Profanity in Punk: Using the F-Word: An Essay

First off, I’m not talking about ‘fuck’. I use the word ‘fuck’ more than I use my lungs to breathe. ‘Fuck’ is such a fun word to say, and can be used in pretty much any grammatical form you care for, from adverb to preposition. ‘Fuck’ accentuates everything, and when used sparingly, can turning an average statement, like ‘I took out the trash’, into a menacing threat: ‘I took out the fucking trash!’. The word ‘fuck’ is probably punk’s favourite word. ‘Fuck the government!’ ‘Fuck this relationship!’, ‘Fuck this Band!.

The word ‘fuck’ dominates lyrical landscapes because it’s one of the most useful words the English language has, and in truth, unites the people. When punk became, the word ‘fuck’ acted as a pretty powerful metaphor: those who could handle the power of ‘fuck’ were allies. Those who couldn’t were probably a bunch of uptight dicks anyway.  ‘Fuck’ is powerful, like a cannonball to the chest, and it’s a word of the common people. Shit, one of the best punk bands of the year is called Fucked Up!

But this isn’t about the word ‘Fuck’. Because fuck that. No, this is about last Friday night. Not the shithole Katy Perry song, but what actually happened last Friday night. Post-Richard In Your Mind, I was drunkenly staggering down a street in Rozelle, at my philosophical finest. Reaching a point of existential crisis, I slurred the rhetorical gobsmacker “There are only really two offensive words left in the English language: Nigger and Faggot. Everything else is just sort of filler”. My best mate proceeded to tell me to shut the fuck up, as he was trying to order a kebab, and my consciousness was flung onto pondering the other mysteries of life. I’m like fucking Nietzsche when I’m hammered.

Fast forward to Thursday, the 10th of July. Whilst I’m swinging my fists in an effort to decapitate everyone around me at Violent Soho, there’s a band down the road playing at the Lansdowne. They’re a band called These New South Whales, whom I actually don’t mind. They’ve got a crunchy sound, with fast paced bone-thrattlers like ‘Adam’ and ‘Take the Stab’ doing alright.

So, what’s the issue, man? Well, there’s this song from their first EP called ‘We’re A Shit Band (And We Always Will Be)’, and there’s a fair part of that song that goes along the lines ‘I ain’t a fucking maggot’, which in the context of the song, sounds a bit too much like ‘I ain’t a fucking faggot’. After last night’s performance, Dion Ford of Palms posted a status saying, “If you’re thinking of seeing or booking Sydney band ‘these new south whales’ be aware that the singer yells the line ‘I ain’t no fucking faggot’ over and over again.”

Obviously, this caused a fair bit of controversy. The band responded “These New South Whales is essentially an exercise and experiment for us in spontaneity and mindlessness…Our lyrics are NOT meant to be taken seriously…Also, faggot is an explosive, pointy word which is used not purely for homophobic slur! It can be used in lots of contexts!

Look, I’d hope a garage band wouldn’t think too much about their lyrics. That’s pretty much the charm of garage music, and if a band takes away their spontaneity the result usually comes off as fucking pretentious. Of course, there’s the exceptions (The Replacements being a major one), but as a general rule, garage rock thrives on simplicity. But when that simplicity runs into a point where ignorance takes over, that’s when a fun band can turn into a pretty fucked up megaphone of hate speech. When you’ve got a loud band yelling something that very much sounds like ‘I ain’t a fucking faggot’ over and over again, it bears than a passing resemblance to something like this:

Too much? Well, let’s look back at the history of the word faggot, because apparently, there’s “…lots of contexts…”. Faggot traditionally means a bundle of sticks bound together for fuel. However, the common history of the phrase in reference to the gay community, is pointin to gay men being described as the aforementioned fuel when they’re being burned at the stake. That’s right, the word is directly linked to meaning that these guys are witches aka a myth that the people of the Middle Ages thought was capable of wreaking hellish nightmare upon the lands. Let that sink in: you’re comparing gay people to being one of the lowest and meaningless forms of torture imaginable, where they not only don’t get to assume a human form, but act as their own kindling for said torture. Kinda makes you feel like a dick for using the word faggot so ‘off the cuff’ and ‘spontaneously’. Dehumanisation and the stripping of morality is fucking hilarious!

