Punk and Performance

Maria seems to be obsessed with her image as a punk rocker, with so much of her thought processes forming around how best to convey her anti-authoritarianism. She views the world around her in terms of the atmospheric impression she gets from it. One bar is too fake, another cafe too trendy, this one just the right amount of grimy and real. She even maps out her own irresponsibility consciously. However, in the quest for “realness” to fit her punk persona, she seems to participate in a lot of performance. She addresses this herself when she says, “It’s a problem, you grow up reading about punk and grunge and earnest dude rock in all the magazines and internalizing the idea that artifice is totally bullshit, man, and we wear these clothes because they’re comfortable, not for any kind of fashion statement, and we’re just trying to communicate, not be cool” (123-124). But Maria spends so much of her time mapping out the perfect way to be punk rock (cussing, but not on a shirt because thats “totally unproductive teenage rebellion”), that her search for authenticity feels false. Even Steph calls her on her pretense: “She talks a lot about punk rock this and punk rock that but Maria’s never been in a band, never collected vinyl, never been to a political protest, never even had a stupid haircut” (118). We can trace the history of punk back to the 70s as a reaction against rock n roll culture at the time. The editor of Punk magazine John Holmstrom sums it up by saying “punk rock had to come along because the rock scene had become so tame that [acts] like Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel were being called rock and roll, when to me and other fans, rock and roll meant this wild and rebellious music.” By the late 70s, what started as a reactionary music culture with bands like the Sex Pistols, Clash, and the Ramones spread into an entire subculture of distinctive clothing and rebellious attitudes. This puts Maria at an awkward intersection where she consciously tries to defy performance but also has to perform gender on a daily basis.

  • How does Maria’s punk rock identity interact with her emotional distance and dissociation?
  • In what ways does Maria use performance as a form of defense?

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3 thoughts on “Punk and Performance

  1. In talking about punk culture in the book, I think it’s also important to note trans identity in relation with punk culture. I think at one point in the book Maria states that being trans is like one of the most punk things you can do. Being trans is a rejection of gender normativity which is like super punk.

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  2. Personally, I view Maria’s dedication to her “punk performance” as being related to her gender performance. As she says early on in the novel, every morning she carries out a complex and exhausting routine in order to be perceived as a cis woman – something she’s more or less forced to do because being visibly trans is even more exhausting and potentially dangerous. Her punk identity is something that she can control and tailor; she can make it whatever she wants, and while she certainly has her own rules for herself, society doesn’t impose any standards for her “punkness.” It seems like it allows her to feel a little more agency in her self-expression since standards for women (and by that same token trans women) are so high.

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  3. Personally, this agressively punk performance by Maria to be the most annoying thing about her character. There didn’t seem to be much point to her aesthetic besides to be that aesthetic. For a girl, whom (by the narration) appears so very smart, it seems a shame for her to be wasting her expression on a performance that is performance merely just performance just for performance sake. It seems strange: there’s so much thought put into her appearance in relation to the punk stereotype and no actual self-expression.

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