Opinion

Paul McNamee: Come on punk, make my day

"Far from being anti-establishment, there is something inherently conservative about sticking rigidly to a bygone age"

There are few things more tedious than old punks banging on about being old punks.

In their minds, it’s still the summer of ’76. The Man doesn’t get it and they’re going to get The Man. Everybody and everything that came afterwards is somehow less important, less energised and a sell-out.

Experience and empirical evidence rarely dents this self-assurance. It leads to wrongheaded beliefs that original punk is still for outsiders.

The wealthy businessman Joseph Corré, son of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, threatened last week to burn £5m worth of punk memorabilia in protest at the establishment endorsement of a series of 40th anniversary punk events.

“Talk about alternative and punk culture being appropriated by the mainstream,” he fumed, making no mention of the KLF beating him to the situationist punch 20 years before.

Perhaps he was also furious when the great punk godhead John Lydon advertised butter on British TV. Lydon, from a working-class north London background, always saw through such bluster. He understood that a man must make a living. And he also understood that holding rigidly to those views was a nonsense.

We can all be guilty of claiming fings ain’t wot they was when we was young. But evidence says different

Far from being anti-establishment, there is something inherently conservative about sticking rigidly to a bygone age. It’s a belief that our best days are behind us, fetishising a past in much the same way as dreams of cream tea and cricket on English village greens.

More frustrating is a continuing belief that because kids then were great, kids now are not.

Last week the actress Jane Horrocks, currently starring in a stage show based around the music of the punk and post-punk era, was the latest to push this wrongheaded idea.

“I don’t think kids have the same response to politics or the same response to what is going on around them,” she said. “It’s largely to do with social media. [They’re] largely selfish and self-absorbed.”

We can all be guilty of claiming fings ain’t wot they was when we was young. But evidence says different.

There’s the voice of 16-year-olds in the Scottish referendum. At first I had joined the chorus against those so young having a vote. But then I realised that they took the responsibility seriously, they learned the arguments and studied the debate sometimes more intensely than elder voters.

Teens may be on social media, but they are not just bullying each other or sending emojis and watching porn. They’re learning about the world through the new avenues opening up. Their opinions on politics and the environment may be binary but they’re engaged, they’re smart and they now have tools to hold authority to account.

And they’re thinking about the future. Teenage pregnancy levels are at a 70-year low. Alcohol consumption amongst teens is declining. There is a careful, smart, prepared generation coming up on the rails.

In his budget speech, George Osborne referenced the ‘next generation’ more than a dozen times. He needn’t worry about them. They’re ready. It’s old punks like the rest of us who need to grow up.

If you have any comments please email me at paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com, tweet @pauldmcnamee, or send a letter to The Big Issue, 43 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 1HW

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