|Finsbury Park, Sunday, June 23rd 1996. The Reunion of the Decade, the
return of the Sex Pistols. I wasn't there. But I did dig out the Bollocks album
for a replay, to remind myself why it's still a landmark in the evolution of
Niel Faulkner (21K)
The point I'm making is that I can forge a connection between punk and B7, and especially punk and fandom. It's probably a uniquely personal one, but it's there. After all, they both emerged at the same time, both - in their way - a product of the same post-60s retreat into pop banality, the same world of encroaching economic crisis, Watergate, the Lib-Lab pact, jet liners exploding in desert heat, troubles in Ulster, troubles in Angola, the Middle East skittering in and out of war. A great time, the early 70s - Leila Khaled and Jonathan King.
*Call hippies boring old farts and set fire to them* (Malcolm Mclaren)
While Terry Nation was drafting out the plot for B7, McLaren was pulling the sex Pistols together in the back of his King's Road boutique. Just coincidence, of course. By the time B7 went into production, _God Save the Queen_ had topped the charts (or only reached No 2, depending on which chart you go by) with zero airplay. _2000 AD_ had risen from the ashes of _Action_ and revolutionise SF with its new breed of violent, amoral, working class heroes. I'm not suggesting either punk rock or comics had any actual influence of the shape of B7, but all three, in their way, exemplified the death of the spirit of the 60s. Together they exhibited a kind of convergent evolution, dark and dystopian, in conceptual apposition to their predecessors, a repudiation of the previous decade's empty promises.
B7 stands some way apart from the others because it was made by the BBC, resolutely middle class and only a hotbed of anarchy and subversion in the tiny minds of _Daily Mail_ readers. But just *look* at it. What SF series before then could claim anything like such a level of violence? Such moral ambiguity? Such an undercurrent of grimness and greyness? All dressed up as peak viewing family entertainment, of course, but had there ever been anything quite like it?
Being a British production probably helped. The Brits have always had an easy relationship with the anti-establishment lobby from Robin Hood onwards. This sympathy with rebels and iconoclasts shone through _Doctor Who_ and _The Prisoner_, immediate media predecessors of B7. The continuity with DW in terms of standards of production made B7 look cheap and openly tacky, but with less of the blithe cheeriness. It may not have been a conscious thing, but early B7 echoes the spit-in-the-eye vitality of the Damned, or the Buzzcocks. Down-to-earth basics with none of the high concept pretensions. No bloody poetry.
It's a connection I had to make in retrospect. Punk was grabbing headlines over a year before B7 slunk onto the screen, but I met them in reverse order. I was sitting waiting in my armchair for _The Way Back_ to begin, but didn't discover the Pistols until Sid Vicious was rotting in his grave. By the time I began to explore the landscape of punk, it was full of names that never made the Top 40 - Crass, Dead Kennedys, Chron Gen, Killing Joke, A Flux of Pink Indians. Good bands all of them. Some of them could even play. I still listen to them. The Indie movement, dominated by the mighty colossus of Joy Division, challenged industrial giants like EMI. John Peel was compulsory listening, just as B7 was compulsory viewing. I got invited to a school reunion, a pub crawl of Faversham with the A-Level biology set and teacher. I'd have gone if it hadn't clashed with _Blake_.
So what did punk teach me?
It taught me that you don't need talent to justify what you have to say.
It taught me that you needn't pay attention to consensual standards of quality because they don't count.
It taught me that everyone has a voice and it has a right to be heard, whatever it has to say.
It taught me that art belongs to the audience, not the artists.
It taught me that being in a minority doesn't automatically make you wrong.
It taught me that the cosmetic wrappings of popular consumption are a lie.
If you want real quality, go for the second rate. Or better still the third. Anything better is pap.
*This is a chord... This is a chord... And so is this. Now go and form a group.* (Mark P in _Sniffin' Glue_)
Amateur music spawned an amateur press. Punk fanzines abounded (apparently) though I only got to see a handful. Enthralling they were - badly typed stapled photocopies to trawl through with a squint, pages upside down, artwork to disgrace a 5-year old, peppered with blasphemy, profanity or desperate naiveté. Animal Rights manifestos, polemical idealisations of the Native American, the experience of playing a Scottish new town gig. I saw more of rolegaming fanzines, and they were into more or less the same melange - political discussion, music reviews, even recipes slipped between the eternal slagging matches between AD&Ders and RuneQuesters.
B7 zines can only feel flat in comparison. None of them - not one - has half as much life, half as much interest, half as much energetic ineptitude. Take a Horizon newsletter, take any fiction zine, take Altazine #2. What have you got? A few scraps if you're lucky. All those fans, all those voices, stifled into reticence by false expectations, false standards of propriety. It's such a *waste*.
