Learning from Punk without being a punk
Two weeks ago, the Differ’s guest post Punk It Loud! Why Social Media Needs More Punk appeared on a new blog Punk Views on Social Media – along with the thoughts of a bunch of other punks he respects and hangs out with online. And of course, it generated *much* more traffic and many more comments than Beg to Differ ever gets (insert humility). Here are some follow-up thoughts.
Confessions of a coward
In that post, I “came out” as a poseur punk. I was never actually a punk by the standard social definitions of the times, even though I hung out with punks, listened to the music, danced and generally snarled a lot. And my life today at 42 certainly doesn’t scream “punk”. But as the comments made very clear: 1) I wasn’t alone, and 2) it didn’t matter. It was the *idea* of capital P Punk that a lot of us poseurs carried with us as we grew older.
One of the commenters, Kyle Judkins responded to this line in my post:
But I was a coward, way too straight-laced to get a weird haircut, body piercings, or any superficial paraphernalia that defined punk at the time.
He thanked me for tagging the safety pins / hairdos etc. as “superficial paraphernalia” because he had originally been worried that we “Punk Views” writers were talking about that stuff. The *fad* of punk. Which would be kind of like a man in his fifties pretending he’s still a 1980’s era breakdancer – as in a TEDx Ottawa talk I saw a few weeks ago. Good heart. Great message. But… um… culturally awkward.
My thought back to Kyle was:
The external trappings of Punk were never actually very punk were they? And I guess the same goes for any revolutionary movement – whether Occupy <fill in the blank> , the Tea Party, or the French revolution, as soon as a movement gains an internal orthodoxy and pecking order it loses its edge. That’s why I like punk as a *verb* rather than a noun.
So yeah, don’t go pulling out your old punk gear in some sad search for your forgotten youth. Punk was never a uniform. It’s a verb.
And as you read these 5 “lessons” that formed the core of that post, feel free to insert the words “brand” “business” “charity” “government” or whatever where it says “social media” or “heavy metal / opera / jazz / whatever” where it says “punk”.
Or don’t. You’re punk. Find your own way!
5 reasons social media (or whatever) needs more Punk (or whatever)
- Punk doesn’t take itself too seriously. What most people didn’t get about punk was that it was a joke. I don’t mean that it wasn’t important. I mean that at its core, punk was parody, a joke played on the rest of the world. You all dress one way? Fine, we’ll do the opposite. You value top-forty disco? Fine, how about this aural assault? Like the jester at the banquet, the punk is the one who sees through the poses and the pomp, and sees where to poke the holes. On social media, I’m finding the most valuable people are those who take their ideas seriously, but notthemselves.
- Punk is about playing (loud). The punk attitude is about playing – playing a part, playing with ideas and roles, and playing out different possibilities. Taking them apart. Turning them inside out. Cranking up the volume. This constant state of play is what allows people with a punk attitude to keep evolving, changing, growing new brain cells. And in social media, it’s the attitude that drives creative connections and brilliant moments of serendipity. It’s also why nobody can ever script or template success in social media (beware the “proprietary systems”). You’ve just got to get in there and play it out.
- Punk says anybody can do it. Punk was the ultimate DIY movement. You didn’t need to be a classically trained musician to play punk, and you didn’t get your clothes – or your ideas – from Woolco. This was the ethic that made punk like early social media: chaotic, confusing, but ultimately a flat playing field where anyone could play. That’s why I feel like I have a right to put my content alongside anyone else’s. Because, actually, I do. Not because I’m special, but because anybody can. As Martin Luther King Jr. never (ever) said: “Don’t judge me by the colour of my Klout score, but by the character of my content.”
- Punk sneers at popularity. Sorry popular kids. Punks are iconoclasts by definition. We learned in high school that popularity doesn’t equal substance. We learned not to idolize airheaded jocks and bitchy prom queens just because we were expected to. So in social media, the more popular you are, the higher your follower count, blog ranking, or Klout score, the more the punks will challenge and dissect the work you do. Fair is fair, so we won’t disrespect you as people. But we will demand more of you. To question your ideas and hold you accountable for the very influence you seek.
- Punk begs to differ. The idea of punk is to try out alternatives. To put a little twist on normal and see it from the other side. I named my own humble blog (warning: link-pimpage ahead) Beg to Differ because I’m obsessed with difference – and from a marketing and branding standpoint, differentiation. How do people and products stand out and get noticed? And that’s really the point of this exercise too. The key question is: how do we keep social media fresh, democratic, and open to anyone with real value to share?