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Selling ‘rebellion’: 1977 TV segment on The Damned bemoans the commercialization of punk
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The Damned
Selling ‘rebellion’: 1977 TV segment on The Damned bemoans the commercialization of punk

I love watching old commentary on punk rock as a social phenomenon, especially in the staid, square format of conventional TV news. When they get it wrong, it’s usually an attempt at sensationalism, moralist hysteria or some such “kids these days” sentiment. Old people panicking (or attempting to incite panic) about youth culture is almost always amusing in retrospect.

But it’s even more of a trip when they get it right.

This spot isn’t a probing exposé on The Damned (nor does it have the best visual quality, sorry), but the segment actually gives a fairly astute assessment of punk rock as an exploitable business opportunity. In addition to giving a decent description of punk’s appeal to working-class British kids, the piece is genuinely insightful about the relationships between capitalism, identity, youth, and “authenticity.” You can actually hear concern in the narrator’s oh-so-sober-and-respectable tone as he bemoans that “it is now possible to buy a gold safety pin for up to $100 to go with a hand-ripped t-shirt, that sells for $16.”

And those are 1977 dollars, folks! It stinks that the vid cuts out early, because it’s honestly kind of heartwarming to hear the narrator differentiate between fashion-plates and “true believers.” There’s a sweetness to this sort of mildly cynical anti-capitalist commentary; the idea that art shouldn’t have to be contaminated by profit motives is a noble one, and one that I still kind of believe in, after a few drinks. As absurd as it is, that Urban Outfitters jacket is nothing new. Art, rebellion, and youth culture get marketed as soon as the opportunistic catch a whiff, and all we can do is remember it’s the natural order of things, have a laugh, and try not to roll our eyes too hard.

Posted by Amber Frost
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