November 30, 2016
Protest sets millions of dollars worth of punk rock history ablaze
by Ryan Harrington
“Punk has become another marketing tool to sell you something you don’t need.”
It’s a line that could come straight from Nato Thompson’s forthcoming Melville House book Culture as Weapon. But most recently it was uttered by Joe Corré, son of former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and designer Vivienne Westwood, before he torched £5 million worth of his own punk rock swag last Saturday. The bonfire took place aboard a boat in the Thames complete with fireworks, a band, and effigies of Boris Johnson and Theresa May.
Christopher D. Shea wrote about the much-publicized event for the New York Times:
[Corré] announced this spring that he would burn his personal punk collection to protest Punk London, a celebration of the genre, timed to the 40th anniversary of a 1976 Ramones concert in the city that is said to mark punk’s arrival in Britain. Saturday’s bonfire coincided with the anniversary of the release of the Sex Pistols’ single “Anarchy in the U.K.,” which put England’s seminal punk band on the map.
In addition to protesting the bogus, state-sanctioned celebration of punk rock— and indeed, a conservative government celebrating forty years of anarchy does smack of hypocrisy and cooptation—Corré’s action also afforded his famous mother an opportunity to draw attention to green energy causes, supporting which, Ms. Westwood told the crowd, was “the most important thing you could do in your life.”
Writing for Noisey, Oscar Rickett seems to agree with Corré’s critique, but also takes issue with the execution:
So, who is Joe Corré really? Well, he is a man who founded the lingerie company Agent Provocateur and then sold it to a private equity firm a decade later, but also says he hates the corporate world. And his moment of prosaic rebellion didn’t come without its fair share of planning and preamble. For months, an interminable press campaign has drawn attention to his radical sacrifice. There’s nothing more punk than a PR campaign, after all: Three chords and a press release.
Rickett’s main point is that perhaps the £5 million trove of rare recordings, posters, original Sex Pistols gear, and such could be sold, with the proceeds benefiting charity. Or at least something more effective could be done with it. He also suggests that we should be suspicious of a cause that has attracted more journalists than participants — journalists documenting the massive egos of the elite, and their pet causes.
Stateside, we should take a minute to reflect on this before moving forward with our own causes: What can Corré’s performance teach us about feeding the egos of the elites with gratuitous and uncritical coverage? What constitutes meaningful protest? And how are the bold artistic movements we hold dear—for instance, the wild revolutionary spirit of punk rock—stolen from us and worked into the narrative of our country — even as that narrative does not include millions of us, often the makers of the art itself?
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.