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The Politics of Punk

Protest and Revolt from the Streets

David A. Ensminger

Punk rock has long been equated with the ever-shifting concepts of dissent, disruption, and counter-cultural activities. As a result, since its 1970s and 1980s incarnations, when bands in Britain—from The Clash and Sex Pistols to Angelic Upstarts, U.K. Subs, and Crass—offered alternative political convictions and subversive lifestyle choices, the media has often deemed punk a threat. Bands like Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, and Millions of Dead Cops followed suit in America, pushing similar boundaries as the music mutated into a harsher “hardcore” style that branched deep into suburban enclaves. Those antagonisms and ideals were, in turn, translated by another wave of bands—from Fugazi to Anti-Flag—whose commitment to community building was as pronounced as their taut, explosive tunes.

The Politics of Punk, David Ensminger probes the conscience of punk by going beyond the lyrics and slogans of the pithy culture war. He paints a broad, nuanced, and well-documented picture of the ongoing activism and outreach inherent in punk. Creating a people’s history of punk’s social, cultural, aesthetic, and political features, the book features original interviews with members of Dead Kennedys, Dead Boys, MDC, Channel 3, Snap-Her, Scream, Minutemen, TSOL, the Avengers, Blowdryers, and many more. Ensminger highlights punk money’s influence on philanthropy and community involvement and paints a contextualized picture of how punk critiqued dominant culture by channeling support and media coverage for a wide array of humanitarian programs for gays and lesbians, the homeless, the disabled, environmental and health research, and other causes.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 260Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
978-1-4422-5444-2 • Hardback • August 2016 • $40.00 • (£24.95)
978-1-4422-5445-9 • eBook • August 2016 • $39.99 • (£24.95)
David Ensminger is humanities, folklore, and English instructor at Lee College in Baytown, Texas. He has written about music, art, and contemporary issues and is author of Visual Vitriol: The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generations and Left of the Dial: Conversations with Punk Icons. He has contributed to Popmatters, Maximum Rocknroll, Houston Press, Trust, Postmodern Culture, Art in Print, M/C Journal, Journal of Popular Music Studies, Liminalities, Artcore, and various other journals.
Chapter 1: This Land is Punk Land
Chapter 2: Know Your Enemy
Chapter 3: Zones of Influence, Washington D.C. and San Francisco
Chapter 4: Shot from Both Sides: MDC
Chapter 5: Litpunk Furor: The Wit of Jennifer Blowdryer
Chapter 6: Slamdance in the No Time Zone: Punk as Repertoire for Liminality
Chapter 7: Through the Lurid Looking Glass: Punk Porn Histories
Ensminger’s book appeals to scholars and readers interested in punk culture, popular music, activisms, and popular culture as Ensminger’s engaging work adds to the growing history of punk.
New Books Network

In The Politics of Punk: Protest and Revolt from the Streets, David Ensminger accomplishes the unwieldy task of documenting the politics and activism of punk as it erupted over several decades and in multiple communities....The Politics of Punk is a remarkably thorough and compelling achievement....His writing is clear, lively, and even passionate....The Politics of Punk marks a valuable contribution to punk studies, illuminating various threads of the movement. I am sure it will inspire other studies to focus on one of those threads in more detail.
Popular Music & Society

Over the last forty years punk rock fans have watched their music climb from stark basements to stadium bleachers. Is there a coherent politics of punk, and does it matter? In this informed and inclusive study, David Ensminger has assembled multiple generations from the musical counterculture who rally against the status quo while practicing radical, ethical, DIY solidarity. Far from armchair-addled academia, The Politics of Punk is a unique and refreshing grassroots contribution to the ongoing history of punk rock.
Craig O'Hara, author of The Philosophy of Punk: More than Noise!

This … will appeal to both scholars and general readers interested in the history and politics of punk, subcultures, popular music, journalism, grassroots activism, media studies, youth movements, and culture studies in general. Ensminger is an authority on this topic and provides a fresh voice in the field as a scholar and active participant in the punk movement for more than two decades who is attuned to the political and activist aspects of punk. He places punk in its broader sociocultural context and goes beyond semiotic analyses of punk as symbolic or "ritual resistance" and other cliches; this is a history of punk "from below," grounded in interviews, participant observation, oral history, and cultural theory that documents the activist attempts of specific individuals to affect social change, including LGBT issues, environmental concerns, homelessness, poverty, etc. It includes a story of grassroots activism often overlooked in studies of the punk movement, and is written in a way that engages the reader in a lively and impassioned manner.
Daniel Wojcik, University of Oregon, author of Punk and Neo-Tribal Body Art