A movie by John Merendino. Official Selection of the 1999 Sundance Film Festival. Featuring Matthew Lillard, Michael Goorjian, Annabeth Gish, Jennifer Lien, Christopher McDonald, and Devon Sawa.

1985 and punk's not dead yet. The setting: Salt Lake City Utah, home of Stevo (Matthew Lillard) and Heroine Bob (Michael Goorjian). The movie can be broken into two sections: the fun introductory section and the sad parts that change everything.

During the first hour, Stevo, our hero, shows us around SLC and the different tribes that call it home. We meet his friends, his enemies, and take a peek into their lives. It skips about so that no one action follows another. Stevo also provides his opinion on the various posuers that surround him.

It is about an hour into the film that the mood changes. Its no longer a happy go lucky look at anarchism. Stevo begins to question his existence and eventually his life is rocked by a radical change.

I would highly recommend this movie to anyone. It's not just a look at punk, its a look at at life. And Matthew Lillard's a babe.

and then at the end, he sells out too.

There's really more to it than that, though. This is a debate that goes around and around and will never have an agreeable consensus. The questions to ask are these:

To answer these questions, you may have to ask more questions, and answer those questions:


  • Is being punk a lifestyle? If so, then what lifestyle? Must you lead the lifestyle of a gutter punk? A straightedge punk? Must you be an anarchist? If so, then what is anarchy, really? This question can go on and on, and is therefore, I submit, unanswerable, therefore not valid.
  • Does being punk have anything to do with the music or "the scene"? I would say the music must have something to do with it, otherwise, you would call yourself something else entirely. The word "punk" in the context of this movie relates to the music, as it usually does in the real world. If you don't do the music (at least for some time in your life), how can you be called a punk? As for "the scene", well, that's another discussion. There are those that would say that anytime you get involved with any sort of scene, and you're also trying to be a part of a counter-culture, then all you're doing is creating another social structure where there are "popular" and "unpopular" people, and "cool" and "uncool" things, just like the culture that you're "against".
  • Does it relate to the way you dress? I say no, as would Stevo in the movie. He gave pretty clear reasons for this, for example, the scene in the mall with the "Anarchy in the UK" kid, as well as his nerdy looking friend. Not to say that you can't dress punk and also be punk.
  • Is punk a personal thing, something that you have to come to terms with yourself?
  • Is it merely a state of mind? If so, what kind of "mind-state" does a punk have?
  • Does it have to do with your age? Can you be 30, and still be punk?

Selling Out

  • Does selling out mean giving up your lifestyle for something else? I hope not. I change my mind about my lifestyle all the time! I think that most people do.
  • Does it mean making a decent wage? Well, considering that a good deal of punk music complains that they don't make good money, I would say it would be contradictory to say that once you started making that money, you couldn't be the same person. If it's something that you want to do, then is that really selling out?

I think it's already obvious where I'm going with this... I've come to the conclusion that being punk means at least some of these things:

  • Having a DIY attitude.
  • Thinking for yourself. Always.
  • Questioning authority.
  • Listening to the music, and grokking it. (You don't have to do this forever, at least if you've been through it at some time in the past).
  • Constantly thinking and questioning things. Even your own deeply held beliefs.
  • Sticking to your values, but keeping those values flexible. What I mean here is not to compromise your integrity or your morals, but always leaving room for refining just what those morals are, because if you're a truly critical thinker (as a punk should be), you will realize that you don't have all the answers. But you will have to work through this and find what seems like the right thing to do.

People's definitions of punk will definitely conflict with mine, as I said... But anyways, back to the point of this writeup. My point is to try and prove that Stevo didn't sell out in the movie. He merely moved on to something else. To a different lifestyle. If he succeeds in that thing that he does at the end (I don't want to give away the ending), and he really messes with the establishment and doesn't become another corporate whipping boy, and continues to think and act and subvert as he's done in the past, then he is by no means selling out. But if he changes and becomes another suburbanite fscking SUV driver with 2.2 children and plays golf on the weekends, then he has sold out. But not merely because he changes the direction of his life.

