Teddy boys, acid ravers, emo – for as long as there's been subculture, there's been a moral panic to match. But as those who claim allegiance to outsider culture will know, these movements are as much about self-expression and acceptance as they are anything else. But sticking it to your parents still figures, of course.
“I just can’t handle being like everybody else because that’s what everybody else wants”, says a girl with cropped hair, dark lipstick, piercings and a natty leather beret. “I have my own morals and ideals, and I go by them.” The speaker is Dana, a “punker” who appears with her mum on American daytime television in 1984. The Phil Donahue Show is just one of many cringeworthy TV segments of the time that pitted punks against their parents. In fact, in America in the 1980s, kids turning "punk" amounted to them carrying a life-threatening disease. Battling a tide of Reagan era conservatism, the hardcore punk phenomenon thrived against all odds, spreading from Los Angeles across the entire country.
The outrage that greeted the new subculture recruits would put Daily Mail commenters to shame – one worried parent, Serena Dank, even instated the “Parents of Punkers” group to help “de-punk” deviant teens. You can see her make her weak case against the eloquent gang of self-identifying punkers, below. But more telling than the parents’ stance are the problems the punk teens identify in society. Kat Griswold, who is jeered at by the audience for her frankly on point ensemble, describes how the only harassment she gets is the usual abuse targeted at females – and, in fact, punk clothing is her armour against that abuse. When she says she’d rather get harassed “for looking funny than because of her flesh”, the patronizing chat show host’s response – “for your gender, you mean?” – says everything about the inclusivity girls felt in the punk scene in these years, and the alienation they felt from what was “normal”.