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Parallels with today: Rosie Patten

Professor Matthew Worley discusses the parallels between the punk movement in 1978 with modern day with University of Reading student, Rosie.
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I’m here to talk to Rosie now, who’s a student at the University of Reading, who’s done a wider course based on punk called Anarchy in the UK, and ask her about her perceptions of punk and how they’ve changed as a result of the course and how they relate to Britain today. So I guess the first thing to ask Rosie is, what were your perceptions of punk before you started doing the course? What did it mean to you? I suppose before the course, punk was more of like a genre to me. And now that I’ve studied the course, it’s more of a culture, it’s a massive, wider culture that has actually caused so many other subcultures to evolve from it.
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To me, punk encompasses gothic, it encompasses oi, industrial music, it’s so much bigger than I imagined. I thought punk was this thrashing, loud, sound, and now you can see that punk is more of an ideology, that while there’s an attitude behind punk, that has really been consistent through the course. Punk, and those involved in punk, often tapped into protests relevant to the mid 1970s into the 1980s, where there’s Rock Against Racism, there’s Rock Against Sexism campaign. By the 80s, it went to CND and the revival of CND, the right to work, and things like that. What protests are there around today, which might resonate with that punk spirit of disaffection?
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Yeah, it’s actually very recently, there was this protest in Reading about the new police crime and sentencing bill that’s threatening everyone’s right to protest. And it’s one of the only mediums in person that we still have to demonstrate our discontent and disaffection. Yeah, it’s interesting how punk became synonymous with certainly, some of these movements, isn’t it, And even if you had punks, who were antipolitics or rejected politics or thought there was no point in campaigning about anything. When you think back to a period in the 70s and 80s, there’s a, always a crossover between punk culture and protest culture. Are there still elements of punk’s aesthetic and punk’s approach that feed into protests nowadays, do you think?
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What have you seen? I think in protests now, you still have a very distinct aesthetic, but the way it’s spread is obviously through different mediums that you don’t really get posters handed out as much. Last week I got handed a poster, what do I do with this? Because you’re used to seeing it all online, but I think that in terms of the signs that people hold up, the message, I think you could probably hold up one message from any sort of protest or demonstration from the 70s, you could hold it against one from today, and you’d probably get really similar images. If you put them both in black and white, maybe you wouldn’t tell the difference.
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But that sense of disaffection does come through, whether it’s with the top of the pops, or whether it’s with the jobs you get. And disaffection is a perennial thing that leads into the 21st century. So where are our disaffections today? What would be, if punk begins in 2021, what would it be tapping into, do you think? I think you’ve still got a culture now where society is, just as, if not more, polarised than it was in the 70s and 80s. You’ve got left-wing, versus, right-wing and not much in between, so where punk would emerge, I think, you’d still have these varying political loyalties, but you’d still have this very polarised and very passionate belief on either end.
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And especially with, so you’ve got conservative government today, and whilst punk’s not emerging today, you’ve got other musical cultures that are really tapping into, especially, young people’s disaffection with the current government. You’ve got very, very clear parallels or if not, continuities from punk. Yeah, I think the big mistake people make is when they always make that comment, why aren’t people doing punk today, and you can say they’re always looking for people picking up guitars and banging drums and things. We’ve still got that. We’ve still got that, but the way punk is performed is as an attitude, as opposed to a genre. If we’re separating it, you’ve got so many other genres that are doing the exact same thing.
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As I’ve said, you’ve got rap, but you’ve still got post-punk or punk bands that are really growing in popularity that are singing about Brexit, they’re singing about Theresa May, they’re singing about anything that they are just a bit frustrated with. But yeah, I think the idea that punk doesn’t exist today and it’s fizzled out, I think there have been so many continuities from it that I can’t agree with that. Yeah, no, I certainly agree with that. I think there’s a prehistory as well. There’s lots of moments in time where there’s these cultural expressions of disaffection and they might get different names at different times, and punk happened to be the term given to the one in the 1970s.
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These concerns are ongoing and always will be. But things have obviously changed as well. So what’s different now to the 1970s, 1980s that have refracted punk’s influence, perhaps? Well, I suppose when you’re talking about fanzines, we’re talking about how some people had to run into their school and sneakily use their school printers to print out these fanzines. But now, most people have a phone in Britain, and you just have to log on and you can post whatever you want, and I think that your audience is automatically millions of people if you want it to be.
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And I think it’s easier to reach the rest of Britain and the rest of the world now with your music, with your message, and with your disaffection.

University of Reading student, Rosie Patten, studies History and has completed a module called ‘Anarchy in the UK’ which she discusses here with Matthew. It’s led her to a much broader understanding of punk and she’s interested in the continuities with culture today, particularly around protest and racism.

Rosie makes the point about social media and the internet having dramatically changed the way we communicate since the 1970s. Can you see parallels in the calls to action proclaimed by the fanzines, and those broadcast via social media platforms today?

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Anarchy in the UK: A History of Punk from 1976-78

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