Ok, I just realized that a little clarification is necessary here. I don't have anything against suburbanites, per se. Nor golf. (I do, however, have something extremely against SUVs). My only point was to say that if he forgets his passion and anger, and lives a mundane life, then he's sold out. Clear?

SLC Punk approaches punk in an unbelievably lucid, intelligent, deliberate way, and it is the only source of mature commentary on punk that I have ever come across in my life. Punk is a phenomenon that has deserved commentary for so long, but which is so frequently written off as simple rebellion; punk is much more involved than mere rebellion, and much more worth understanding as a cultural phenomenon, because what lies at the root of it is ostentatiousness itself, being itself, singularity through volume. Punk is an act of violence that refuses to be overlooked, it is refusing to be overlooked by being violent--violent inasmuch as a color and style of hair that not only clash with what is generally accepted but which attempt to subvert and destroy all norms, so that identity can begin to exist.

The word "poser" surfaces quite a bit in this film, and the roots of its meanings are traced with a deft hand. A poser is not "real", not "legitimate", does not consist of the new and inimitable stuff of individual identity; a poser borrows from the world to define and decide himself, limiting himself to only things he has encountered rather than originated, too timid to ever admit that something exists inside him, something real and genuine. It is the denial of this inner-reality that makes someone a poser: the fear of the self, which leads an individual to steal a proven identity or characteristic that he has learned. The complexity of the complete meaning of this term is brought home near the end of the film, when the protagonist screams at the corpse of his recently deceased friend, "Only posers die!!" We are left with a question as to whether or not someone could ever use the word "poser" without doubting the integrity of his own identity, that is, without suspecting that he himself were something contrived and, with that, illegitimate. The usage of the term itself is, furthermore, self-defeating, as it attempts to "correct" some personality trait by criticizing it as feigned or dishonest.

And this all lies at the heart of the identity struggle that is punk, though punk is by no means limited to a quest for identity. The blanket term "rebelliousness" is only a conveniently vague term to be used in the forgetting of more specific aspects of punkhood: to refuse to become "cannon fodder for all their wars" is to will self-determination, to need freedom, to not be told what to do, to not be made a soldier in a foreign war or in a law firm. These enclosing, limiting things are abrasive to a punk, who demands complete autonomy and asserts it with random attention-grabbing acts and accoutrements (hair, violence, music, drugs, clothes, obnoxiousness, etc).

Stevo stood outside and gave a short monologue in which he declared, "Don't pity me, I don't like pity... I like pain! Tell her I like pain!" Nothing could have illustrated more clearly the punk need to be understood as tragic: tragically pained, tragically neglected, tragically perservering and strong and resilient and doomed. Stevo was a masochist because Stevo pitied himself. Stevo preferred to suffer. Stevo considered pain a making-real, a thing of true identity.

The end of the movie left me somewhat displeased: "How could he reject punk? What a sellout!!" I thought. This was a guy who spent so much time claiming to be real, swearing his allegiance to his self-loathing and his cult of style, renouncing it all and changing teams. Bad taste in my mouth. But his final monologue did offer some consolation, when I gave it some more thought, in that he was no longer the same person, and to persist in his lifestyle would be to become a poser.

But that still left me with the end impression that punk was being wrongly rejected in some way, that it was being turned down as an adolescent phase, which is entirely unfair: to not become mundane, to reject the system that might compromise your humanity and identity, that is no ignoble thing. There was some implication that punk was being rejected, although it may be said that this message was specific to Stevo's life.

The reason why I object to any overarching rejection of punk is because I find it to be a sort of value system: while it may be said to be wrong for a given individual, it cannot be said to be merely wrong.

Highly recommended. The first half of it is actually an (oddly narrated, but effective) comedy, and the second half a more serious drama.

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