Punk has a complicated history — a history both celebrated and redacted, chronicled in shopping malls and personal zine and record collections alike, idealized in squats and suburban living rooms, retained as much in collective memory as in countless book anthologies. If one common denominator were to transcend all of punk's dislocated genealogies, it may well be found in the colloquial mantra so often recited in earnest by punks everywhere: fuck you!
But we don't hear this phrase much anymore. Why not? Let's look for an answer by examining a different, more contemporary maxim: I don't give a fuck! This phrase probably strikes a familiar chord for most, as it has proliferated extensively in mass culture, through political ambivalence, relationship trouble, art school critiques or the loss of a preferred sports team. What is curious is how much these two idiomatic expressions resemble one another. Fuck you! I don't give a fuck! Enunciated similarity aside, the former seems overt and directional, whereas the latter appears to indicate a lack of care. One might signify transgression; the other insouciance.
In fact, the exclamation I don't give a fuck! can be dated back to a song by Tupac Shakur released on his debut album "2Pacalypse Now" in 1991, entitled "I Don't Give a Fuck." Yet, there is a certain incongruence between the song's lyrics and the current motto. After the first two verses spell out the blatant racism of the police in their grabbing people off the streets, the listener learns that neither Tupac nor the police give a fuck. We should read this shared feeling as differently held by each respective party; the police and Tupac have different sociopolitical positions and, in such a way, different levels of privilege granted by the state. The police don't give a fuck based on their lived privilege; Tupac doesn't give a fuck based on his lived oppression. Interestingly enough, Tupac ends the song with a series of fuck you’s to emblematic symbols/mechanisms of oppression including the San Francisco police department, the FBI and America. The last line reads "fuck ya'll punks" (let's read the usage of the word punk here to betoken a privileged white racist individual, not a social deviant).
As you can see, Tupac's song half-agrees with today's usage of I don't give a fuck! The cops have a mixed bag of luxury and conditioning, which leads to their not giving a fuck. Tupac and his friends have no such luxury, and the recitation of not giving a fuck comes from a parlous situation in which the state apparatus can often exhaust objection and dissent. However, in dire enough conditions, someone may very well not give a fuck about the lack of promise in such a draconian circumstance.
The dichotomy of these two phrases is murky at best. At first glance, fuck you! has more of a sense of immediacy and agency than I don't give a fuck! It should also be mentioned that the cultural importance of fuck you! as espoused by punks throughout the 80s and 90s can be found more so in the potency of its gesture than its pronunciation. As any good situationist would tell you, saying fuck you! is a terribly bland provocation if not for all the creative tactics of agitation employed in its delivery, making it an act of détournement. I don't give a fuck! is by contrast less concerned with its gesture, denoting a general nonchalance that could be sourced either from indifference (e.g. the police) or from a certain freedom granted by having no remaining reservations to give a fuck about (e.g. Tupac), the latter suggesting a very similar sense of immediacy and agency as with saying fuck you!
Can we go so far as to say that, just as Tupac seems to have been more in line with the punk ethos of opposition, not giving a fuck as a contemporary phenomena is more in line with the police? By this modest stretch we can equate boredom and coolness with the apathy of laws and the state. The last thing we want to do is resurrect fuck you! in a fit of nostalgic glory, for this act would only imply a poorly conceived, reactionary, beside-the-point counterpoint of "I do give a fuck!" Then still, what is to be done about the rampant overuse of I don't give a fuck! today? Maybe we're not looking for a new answer. Maybe the best course of action is to do precisely what Tupac and so many rappers and punk bands used to, and to some extent still do: tell your fvcking story.