But the fans are doing what the punks and rolegamers did. They are siezing the product of the media establishment, appropriating it, remoulding it to suit their own devices. They just don't realise it. They write and they write, and it all ends up reading like an apology. What do they think they've *done*? And if they haven't done anything, why can't they admit it?
Punk subverted a music industry of turgid concept albums, Hippgnosis album sleeves and melodious hypocrisy. Fandom subverts a media industry of glossy poster mags and passive reception. Punk rejected/fandom rejects. Punk challenged/fandom challenges. Punk legitimised/fandom legitimises. Punk screamed/fandom screams. Punk innovated/fandom innovates. Punk did. Fandom does, but only occasionally. On those rare occasions when it has a mind to.
You can't go in if you don't look rightChron Gen, "OUTLAW"
Doesn't the music make it right?
We have missed the whole idea
We should have listened with our ears
But we kept them closed with fear*
Punk music is like fan fiction. Take out the big names (Pistols, Clash, Damned, Banshees, Stranglers, Buzzcocks etc) and you find a fascinating underground subculture. Groups emerge, pour the sum total of their creative talent into one track (fan story) which appears on a compilation album (fanzine), and then they disappear. They make their mark on the subcultural landscape without ever rippling any wider public consciousness. As with fanfic, there is constant reiteration of certain themes - whole triple albums could be devoted to anthems on unemployment, police harassment, the '81 riots or the prospect of nuclear annihilation.. Street level violence, however, rarely gets a mention, and any mention of drug use stands out as an oddity. Both are almost invariably reflected on in negative terms. The most noticeable omission in punk music, though, is the almost total absence of songs dealing with human relationships, especially romantic ones. Rare exceptions, like the Gang of Four's _Anthrax_, are analytical rather than exultational.
What ultimately separates punk music from fan fiction ids the way punk was explicitly questioning and confrontational. It was consciously radical, though by no means always politicised. Fanfic, by contrast, is almost invariably acquiescent. It is essentially conformist, bound by a striving for communal consensus within the framework of B7 appreciation. Punk had the consensus from the start, using it as a launching pad rather than perceiving it as an ideal goal. Punk certainly fractalised into several sub-subcultures - oi, thrash, positive punk etc - and polarised into anarchist and neo-nazi extremes. But unlike fandom, it diverged naturally rather than seeking to converge. Why do punk and fandom have such essentially different attitudes?
The obvious answer to this is that fandom is primarily middle class and female-dominated, whereas punk was (or at least claimed to be) working class and (despite the likes of Siouxsie Sioux, Polly Styrene, or Beki Bondage) male-dominated. It's the obvious answer, but I'm not sure it's *the* answer. For one thing, fandom is not overwhelmingly female (definitely not in other media, such as Dr Who), and punk wasn't half as working class as it claimed to be (though it largely was in its post-commercial underground days). The two movements have a number of points in common, since both are/were:
It is here, in the subversive element, that I find the big difference. Punk was aware of its attitude, took it as an *a priori* assumption (if not a necessity) and consciously fostered it. Fandom's subversion operates unconsciously. It goes unacknowledged. Where the punks were self-declared outlaws, in their own minds if nowhere else, fans are Good Citizens. (By the way, not all punks were angry youth - Charlie Harper of the UK Subs was an ex-mod in his forties. Some members of Crass marched to Aldermaston in 1958, and Vi Subversa of the Poison Girls was a grandmother. There were, admittedly, exceptions.)
Punk's anti-establishment attitude was overt and fed on itself as a badge of recognition. Fandom's anti-establishment attitude is covert, and effectively and effectively tries to deny itself. Punk raged against 'the system', the socio- economic-military complex that it identified as the enemy. Fandom's enemies are much narrower - the public broadcasting industry and its disparaging treatment of cult product, and the (largely potential) inconvenience of copyright laws. It is probably this difference in the scale of perceived opposition that underlies the essential difference of attitude between punk and fandom. But...
I can still se the similarities, I can still feel the common desire to step outside of bland normality (non-fans aren't called 'mundanes' for nothing), I can still sense the quest for carving out at least a fragment of personal identity on one's own terms. That was what punk was really about, that is what fandom is really about - the right to be different. Safety pins and spock ears are just foci. Convergent, coincident? Almost certainly, but real nevertheless.
You can get all of B7 on video, or at least you could until the BBC withdrew the tapes. There's plenty of punk about on CD, and not just the hallowed classics either. Both died over ten years ago. Both still live. There were shocking pink mohicans at Finsbury Park. There'll be silver Alpha tops at Who's 7. Punk still exerts its influence on the current musical underground. Without B7 we'd never have got Babylon 5. The parallels continue. Maybe it's all just a coincidence.
But I'd like to think it wasn't.
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