“The Decline…” (video)

Fib loaned me “The Decline of Western Civilization” by Penelope Spheres, a video collection about Punk/rock music in L.A./USA. It was a box-set of 4 videos, 2 of which I will not comment on, as it was a sort of Glam/soft-rock with hairspray and posing. But the other 2 videos are about punks. The first film “Part I” was about punk in the late 70s and early 80s, lets say the 2nd wave of punk in the USA. With bands like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Germs, X, Catholic Discipline etc. with interviews with the bands and punks from the audience… it was a good video, but I would like to compare it with the 3rd video “Part III” I watched after that which was set in the 90s, and it is a leap into the future of perhaps 10-15 years.
The punks interviewed nearly all were homeless, living in squats, on the streets, fighting with nazi skin-heads, drinking lots of beer, asking for money from the passers-by from the way they dressed…etc, it painted a similar but yet very different and disturbing picture compared to the first video.

I guess you either love or hate the hard-core punk scene, but I found myself drawn to these characters in the films. On the streets I would not give them the time of day, but as the interviewer got into their characters (and a bloody good job she did about gaining their trust) you saw them in a different way.
Ok, I do not think their life style is for me! But they are doing what I could not do, so who knows. What came across was a solidarity and a comradeship, a bonding and a friendliness amongst each other. More of a community, even though it was falling apart around them.

If the music was important then I do not think it came across in the video, except for the people in the bands. Although some of the audience new the words I think the majority of the audience were more interested in dancing and jumping on/off stage. What came across was the violence, and the drink… which destroys everything.

The sad thing was, at the end of the film, when it showed the people who had died, characters whom you had become to know and liked in a way. Stabbings, fires, imprisonment. It was not a decline of Western Civilization but a decline of Punk, as a positive alternative. Gone were the “artist communities” and feeling of change from the 1st video in the 80s, but one of oblivion of the 90s. Punks were not fighting society but they were fighting minority groups (like themselves). Destroying themselves, instead of building an alternative to a capitalist society. They lacked any sort of hope or way out, and if punk is offering that sort of vision, then it is the same as consumerism and capitalism, who bother?

If you took away the music I think those people would still be on the streets, still be drinking and fighting, and living with each other. Punk music and dress were just ‘there’ an add-on, maybe it was the glue which bound them together, but it did not create such a life style. I also felt if a band came on stage playing an alternative to hard-core they would not of lasted 5 minutes… which begs the question “were the punks and groups trapped in their own stereotypes?”

It was/is a brilliant film, a true documentary.

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Author: ethnopiper

A Ethnomusicologist and musician of traditional music, Small pipe maker, teacher and workshop presenter ... https://ethnopiper.wordpress.com/

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