When counterculture becomes little more than tattoos and twee totes.
I am a 37-year-old middle class white male whose sense of entitlement has been translated, from a very young age, as an adolescent grievance against the world. If I had been born in England, maybe I’d feel like I was owed a living. But, as I was born in America and listened to American hardcore from the age of 14 on, I feel the world owes me a handjob and its own imminent and violent demise. So, of course I’m a Black Flag fan.
I’ve been thinking about Black Flag a lot lately. It’s impossible not to, what with the four black bars being pasted on the forearms and v-neck t-shirts of all new citizens to New York City. If what we do is secret, somebody blabbed, and then made a tote bag of it.
I want to be clear, what I’m talking about here is not the music of Black Flag. The music, like God, is not dependent on our opinion for its merit. We can continue listening to (for me) pre-Rollins (maybe, for you, Rollins-in-all-his-gym-addled-glory) era Black Flag 'til the Greg Ginns and Raymond Pettibons of the world bury the hatchet and open a boutique taqueria. It’s fine, the world will go on. I’m talking about the bars.
An old friend, while in the process of threatening to stab me and everyone I know, was talking to me about “making punk a threat again.” While I’m sympathetic to his goals, I don’t know that that’s possible. And I don’t know that I care. I’m trying to get through this world with a small amount of dignity, and I’m afraid Black Flag iconography is no longer part of that equation. And it’s not just the Lady Gagas of the world appropriating punk imagery. That’s been going on since the beginning of punk. Make something that looks so good and people are going to want to try it on—like smoking. And anyway, to live in opposition to the prevailing current is not intrinsically awesome, and rebellion for its own sake is akin to being straight edge…so that you can be "straight edge." I don’t care about any of that. No, I’m more concerned about what the punks, the heads, the so-called "counterculture" has done to the Black Flag bars. They've put them on a doggy blanket, they've made terrible puns of them, they've sold them at the Renegade Craft Fair. I don’t mind wholesale selling out—pay your rent, pal—I just hate when shit gets precious.
The blackflaglogo.tumblr is a site devoted to all the various permutations of the Black Flag bars. I’m not going to lie: it’s not without its fun, and I don’t doubt that the guy who put it together is delightful and, judging from his other blog, he totally is, but scrolling through it is to dive into the depths of inanity; from the yawn-inducing casual misogyny of a Rollins poster to the tooth grinding agro contrivance of the fucking endless Black Flag bars as bacon imagery. We get it people, you learned nothing. Seriously, it makes me want to go out, find the guy with the Earth Crisis tattoo that everyone makes fun of, and give him a goddamned medal. At least he’s working his way through the world in some sort of contrary fashion, rather than turning what was once at least vaguely transgressive into an extended tummy rub.
I realize that writing this from this site, VICE being no stranger to meeting cute with the old revolutionary totems, may seem hypocritical, and I want to be clear, get the fucking Black Flag tattoo. If you want it bad enough, do it, and tell me to fuck off when you see me; I’m the weak limbed Jew in the Rorschach t-shirt. But that’s not the point. I’m saying it’s over for me. I’ll still listen to The First Four Years and I’ll still walk down the street, eyes averted, thinking “You’re one of them” to every person I pass, but I’m through with the bars. They mean nothing to me. From now on, all the kittens on my tote bag will be frolicking at random, formless, in adorable entropy.