The pre-internet world of hardcore punk and just Planet Earth in general, was uber-fucking-serious. AIDS, nuclear war, famine, serial killers, kidnappers—everything was a heavy threat and kind of terrifying, as the only context existed in newscasts, papers, and magazines. You couldn’t do a websearch to learn about STDs, so whatever a Sex Ed teacher or worse, some dirt in the mall food court told you was assumed to be fact. In punk, everything was rumor or hearsay, so if you heard that four kids got stabbed at CBGB, you assumed they not only died in a pool of crimson on the Bowery, but that another eight were nursing wounds somewhere in the melee. Everything was a terrifying fact, with a terrifying consequence.
If you can believe it, the world is infinitely more fucked up right now, unless you think ISIS, global warming, droughts, expiring food supplies, airborne diseases, financial collapses, and all around fuckery are just a smoke screen by the Illuminati to put us all in the Matrix or whatever. But we aren’t really scared. I mean, sure, for a hour or a day, or maybe a week, tops, but then it’s back to taking Buzzfeed quizzes, eating food mash-ups, swiping smartphone screens every 3.5 minutes, and yes, looking at memes.
Yup, that’s the biggest difference between then and now. Think I’m joking? The meme has the ability to turn any awful thing, situation, occurrence, fear, or generally bad stuff into a big, fat ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, by simply laying a witticism over an image and sharing it. The best ones go viral, the funniest ones are inside jokes. OK, they aren’t all making light of natural disasters, but you couldn’t tweet out your feelings about the Great Depression or the Korean War, but now you can comment in real time on anything, to actual real people. I mean fuck, how many published political cartoons existed in the US during World War II? A few thousand max, including independent magazines. A few thousand memes were created while you read these three graphs.
There’s no watershed moment when the HC meme happened, just as the cover to Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures slowly seeped into pop-culture, through various bootlegs, mash-ups, appropriations, official collabs, etc. The closest cousin to those pulsing lines would be the Black Flag bars, designed by Raymond Pettibon. Both have been twisted into several different permutations, from Cat Flag to Disney turning the Astrology diagram into the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head, making each completely devoid of their original purpose. In the case of Unknown Pleasures, designed by Peter Saville, the image was appropriated from The Cambridge Encyclopedia, so it’s essentially public domain, but Pettibon’s design—though many have insinuated that the four bars may have been influenced by a handful of Blue Note Records covers—was his intellectual property, making the repurposing of it a little bit more… gross.
As visually driven social media platforms grew in the early 2000s, we started to see a lot of punk mashups, most of which were created by fans not designers, with little connection to the two sources being combined. It’s worth noting that “rip-off” or “homage” T-Shirts became a big thing in hardcore in the mid/late-’90s, where no old graphic was sacred and was appropriated by a then active band for a shirt, sticker, or record cover. But as Y2K fear fizzled and we entered the 2000s, we started to see these photoshopped commentaries and mash-ups becoming more recognizable and viral, due to social media.
One of the biggest moments in HC meme history is a cruel one: The Moshing Girl. Since 2005/6ish, the Moshing Girl made the rounds on message boards and in social media, followed by her “brother” The Moshing Boy. Is it right and pretty fucking rude? Yup. Ask “Scumbag Steve” how great it’s been for his life to be a meme, but it was the first HC meme to really break through to pop/web culture. Shortly after, we had Rick Ta Life on a horse, because… well, I mean just look at it.
Pile that on with all the political mash-ups you’re bombarded with every four years, making every candidate tenuously connected to your favorite HC bands on pins, shirts, and digital memes, along with every possible still frame of someone in hardcore being meme-ified in real time, and that’s hardcore 2016.
As for the latter, the biggest always-on moment for the HC meme started in the wake of the Cro-mags Webster Hall incident. Founding bass player Harley Flanagan was accused and eventually cleared of all charges in an assault charge, but that didn’t stop HC fans from pumping memes out on Instagram, private text messages, and Facebook, juxtaposing him against existing pop-culture memes, as well putting jabs at Flanagan over his arrest photos.
So here’s the thing—the really big thing. Anyone familiar with Flanagan’s legacy, and those not familiar can pre-order his memoir Hard-Core: Life of My Own, knows that his legacy as an outspoken hardcore icon, with a history of settling things with physical force if necessary. Few people of his stature in hardcore are confronted and if they are, it’s usually by an equal, but now everyone with a meme generator app feels free to comment on someone’s legal matters, life choices, looks, or really anything and 99% of the time negatively, on their social channels, essentially stealing someone else’s property for likes, without the most remote chance of well… being reprimanded. And it’s not about violence, it’s more about lack of consequence for stealing someone’s artwork and making it into a T-Shirt, regardless of their connection to a culture or just using your social channels to shame someone.
So quick recap: Stealing, profiting, and putting people down are the tenets of modern HC. Didn’t anyone ever get a 7 Seconds record?