This is a challenge to the underground. An underground exists when there are those who do not share the values of mainstream society; because there are people who make art for reasons other than profit; because there are people struggling everyday to make our world a better place - to end violence, to abolish prisons, to support liberation.
This work is hard, as revolution is something that does not happen just once, but something we are constantly pushing towards. There are many who consider themselves aligned with this culture, who feel they reject the status quo and support the idea of a brighter tomorrow. This looks different for everyone. There is no one way to get to the revolution, but it is important to continually critique one’s lifestyle and personal choices so as to ensure we are staying true to what we believe. Or, what we believe we believe. Even if you know in your heartmindbody that you are living your life mindfully, you must create time to step back and ensure you are always taking real care of yourself.
The current prevailing cultural attitude is largely one of political disregard. It is not surprising that much of the content of pop culture is more or less apolitical; this is media meant to be consumed for a profit, and the masses do not want to buy things that make them uncomfortable. Yet it is alarming that much of underground culture today seems averse to politics. There are few underground bands today that are overtly political; we are living in a time when it is uncool to care. As Moira Weigel and Mal Ahern wrote in their recent brilliant article in The New Inquiry on contemporary boyish critics, “The Man-Child’s irony may be a part of a generational aversion to political risk: he would not call out a sexist or racist joke, for fear of sounding too earnest.” I have often been around peers discussing “normal” people with disgust, clearly positing themselves in a different category, and yet embodying many of the same gross capitalist tendencies.
Like many others, I first became interested in the idea of an alternative culture through punk and hardcore because I rejected the society that didn't care about me. I devoured the ideas of bands like Bikini Kill and Minor Threat for challenging sexism, mindless consumerism and our broken political system. I still hold the ideals I had then; I am still envisioning a utopia where there is no discrimination. While we work on that larger picture, I am glad to have places I can go to that value these underground ideas. I am glad to have alternative spaces to experience music and art, and to otherwise exist in a space that isn't centered around capitalism. Places like this, however, are only able to exist because, in theory, we support them and patronize them in purposeful ways.
With many shows continuing to take place at bars or at alternative spaces with a cover, it can be telling to see who amongst us will attend. It is commonplace for people to hang outside shows, not paying to go in. Yet many of us do not hesitate to spend our money at a bar or liquor store. I am certainly guilty of engaging in these activities. It is important at these times to ask how we are challenging the status quo. How is our alternative culture different from the mainstream if we are choosing to spend our money on alcohol, on big business, versus the artistic output of our local community? This type of behavior, this type of value personified, is not surprising when we consider it in the context of an apolitical culture. Apathy remains the attitude of the day. It is so unusual to show any sort of political opinion that Grimes’ recent anti-sexism manifesto met with meteoric commentary from the internet masses.
It is understandable that we sometimes fall into a habit where we are drinking to relax or unwind. Struggling for social change is not easy work - but falling into escapist activities is not a healthy or productive alternative. In Bikini Kill zine #2, it states, "we do need music that we understand and we do need friends who love and support us and we do need to have fun. But fun doesn't have to mean denial or escapism, it can mean struggling, confronting, trusting, and being scared sometimes, together instead of always alone." This sentiment reminds us of the importance of realizing our common struggles and that facing them head on will prevent us from feeling so isolated. It is imperative that we struggle together and support each other; escapist activities are often done alone. We must constantly examine ourselves and our communities. I do not want to seem innocent: I have done my fair share of bar-going, skipping shows because of covers, and internet obsessing (perhaps our most common source of escapism), but this is something that we can help hold each other accountable for.
The status quo knows that keeping the masses subdued is in its' best favor. As Assata Shakur wrote in a 1978 essay in The Black Scholar about her time spent in Riker’s prison, "The major topic of conversation here is drugs...Getting high is usually the first thing a woman says she’s going to do when she gets out. In prison, as on the streets, an escapist culture prevails." This is why the government has made drugs available in places and communities it has wanted to contain. There is a parallel to be drawn here between low-income communities of color and political activists (which are not mutually exclusive). Both are communities which have a lot to gain by overthrowing the system; this is not lost on the government or corporate America. Shakur goes on to note the "absence of revolutionary rhetoric among the women...The women at Riker’s seem vaguely aware of what a revolution is but generally regard it as an impossible dream. Not at all practical." Revolution may not be practical, but it is what we are striving for and it is not going to happen on the internet, in front of the TV or on a bar stool. Remember that it is revolutionary to love ourselves, to not abuse our bodies or minds, which is exactly what the status quo would like us to do. We will not be complacent. We will create a better tomorrow.