“No, you fucking poser!” said the punk.
In this sense, Green Room is a film about a punk band's struggle and failure to find an identity. The Ain’t Rights (the band) are a rough and tumble group reminiscent of 1980's squatter punks. Squatter punks lived off the grid and developed creative collaboratives inspired by the spirit of punk. In order to survive squatter punks lived by their own codes. They foraged. dumpster dived for food. Begged for spare change. The squatter punks hoped living outside mainstream society would bring them closer to an authentic life. But these were the bastard children of urban and suburbanite families and like the rest of punk they were doomed by the search inability to be comfortable with their own identity.
The Ain’t Rights, like the squatter punks, live off the land. In an early scene, the camera captures the band from an aerial view. The van swerved off the road into a corn field. When the camera enters the van we find that the driver had fallen asleep while driving. Consulting their cell phones the group locates a nearby roller rink. As they near the building we find out that the band's goal is not to seek help but to siphon enough gas from cars in the parking.
Stealing gas adds another meaning to “living off the grid.” Not only are The Ain’t Rights avoiding mainstream society and media they are leeching off mainstream society. There is a sense in which by never fully dislodging from mainstream society punk set failed to find the authentic and visceral truth at punk's heart. Could it be that punk was dead from the beginning? Maybe the idea of punk was a zombie-like. A corpse reanimated from the scraps of another’s existence.
The plot of Green Room drops The Ain’t Rights at off a neo-Nazi bar. As the band arrives, and transits through the bar and backstage to the green room you can see the lazy disgust on the faces of the band. While never fully fleshed out, the bands form of punk or ideology is hinted at early in the film when the band is asked why they do not have a social media presence. Pat played by Anton Yelchin provides a response which sounds very punk on the surface. The Ain’t Rights seek to be an experience outside of commodification.
The music of most bands are infinitely repeatable, they transcend the time and space of the musicians and audience lived reality. The Ain’t Rights a firm planting in experience and performance of music. Fan’s need to share space at the concert, be together, toss elbows in the mosh pit to truly experience the music.
But there is rotten sinew in this logic when we compare the performance of the band against its desire to create a shared existential experience. The first song the band performs is a Dead Kennedy’s Nazi Punks Fuck Off.
Punk ain't no religious cult
Punk means thinking for yourself
You ain't hardcore 'cause you spike your hair
When a jock still lives inside your head
Nazi punks, fuck off! (Dead Kenndys, 2016)
The song appears like an example of the punk attitude until we see the expression on Pat’s face. The Nazi crowd grimaces and Pat's face recoils in terror. Pat’s face outs him as a poser. The fear he is experience is a mainstream fear. A fear rooted in others. What kind of punk is afraid of nazis? A true punk commits. Outside pathology and concern about the judgment of others, a true punk would be neither oblivious to the enraged mob or cringe about the rabble's disapproval. The punk, like the lyrics and sprint of the Fuck Off Nazi Punks, don’t give a shit. What this means is that The Ain't Rights are only kicking the trash can.
When Pat stumbles upon a murder, the whole band is forced to make a choice. Submit and die on your knees or resist and die on your feet. Being poser-punks, the band loses perspective and splits upon itself. Impulsively takes over and each band member flails in a different direction. The band, fights, bargains, freezes, and fights backs all at once. This ideological splitting could be compared to the horror trope of characters splitting up to cover more ground in a slasher movie. In both, Green Room and Slashers, this impromptu libertarian tactic gets everyone killed.
But is punk alive and well? Bands are still playing concerns and producing albums?! I’d argue that just because Bad Religious is still making music does not mean that punks is alive. Proof of punk’s death is not in music but in the lack of really-existing punks. I don’t know if you have been to a punk concert in the last decade but what you find is a crowd of middle-aged Stevos dressed like they spent all day in a cubical. For those who do not remember or have never seen SLC Punk. The film tells the stories of two punks as they interact with drugs, an eccentric group of punk personalities and mainstream society. The film ultimately concludes with Stevo's submission to mainstream society. Stevo in a tie entering the workforce.
Some have argued that the ending of SLC Punk was ultimately a triumph. I believe there is no ground for this claim. Thinking that a couple punks with ties can dismantle capitalism from within is delusional or naive. At no time did punk have the power or subversive sting to shift or make a dent in capitalism's hegemony. The opposite is the case, capitalism does its greatest conversions from within outlier systems, not when outliers enter capitalism. Is it no wonder that when a new social movement arises today that one of the first action of capitalism is to send its agents into grass roots organizations to corrupt them from within?