Now, at this point, some people are going to point out that maybe I’m being the pretentious dick here. Getting up on my high horse, when punk music has used offensive lingo as a tool for combatting oppression since inception. True that! Totally agree! I fucking love punk music! Obviously, it was once one of the most important forms of social language to exist. But the thing that ruined punk music was the ignorance that became implemented. It attracted a violent crowd, a crowd that misinterpreted the message and point of punk music, and used it to fuel hatred. It’s how shitty fascist Nazi punk bands exist.

Even though punk has lost a lot of its blow nowadays, there are plenty of punk bands that use their thrashing three chords and mindless cymbal crashing for Batman-levels of social justice. Seth Bogard, or Hunx as he’s more widely known is a perfect example. He’s been promoting the gay identity in punk music pretty strongly since he first burst onto the music scene in 2008, and managed to combine bone-chilling irreverent punk anthems like  ‘You Think You’re Tough’ with bubblegum sweetness like ‘Lovers Lane’ and ‘I Won’t Tell If You Won’t Tell’. These songs divulge a lot about Bogart’s own experiences, the secret, still-frowned upon adolescent experience that I’m sure a heap of gay teenagers can identify with.

That last sentence probably got on some people’s nerves. Ryan, you’re a straight white guy from a well-off suburb in Sydney, one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world. You’re right, I’m not a gay 16 year old growing up in Saudi Arabia. But I’ve had gay family and friends for as long as I can remember, and the firsthand stories you hear are fucking tragic. It makes it all the much sadder to know that we exist in one of the most gay-friendly cities, and the kind of shit that you hear about, and hear people say, is enough to make you feel a bit ill. Obviously, there’s the barbaric atrocity that hits Uganda, but our own hometown is fairly fucked as well.

That’s why I’ve always found it a little grating when punk bands use the ‘F-word’ in their songs. In ‘American Idiot’ by Green Day, the band formerly most famous for naming an album after taking a shit, there’s the lyric “Well maybe I’m the faggot America”. That song has gone platinum all over the world, so there’s obviously a shit tonne of people who heard that very obvious lyric, and went ‘FUCK YEAH, LET’S KILL SOME QUEERS!’ Tell me Billy Joel, did that moment where you felt the need to say ‘Faggot’ to get your social activism boner going…was it worth it? Shit, what’s worse is that the brain-tumor inducing band Five Seconds of Summer covered the song, introducing their core audience (‘The Avril Lavigne demo’ I believe its called’) to a word of hatred that they probably don’t understand the meaning of, allowing teenagers all over the world to scream ‘faggot’ until their breathless. Another example lies with Screeching Weasel’s ‘I Wanna Be A Homosexual’. Who would’ve thought that the same guy that screamed out “Call me a faggot, call me a butt loving, fudge packing queer”,  would be the same guy to punch a woman in the face? Pretty hard to pick bigots these days right?

Look, the point I’m trying to make here is that words are fucking powerful things. Even though it might seem like society has become desensitised to a fault to former ‘rude’ words like ‘Fuck’ and ‘Shit’, the words ‘Faggot’ and ‘Nigger’ still hold stinging potential. The baggage that is carried with those words makes the use of them in almost context unacceptable. The only plausible scenario is this: are you gay? No? Don’t use that word. Simple as that. It ain’t yours. Don’t use it. Seriously, its that fucking simple. You come off like a completely ignorant twat that is probably more likely to die an early death from Darwin Award-winning stupidity than contribute something healthy to society.

There are some people who can use the ‘F-Word’, musicians like Jello Biafra and Hunx. They have something to say, something personal and real for them, and for them, the ‘F-Word’ is a way of communicating that. You and I, on the other hand, have no use for it. Punk bands should know that by getting up on a stage in front of people and screaming to everyone in earshot should mean that what you’re saying should be of some entertaining worth. Shouting so many anti-gay slurs that a homophobe has the chance to jizz and clean up…that shouldn’t make it into a song. There is responsibility as a songwriter, and if you pop the ‘F-Word’ as much as Danny Brown pops molly, then you’re about as edgy as Eminem. Good for you, bro!

Pretty much, if Beastie Boys think its a bad idea, don’t do it.


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