It amazes me that Queercore, the movement that G.B. Jones and I were instrumental in starting with our queer punk fanzine J.D.s back in the mid eighties, has survived as long as it has.
Queercore was a reaction against the hardcore punk movement. Although, having abandoned the bourgeois, assimilationist gay movement, we considered ourselves punks, we were fighting against the homophobia, sexism, misogyny, and racism that we encountered in that supposedly radical youth culture.
Strangely, Queercore seems to have even outlasted punk, which has died a kind of slow death since Kim Gordon did her GAP ad in the early nineties. (Actually, Henry Rollins and Joan Didion did them then too, which also didn’t help.)
I say this a bit facetiously, but what I’m getting at is that punk - and I’m talking mostly American/Canadian punk, which was a much more political, less fashion-based movement than in the UK – has long since been co-opted by mainstream pop culture and the fashion world.
In the early eighties, just as punk was really taking off in the U.S., there were what we called “Quincy punks” (after the way punks were represented on the TV show “Quincy”), a distorted view of punks by the mainstream in which we were all out-of-control, wild “hardcore” drug-abusers and thugs. But at least this maintained the punk image of being a visible and invisible threat to the dominant order, which was the original intention.
But soon, the style of punk and hardcore – and style (as opposed to fashion) was always one of the most important ways that the movement communicated its subversive messages – became co-opted by advertising and fashion – from “postcard punks” to punk fashion on the runways of Paris and in fashion magazines to mainstream “pop punk” musical stars. (Punk also died the day Green Day sang John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” on American Idol).
The radical signifiers of punk – Mohawks, piercings, tattoos, politically incorrect symbols – were drained of meaning, and became empty signifiers of “radical chic.” Punks started to tone down their style, or make it more ambivalent and less obvious.
Punk was always a countercultural movement, fighting against corporate co-optation. Everything was DIY, underground and outside the constraints of capitalist exploitation. But with the rise of the Internet, new generations became completely integrated from a very young age into the ubiquitous corporate control of fashion, music, art and social communication. Resistance was futile.
Queercore somehow survived because of its continuing, passionate mission of fighting against patriarchal institutions, standing up for the rights of people marginalized by their sex or gender, and generally challenging as much as possible the corporate co-optation of its radical politics and style. It’s a sincere and stylish, anti-capitalist movement that has stuck to its guns. That’s why Gucci’s casual and clueless use of the term “Queercore” (which I refuse to refer to as a brand!) to promote a line of shoes that has absolutely no connection to the movement whatsoever – not just politically, but in terms of style and spirit – is so insulting.
But I do also think that punk has been dead for a long time, and Queercore has to evolve to fight the new ultra-conservative, ultra-Right forces that have been activated by neo-liberal global policies. Queercore kids can’t keep hanging on to the same old style strategies. What we need is a new, cohesive, revolutionary youth movement that consciously and consistently acts out against these reactionary forces, kids that resist the corporate exploitation of their artistic and political energy and that can use technology and global interconnectedness to fight the power. So in a weird way, maybe Gucci is doing Queercore a favor. It’s time for a new kind of resistance.