Revised term paper proposal

Rather than focusing exclusively on the Situationist International, I propose shift my focus to the relationship between Marxism and the evolution of punk culture.

The paper will be structured more or less chronologically, beginning in the 1970s with the first wave of punk in the UK. In this period, there are two major threads I’d like to follow: first, the role of Situationist theory and practice in the formative years of punk, including (but not limited to) Sex Pistols manager Malcom McLaren’s cynical appropriation of Situationist rhetoric in engineering punk as “spectacle.” Second, the emergence in this period of self-proclaimed leftist artists such as the Clash, Billy Bragg, and Gang of Four, and the consequences of, to borrow a line from Bragg, “mixing pop and politics.”

Next, I’d like to look at the development of punk-derived “DIY culture” in the late 80s and early 90s, presenting a more aesthetically diverse, fragmentary, yet distinctly “underground” mode of cultural production, much of which was either indebted to or explicitly aligned with Marxist ideas. Potential artists/figures of interest in this period include the Minutemen, Ian Mackaye and the founding of Dischord Records, Ian Svenonius and the Nation of Ulysses, and Calvin Johnson’s vision of the “International Pop Underground.”

Finally, I’d like to conclude with a broader view of the rise, decline, and reemergence of punk as a means to understand how “alternative” and mainstream cultures engage one another, and how these processes of cultural exchange, appropriation and resistance shape our understanding of culture and cultural studies.

Some questions present throughout: What happens to Marxist rhetoric as it enters the vernacular of pop culture? What issues arose from the contradiction between punk music’s radical politics and its commercial mode of distribution? and, drawing on Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: what is the importance of style in subculture, and how did punk and its derivatives disrupt the symbolic order?

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