This screams the question. Is multiculturalism responsible for cannibalizing punk and making punk just another commodified lifestyle choice? More than lack of power or capitalism strength, punk's bourgeois foundations set punk up for failure. Let's look at origins. Punk is a social phenomenon born out of privileged urban and suburban alienation – middle-class white kids. Youth growing up in the 80’s and 90’s were being born in the world live was always-already defined and many youths were finding the rigidity of lifestyle choices available unsatisfying. Prep, dork, nerd, or jock? Kids wanted out. They wanted to self-define. Punk provided an outlet to rebel against social positions, society and authority. Many punks stayed in the system. Rebelled with haircuts and obscenity. Feeding off mainstream society, created a black market with an anarchist ethos. Punks took societies jeans and ripped them. Others feel off the grid and squatted in abandoned tenements. Developed punk communes and scavenged as a way of life. Both breeds of punk nonetheless require the system to thrive. Punk requires something to rebel against.
Music was the driving force of punk. Punk music spread the message, encouraged the ideology and brought punks together. Punk songs cut through the mystique and gave youth words for rage and irritations about identity and society that were felt but rarely perceived. Youth shaved their heads Pierced ears, noses and eyeballs. Sewed patches into pants and jackets. Established new rituals - the mosh pitting and concerts. The music brought individuals together to clash, not only against society but against other punks. Punk self-cannibalized. Bands called out other bands for being posers. The constant clashing forced punks to constantly redefine themselves against the rabble and against punk itself.
Constantly, contentious of perceived and felt authenticity punks were ready to adapt their punkish-ness to calls of accountability from other punks. The constant need to find a new seat of authenticity forced punk into different outlets. Punk became sub-genre-ized – Hardcore, straight edge, Emo, horror punk etc. In a generation punk went from an attitude of rebellion to liberty spikes, a chain wallet, and a Misfits T-shirt. Is the process of constant redefinition any different from the menu at McDonalds? Constantly changing to meet market demands.
Punk died out of the quest for true authentic identity. Unlike Buddhism, which also pushes people to strive for an ever greater connection with oneself, punk made most punks uneasy with their identity. Punk had no nirvana. No final state. Punk was a striving for an ideal without a benchmark. While a true punk may not give a shit about mainstream, the punk still would not have the consistency of a monk. The Buddhists consistency is rooted dogma and overarching ideologies that gave each individual Buddhists struggle a glimpse of a bigger picture. In this sense, a punk is a rebel without a revolution. And this comparison to the grain is exactly what a Buddhist frees itself from.
Punk was a lifestyle and an outlook. A loosely knitted ideology. Punks stood for nothing and against everything. Punks were erratic revolutionaries at their best and tacky hairstyles at their worst. What may have saved punk from zombification and death is a way to cushion and preserve a punk’s individuality with a dominant narrative. In essence, punk needed more religion and pragmatism. Contrary to the message in Bad Religions title, that all religions are bad, punk needed a grander historical perspective. Punk need a perspective that could see the utility and lack of utility in what it rebelled against. Only with a historical perspective could punk learn from its own trends, rather than abandoning each stage of growth.
Ultimately The Ain’t Right’s individuality is front loaded with energy but fails to stand the test against true believers. The Neo-nazis, all the while the worst kind of evil, have a strong sense of self and community. Does this mean punk has something to learn from fascism? Let’s admit something difficult. Radical’s on the right, Trump supporters, and neo-Nazi's live their identities with a ferocity is rare in punk. Why is this? Why are humanities most conservative lemmings ready to jump off the cliff with their ideas while many of the greatest punk's revolutionaries are infested with self-critique?
Pat: I know what it is.
Amber: What what is?
Pat: My "desert-island band."
Amber: Tell somebody who gives a shit!
(Green Room, 2016)
Dead Kennedys – Nazi Punks Fuck Off. (2016). Genius. Retrieved 16 May 2016, from http://genius.com/Dead-kennedys-nazi-punks-fuck-off-lyrics
Green Room (2015). (2016). IMDb. Retrieved 16 May 2016, from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4062536/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu