The thought of punk-as-academic-subject makes many readers bristle. In his intro, author David Ensminger—who, in the interest of full disclosure, has contributed to Razorcake—notes that after years of being ignored, the deluge of books such as The Politics of Punk has grown, and quickly.
It’s not just the size of the pile that may cause pause. The phenomenon of punk being the subject of academic study is a fraught proposition. Reducing scenes and lifestyles down to academic discourse—often unforgiving and dense—carries with it a sense of detachment, a stiff arm away from the heart into a less hearty, more chilly place.
And academia is a privilege. Not everyone can afford schooling or the time to get acquainted with the kind of language used therein.
With all this in mind, Ensminger manages to effectively straddle the line between booster and researcher in The Politics of Punk by keeping fans of the genre as his primary audience. Too often academic texts about punk rock spend a surfeit of their time over-explaining what even casual fans would already know by heart. Rather than regurgitating the background of every one of the zillion bands and personalities he mentions as if readers are new to the genre, Ensminger assumes that his audience is comprised of in-the-know fans, and discusses examples from a wide swath of representations of politics and sexuality in punk. In removing all but the most crucial context of his arguments, he writes in scholarly prose, but is catering his argument to punks, whether or not they have academic discourse, thus empowering those who don’t approach what might otherwise be an intimidating text. The Politics of Punk pulls no punches, but never kowtows or talks down.
I do think that the strongest chapters here are the ones that examine their topics in the most depth. Chapters on D.C./San Francisco, M.D.C., and author Jennifer Blowdryer attack with a focus that is sometimes absent in the broader discussions of larger topics. Despite the aforementioned assumptions that readers will be familiar with the subject matter, the speed with which Ensminger introduces and concludes his subtopics sometimes left me groping for the main thread of the argument. Despite these scattershot instances, though, The Politics of Punk adds to the discussion, and knits together points I hadn’t previously considered. –Michael T. Fournier (Rowman and Littlefield, 4501 Forbes Blvd. Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706)