Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Crass action

Image from the page for Urban Outfitters'
Vintage Men's Punk Leather Jacket.
I forgot how good the band Crass is. Inspired by this Vice article in which Crass member Penny Rimbaud fails to get outraged over Urban Outfitters and the like usurping the classic anarchist punk band's brand:
As far as I’m concerned, if the wealthy want to spend $400 on a rather naff leather jacket and go to book launches and gallery shows and all the things that those literati and glitterati do, then that’s great because it means that we’re getting the name floated around in areas where it’s very difficult for us to penetrate. I actually quite like it when people like Angelina Jolie and David Beckham wear Crass T-shirts.
I am excited with the idea of doing a branding lecture (I do those kind of things now) using the least corporate entity possible. Crass.

I needed to get Crass with my afternoon.

Crass, The Feeding of the 5000 (The Second Sitting) (1978)

Their first album is a rat-a-tat poisoned pea-shooter attack from people who believed in punk's promise, the message vented from the likes of the Sex Pistols who were formed originally to promote a clothing store.

I understand Urban Outfitters is heinous to the design community from which they steal, the very same community for which I am training young mass communicators. Yet, my daughter and I like to go to the Urban Outfitters here in town. We have been going there from the span when she was too young to understand any of the off-color humor there to an age where it is likely ringing her bell. I like to imagine myself in those cool shirts and no-sole shoes, understanding that it would be a larger attack on design should I try to pull that look off.

Crass, Yes Sir, I Will (1983)

Their sixth and final (ish) broadcast, Yes Sir, I Will, is a nail bomb by comparison to the first. Righteous punk shouts rub shoulder with a straight-up piano ballad only to careen into a rage volcano opening that spans over 20-minutes. Yes Sir is like being plugged directly into the mains. You start to hear patterns after prolonged exposure to its static.

I feel that way in the mesh of human expression and data-strip-mining that is social media, a net I voluntarily ensnare myself far too often. How much of the net is me; how much me, the net? The surrealist author Flann O'Brien had a bit in his 1940/1966 novel The Third Policeman where the people of a certain village had been riding their bicycles so long that they traded particles with them and the riders and bikes started to take on each others' characteristics.

I think about this book also in how so many people I know have their personas wrapped up in the fact that they ride bicycles as a form of social protest - against sedentariness, against Big Oil, against pollution, against cities, traffic, legislation, rules, The Man, what have you. I'm down - bikes are cool - though I also think dogs are cool and am acutely aware that when you are following either a dog or a bicyclist, you are looking straight at their butthole.

But I digress. Maybe digression is the only way through static, when there is no path.

Crass, Penis Envy (1981)

Penis Envy, their rage-Dada, new wave assault is so sharp you can shave with it. "Bata Motel," an unrelenting sneer at the rape culture singer Libertine probably accurately predicted we'd be still talking about in 2013, is only the first shot across your bough in Penis Envy.

From here
It is difficult to get my students outraged for their world of mediated static is, to them, not outrageous. I mean, it took a jaunt through Vice's casually journalistic laddishness to bring up the likes of Crass. I bet it was one someone skater/editor's dad's mixtape. I bet if Penny Rimbaud has a Google alert set up, this article is blowing up her his inbox. No, Miley Cyrus, the topic of at least half of my lectures this semester, bless her syllabus-making, achy-breaky heart, is almost more than their hearts can bear. She might be humming along with the static of their mediated lives and that melody creeps them out a little. The transition of Hanna Montana to blow-up doll hits too close to actual adolescence for comfort.

Or maybe it's the tongue thing.

She kinda looks like Marmaduke when she does it.

But, man, Penis Envy is great. It is the Great Static - a million messages being transmitted at once, like a packet transfer from a dying satellite orbiting a long since-doomed planet. In the delirious outburst that is "What the Fuck," Libertine issues forth, among other things:

So singular your motives, yet impossible to define,
How finely lined my destiny in the cobwebs of your crime.


What now? Now in your control, birth and death,
Dry the bodies, incandescent in the heat.

all as the opera lady sings and all descends into static. It's good to get Crass. It makes you think about things.

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