Will Self said this to me, this time last year. The comment came in a conversation about the authenticity of punk, a genre that blasted the 70s with anarchy and antiestablishmentarianism. It was a relatively small but powerful movement in culture that spawned some of the best art, music, photography, fashion and writing in history. And no one found out about it from Reddit.
The fucked-ness of the now Will Self was referring to, is that our generation has nothing to shout about. We're not punks, or anarchists or rebels, we're geeks sat on social media all damn day, still listening to The Sex Pistols and Joy Division 40 years on because nothing else makes us feel much like anything. "Participation in politics" is pathetically apathetic and most conversations about it end in a change of subject because oh my god someone's just found a video of a pig on a monkey on youtube and everyone has to watch it NOW! It doesn't end in a seminal work of fiction or piece of anarchic songwriting that goes on to define the feeling of a generation. The feeling of our generation could quite adequately be defined by a list of 31 animal GIFs on Buzzfeed.
After punk came the 80s, the DIY generation of clubbing, more drugs and more rebellion, against Thatcher, against the baby boom, against privatisation and capitalism. Deep down underground, below the hierarchy was movement, The Hacienda and acid house. The cycle continued and was still in the air in the 90s when rave culture took hold. Cue more drugs, more freedom, more rebellion. Then in the mid-late 90s, the momentum seemed to stop. There was Britpop and Spice mania but they were just platform shoes and parka jackets, the philosophy had been extinguished, the spirit had commercialised. Britpop and Spice mania was sold to you, it was marketed at you; it was no longer something you found for yourself or something you could really be a part of. A distance started to grow between the culture and the people and businesses and labels and media started to use culture as a commodity. Instead of sitting at home making bondage trousers so we could look like Sid Vicious, we started to pay a fortune for the merchandise of our favourite bands. Culture went from an authentic tool of the people to a commodity fuelling capitalism.
And now we're in the 10s, the least catchy decade ever. And our culture has become a fruit machine of social media, drugs and ephemeral music. For some it's House music, Facebook and ketamin. For others it's Hip Hop, Instagram and weed. Or MDMA, Twitter and Trance. Maybe you feel like a rebel while you're doing your own particular combination, but is there any purpose attached? Will Self continued, "The avant-garde always styled itself as having large philosophic ambitions but really it was about sex and drugs, it was always about there being real taboos around sexuality and intoxication, and those taboos just aren't there anymore and that means that you guys have got nothing to rebel against." So the fact that the generations before us already did loads of sex and drugs means that when we do it, it just shows a lack of imagination. And we're not even masquerading it with any higher philosophical ambitions. No one can legitimately claim they're doing drugs in Fabric because of the government man.
But Punk can be traced back to the Situationists, a group of avant-garde artists and intellectuals concerned with the interpretation and analysis of the social and political theories of Karl Marx. They were of the opinion that capitalism had taken over society, culture and our collective consciousness so completely that humanity had become socially alienated and obsessed with commodity. "They resolutely rejected the idea that advanced capitalism's apparent successes – such as technological advancement, increased income and increased leisure – could ever outweigh the social dysfunction and degradation of everyday life that it simultaneously inflicted." That was the feeling in 68 that birthed punk a decade later. And the sentence feels ever more relevant now in 2014, maybe we just need a word like Punk to elevate it?
The UK might not be the most stimulating place to be a revolutionary but that's alright because greatness comes out of the void too. Proust said, "the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." Nietzsche said, "and if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." Emily Dickinson said, "saying nothing... sometimes says the most." Jean Baudrillard said, "the apocalypse is finished, today it is the precession of the neutral, of forms of the neutral and of indifference… all that remains, is the fascination for desertlike and indifferent forms." See, look how clever nothing can sound. All these bored philosophers turning ennui into… philosophy. All we need to do is intellectualise our situation a bit. Our generation aren't fucked, uninspired and unoriginal. Naaa, we're existential nihilists.