Dear Punk Rock: It’s time to grow up!

Phil Witmer

Becca Ilic saw the kick coming. The young Toronto woman at the centre of an online firestorm surrounding California pop-punk band The Story So Far’s Mod Club performance defended frontman Parker Cannon (sic) for violently booting her from the stage while he was performing.

It becomes less polite upon seeing the video a fan took of the show, depicting a likely intoxicated Ilic pulling out her phone while Cannon eyes her, takes a step back and launches himself into a full-body kick to Ilic’s back that sends her face-down into the crowd.

Ilic maintains that she understood what she was getting into by attending a punk show and that she harbored no ill will toward Cannon and his band.

But what does one expect when they go to a punk show? Violence, for one thing, but with limits. Moshing and crowd-surfing are de rigeur for the punk and metal subcultures.

Yet while they outwardly seem to be scary and bestial in nature, there are strict codes in place. If someone falls, everyone stops, helps the person up, and checks if they’re okay. Moshing is a flirtation with danger without the actual will to cause serious harm.

It is consensual and above all, in the interest of fun.

Defenders of Cannon’s actions seem to cite this understanding as reason to not vilify the singer. What’s more is that not only has Cannon done this before but it’s a challenge of sorts for TSSF’s fans to see who can stay on stage the longest before Cannon drop kicks them (Ilic was trying to take a video of herself while up on stage).

Is Cannon himself aware of this? If he isn’t, then this is not the same thing as the unspoken social contract signed by punk concertgoers who participate in mosh pits.

This is just straight-up bullying that has been interpreted by a group of kids as part of the appeal.

Even if Cannon is in on the “game”, what does that say about the punk subculture? Has it become so concerned with preserving authenticity that it’s confusing unsafe, unchecked aggression with legitimate traditions in its expression?

Punk in its current form came about after emo’s mid-00s push into the mainstream ended and radio rock aligned itself with the “indie” aesthetic. Punk went back to being an alternative instead of a mass commodity, although it’s now absorbed the pop influences that allowed it to flourish a decade prior.

Compound that with inherited nostalgia for the days of Blink-182 and you have a formula to keep punk alive for a new generation of disenfranchised teens, namely teenage girls.

Interestingly enough, it’s young women who have historically formed the vast majority of pop-punk fandom.

The genre’s entire industry is based on their devotion. Despite that, punk remains fixated on a masculine idea of rebellion, equating physical force and violence with having agency over one’s self.

The obvious problem is that violence against women by men is…not a great thing to endorse or to show as acceptable to young kids.

Worse is excusing incidents like what happened at the Mod Club as “part of the scene”. A community cannot claim to propagate inclusiveness and speak for outsiders when it both excludes groups and props up those who continue to oppress them.

The larger issue is that there is too narrow a definition of authenticity in the main punk subculture. Being in thrall to decades-old practices has resulted in a calcification of values that have ignored a fundamental change in audience.

Not everyone thinks that being punk is about doing the live performance version of manspreading.

Even totally throwing out the idea that punk should adapt to new cultural standards, it is never a good idea for a band to attack their fans. Especially in punk, the fans – loyally buying merchandise, tickets, and sharing their favourite lyrics online – are the entire reason for the artists’ livelihoods.

Continually abusing the fans and potentially making them feel unsafe at shows could poison the culture, leaving it to die a slow death.

Assuming of course, that it’s not dying already.

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