Describing something or someone as punk can elicit a wide range of responses. It’s a polarizing term. From punk music to punk culture, it seems we all have different opinions about what punk is and whether or not we identify with it. I’d suspect most people have no strong association and remain indifferent to the term, while some likely despise it.
Those who despise punk culture credit its sloppy facade, affinity for anarchy and ruthless idealism as touchstones for their dislike. Others simply point to Green Day or spiked dog collars. Touché. These critiques are warranted in my opinion, but I view punk culture in a distinctly different light.
The punk philosophy has impacted me dramatically over the years and it continues to inform the way I approach nearly every aspect of my life, from fatherhood to professionalism. Let me explain.
Innovation on a Shoestring
Punks often operate with little-to-no monetary or material resources. The ability to see different angles and make new, interesting things out of existing materials is of extreme value in the punk community. This forward-looking, innovate-at-all-costs approach has been a huge influence on contemporary society, including the modern hacker and DIY movements.
Speed is a valued attribute in the punk community. Being perfect is good, but being first is better. One only needs to look to the imitation waves following the emergences of influential bands like the MC5 or Minor Threat or The Pixies to realize the significance of shipping early. The same goes for the technology innovators of today. Punk’s unique combination of speed and vehement originality differentiates it from all else.
Discomfort is Necessary
True innovation happens when artists and technologists operate with urgency and uncertainty. If a project I’m working on doesn’t make me just a little bit nervous, I know I’m doing something wrong. That pressure to make the thing work in the face of my unease drives the work to fruition, and powers the new and different. Routine inputs lead to routine outputs and punk culture frowns upon both.
We Stop at Nothing
Punks disregard money, time, status and possessions in pursuit of their passions. They follow their hearts to the ends of the earth to create their craft and it’s evident in the results. Often these projects are audacious and unconventional. Sometimes they take the shape of a song or an app or a robot. The remarkable projects, however, are always steeped with a noticeable passion. It’s in the fiber of the thing. You can sense it.
Authenticity is Paramount
People can tell when someone is faking it and merely throwing shapes. Punk culture is built on a foundation of authenticity and anything half-baked will be called out as such. Truth, honesty and compassion, along with authenticity and transparency, are keystones of the movement.
Punk drove it’s fangs into me as a teenager and has followed me ever since. It’s present when I talk to my kids about staying true to who they are in the face of peer pressure. It’s present in the writing on this website and in the writers I enjoy reading. It’s an elemental piece of my being.
It’s also present in my daily work at the museum. While I would never advocate for museum anarchism (okay, maybe this kind), I think museums as a whole benefit greatly from the growing sect of MuseoPunks who think differently, experiment freely, challenge preconceived notions and embrace the ethos of punk culture in their life’s work. While they may not self-identify as MuseoPunks (yet!), the community is coalescing around a growing number of progressive practitioners creating projects that push the museum sector forward in interesting ways.
MuseoPunks has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? More on that to come.