The punk music scene in Philadelphia is deeply rooted in the prominent hardcore clubs and bands that made the city their home in the 1980s, and it continues to thrive today. College radio stations, like Drexel University’s WKDU and the University of Pennsylvania’s WXPN, also played a crucial role in establishing the scene. While the genre frequently rages against the establishment in both content and performance, it was predominantly men who were on stage and behind the mic, giving voice to the anti-establishment message — at least in the beginning.
Or so the story of punk (particularly hardcore punk) goes. The reality is that Philadelphia’s punk scene has a much more complicated relationship with gender and with the representation of women in that scene. Looking at the broader landscape of punk today, it is not hard to see the legacy of early female punk bands, like the Slits or the more recent Riot Grrrl movement. Philadelphia is no exception to that, with many current bands that have significant female representation and have adopted overt third-wave feminist viewpoints. But this is not necessarily a new formation for Philly punk; the “institutions” of Philadelphia punk — show houses, basements, clubs, and radio stations — have been testing grounds for new and more progressive identity politics, which themselves have been reflections of broader social movements that account for feminist and queer perspectives, for decades.
Last Halloween, my husband opened our closet door and reached for the topmost shelf where he keeps his Zipperhead mask.
“Not again,” I said.
He ignored me as he is often wont to do and pulled it on over his face.
My husband had worn this mask all through the 90s and now, in 2015, looked forward to going out in public in it that very evening. The rubbery skin covered my husband’s face. A half-opened zipper to match the one painted on the store’s façade next to the gigantic metal ants, stitched through the mask’s forehead and nested in the mask’s crown of red, kidney-shaped brains. He opened a flap and beneath it found two switches. He flicked them on and the exposed brain particle lit up with tiny dancing lights. My husband also dug out his black Dr. Martens and a Zipperhead T-shirt. Punk is long dead. My husband sold Zipperhead in 2000 to Rob and Steph, his two top employees who were married to each other. They ran it as Zipperhead for several years, then relocated it around the corner in a smaller space, and renamed it with a touch of levity Crash Bang Boom. More… “Philly’s Flagship Store”
Harriet Levin Millan‘s debut novel, How Fast Can You Run, based on the life of “Lost Boy” of Sudan Michael Majok Kuch has been selected as a Charter for Compassion Global Read. She’s the author of two books of poetry, and a third to appear in 2018. Among her prizes are the Barnard New Women Poets Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing at Drexel University. Click here for more essays on The Smart Set.
Each section of this piece is accompanied by song. Press play and crank it.
I stumbled out of the wormhole that was the first few weeks of freshman year and landed at a new member meeting for WKDU, Drexel’s student-run college radio station. A few dozen freshmen, overconfident in their music taste, gathered in an appropriately dingy meeting room. The guy directing the meeting had a pink sticker on his laptop that bore a faux Nike swoosh, underscored by the word “cunt.”
The (impossibly cool) DJs walked us through the basics: what they do, what the training process is like, what it means to be part of WKDU, and their longstanding policy of no top 40 music — from ever, forever. A group in the back sporting t-shirts of some such bands wrinkled their noses and pulled out their iPhones. I leaned in.
From social commentary to commodity, Janette Beckman’s career is in many ways a classic model of the popular memory of punk rock. As a young photographer who documented London’s youth cultures in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, she found success and opportunity earning commissions from magazines and record labels. Like Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer, Beckman sold her creative labor, just as thousands of artists and musicians have done for generations. Whether or not punk “sold out” is an oddly recurring but nonetheless pointless question: it was embedded from the beginning in contemporary commercial culture — in the ideas, languages, icons, objects, exchanges, and processes of consumption. It was always about selling, in one way or another. More… “Clash or Credit”
Once you’ve landed the job (no doubt due, in part, to your stunning wardrobe choices), celebrate your newfound success with a classy vacation. Paris, perhaps? The louvre? See the Mona Lisa, a work famous for its mystery — first for its perplexing theft (initially pinned on Pablo Picasso) and now for its enigmatic subject. (The Smart Set, Open Culture)
Higher education has been making the headlines a lot lately, but not because praise is being heaped upon it for the value it is bringing to the current generation of millennial students. Rather, headlines are loudly proclaiming that higher education is in danger, dying, or already dead. Take, for example, the cover of the September 2014 issue of The Atlantic, which reads “Is College Doomed?” and features a wrecking ball smashing the traditional paraphernalia of academia — textbooks, notebooks, pencils, cap and tassel, and, tellingly, a football. This question, “is college dead?” is certainly a hyperbolic one that has become pervasive in the media, but it should not be all that surprising to many academics. Higher education has been in a “crisis moment” for years now, especially in light of the emergence of nontraditional forms of education that challenge some of academia’s foundational assumptions. The rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and certain for-profit alternatives like Minerva (the upstart education company at the center of The Atlantic article) have shaken those foundations and, if we are to believe these headlines, will soon send faculty and administrators scurrying away from a crumbling ivory tower. It seems that all one needs to reap the equivalent rewards of a college education are access to technology and an entrepreneurial spirit. More… “Minor Threat”