|Pussy Riot - unmasked and in court|
Singing songs about political leaders you dislike does not make you bold. Jello Biafra was not being particularly punk when he wrote and sang, so imaginatively, about Ronald Reagan, California governor Jerry Brown and Pol Pot. Rather, he was a shrewd businessman (who, like so many shrewd businessmen before and after him, was sued, years later, for ripping off his partners). His business was entertainment. In the early days of his punk career, Biafra was an articulate, humorous and creative critic of corporate America and the Moral Majority. But the Moral Majority, despite their misleading name, were never mainstream American society; rather, they were predecessors of the modern day Tea Party who, however weird, are just as marginal as the hyper-liberal bi-coastal communities that Biafra has, by turns, chided and called his compatriots. And corporate America, despite its poor environmental record, has made life for those living on American soil richer, cheaper and more convenient than in most other parts of the world. Despite his nom de plume, the man his parents named Eric Boucher was an American whose gifts to the world (and they were wonderful rock n roll gifts) were enabled by freedoms of speech, economy and personal movement that are endemic to American life.
|PMRC's contribution to pop culture|
|The PMRC, with Tipper Gore far-right|
When the state, rather than simply an individual in a position of power, is against you and everything you stand for, and when the culture at large stands by that prejudice and allows, or uses, the legal system to punish you, you're an outsider. If you stand by your beliefs, then you might be a brave, or foolish, outsider - and there's a good chance that someone will make a martyr or anti-hero of you. You may also be Charles Manson, a lunatic who deserves to be locked away. In Pussy Riot's case, seemingly few people in Russia admire their protest. It was considered blasphemous and their demands for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, distasteful. They are outsiders, but they should not be. In a democratic country their actions would've been considered a publicity stunt. If only. They are being sent to jail and very few people in Russia, especially those with influence, appear to be speaking up for them. There's no romance in this.
The concept of punk could only have been invented in the West, and could only ever have any real meaning in places that do not have the good fortune to enjoy the freedoms of speech, action and economy that people in democratic countries enjoy. Once, at a work conference, we were asked to talk to the person sitting next to us about an educational experience that had defined our learning when we were at school. I was sitting next to an older Indian man, a CEO, and I told him about playing in a band, writing our own songs and putting on our own shows, and how I learned more from this than I sometimes felt I did at school. He looked at me and said, 'wasn't it just a bit of rebellion?', to which I responded 'not at all, my parents were extremely supportive of it'. And there it is. We thought of it as punk, but it really wasn't. It was a privilege and I get nostalgic at the memory of it. I doubt very much that the members of Pussy Riot will be able to look back upon this period in their lives, and the greater life of Russian society, and say that it was a wonderful time.