because he is trying to outline a philosophy (instead of, say, an anthropology/sociology/rhetoric) and is trying to discuss the ideals and beliefs of punks.

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