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No future

Malcolm McLaren has died.

It’s hard not to feel personally bereft, at the moment, although of course I am not really basing my Buckingham on Mr. McLaren so much as on a kind of stereotype (or archetype, if you will) that Mr. McLaren himself used and subverted and ultimately fed into. I admit that I thought, briefly, that it would be great to have his curly mop of hair atop the Duke of Buckingham’s head, but (a) my hair is not curly, and (2) no, it wouldn’t be great. Still.

As it happens, I don’t really have much good to say about Mr. McLaren on the occasion of his demise. It’s an odd thing—I don’t particularly like his music, or his fashion design, or the staged outrages and Situationist stuff that he perpetrated so effectively, but I am glad that they exist. I think his attitude (Turn left, if you're supposed to turn right; go through any door that you're not supposed to as quoted in the Observer recently) is self-indulgent and self-defeating, and that it is far likelier to lead to bad art as good, and that even more the dissemination of that idea is far likelier to lead to a docile and easily-manipulated crowd than an independent and progressive one. On the other hand, I would hate to live in a world without punks. I want my daughter to grow up, as I grew up, in a world where people are trying to sell previously-ripped jeans and t-shirts. I want her to do what I did: experience the thrill and energy of contrarianism, and then find some deeper and more satisfying joy.

I want the establishment, and I am specifically referring to myself and the things I like and support, to be faced with the sort of aggressive and frankly stupid disrespect that typified the punk movement. I want taboos (and calling a shop 'SEX' and putting bondage gear in the window was very very taboo when they did it) to be smashed—I don't want to smash them myself, thank you, but I want to be making the choice to follow the traditions I value, not just following along without thinking.

I asked a few college kids today if they had heard of Malcolm McLaren; they hadn't. That's too bad. If you are eighteen or nineteen, and you think of punk as being your parent's generation, you're right—but you are also wrong. Punk is for all time, but not for everybody; punk is about looking for something to smash, and discovering, with any luck for the first time, that a lot of our assumptions and our traditions and our taboos and our social structures really are fragile. Yelling boo! at the right time, in the right voice, loud enough, really does work. And it's a great thing for people who want to take those traditions and social structures and assumptions and taboos seriously to know that, too.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,