Sad Old Punks Should Rise Above Kristen Stewart’s Black Flag Crush

So some punks are up in arms that Twilight's Kristen Stewart likes Black Flag? Change the record, says Jamie Thomson

I’m probably not as big a Black Flag fan as you. I’ve never owned a Flag T-shirt, I never got the bars tattooed on me, and my copy of Nervous Breakdown is only a second press. In fact (deep breath), my initial exposure to them was an A-list celebrity singing a couple of lines from one of their songs in a mainstream Hollywood movie. In the lingua franca of 80s hardcore, I guess you could call me a poser. Not only do I not prostrate myself before the totem of ‘Side B of My War’, but when that actually became a thing, I had to actually pull out my copy of ‘My War’ and listen to it again to see what the hell people were crapping on about (and, sad to say, it seemed no less boring to me then as it did when I first listened to it.)

So Kristen Stewart’s new-found love of Black Flag is not something that has troubled me unduly, but the howls of outrage surrounding it are a little bit concerning. You see, not only has she worn a Black Flag shirt, she’s had the cheek to glam it up ever so slightly, by tying a wee knot at one side. Foul harlot! Do you not see that you should only be wearing a potato sack with a sprayed-on Black Flag stencil? (I’ll admit that I’ve often espoused the theory that hardcore died the day XL stopped being the default size for all T-shirts, but that was a lot less to do with gender than being made to look like a beer-stained shambles when stood next to skinny little fellas with their just-so Moss Icon shirts.) No, this sounded like something a bit more pernicious – it was the age-old ‘what does a GURL know about my favourite band?’ whine. Speak to any woman who has spent time in the punk or hardcore scene, and they’ll undoubtedly be able to relay at least one tale of being challenged about their reasons for going to shows, or wearing a particular shirt or … ‘So you’re into Eviscerated Colon, are you? Yeah, well … what’s printed on the run-out groove of the third pressing of the first seven-inch then?’

So was this really about the mainstream appropriating underground culture? Or was this really about who is doing the appropriating – and whether or not they’ve got a penis?

Ryan Gosling sports a Flag shirt: He plays a violent psychopath in Drive! How cool is that?

Lady Gaga appears in a video with GISM and Doom logos painted on her jacket: Oh, it’s the director’s? OK, that makes sense.

James Franco’s character listens to ‘Rise Above’ in an episode of Freaks And Geeks: Hooray! My two favourite things together at last!

And when some girl from a girlie film for girls tries to pass herself off as HC 4 LIFE? Sorry powderpuff. Shouldn’t you be listening to Rihanna or something? (Which reminds me – of course Chris Brown looked like a prize bell-end in that studded punk jacket, but getting all sniffy about him wearing something with The Exploited written on it? Please! Taking into account all the stupid, ignorant, violent arseholes I’ve had the misfortune of rubbing shoulders with who align themselves with Edinburgh’s favourite sons, I’d say Brown was a prime candidate for joining the Barmy Army.)

If that is indeed a tattoo of the bars Stewart is sporting – and I have my doubts – then is there perhaps a teeny-tiny chance that she might have a made a deeper connection to the band than just throwing on a shirt handed to her by her PA? If not, then that’s one deeply committed stylist she’s got working for her. “OK, so you’ve got the MTV Video Awards tonight, and I’ve bought this cool Germs shirt for you that will really set tongues wagging. And you’ll just need to turn your wrist this way so I can burn you with a cigarette. Huh? Oh, it means your Circle One… Darby Crash had one. Look, unless you want some dude whining on a blog that you’re a poser and have ruined his life, you’re going to have let me burn you with a bloody cigarette!”

We can get all Guy Debord about it and talk about “the hollowing-out of any gesture of resistance”, but, if I may be so bold, it’s just a bloody T-shirt (and possibly a really, really badly done tattoo). It’s not the music, it’s not the band, it’s not 30 years of DIY counterculture – it’s just someone, somewhere wearing the shirt of a band you love, which might prompt someone, somewhere to check them out. What were your gateways? Did the relative banality of the source cheapen your relationship with the bands you discovered as a consequence? Like I said, I got my introduction to Black Flag (and Fear, and Circle Jerks and Suicidal Tendencies) from the Repo Man soundtrack. I’m pretty sure the first time I’d come across the names Agent Orange and Gang Green were in a colour supplement article about the hot new craze of skateboarding. It’s not very cool, but it served its purpose.

Furthermore, your favourite band is not your favourite football team. You don’t have a season ticket, or a special seat for life with your name engraved on it. You buy their records and T-shirts and that gives you as much possession over them as the next person, regardless of their celebrity status. And if someone, male or female, gloms onto your thing via a T-shirt in a magazine, a recommendation on Facebook or a quick mention by a journalist desperately trying to hit a word count, then just be happy that there’s one more of you, and one less of them. If you want your cool, secret shit to remain secret, choose something less cool. Off the top of my head – Civilised Society? (That’s a statement, not a question, by the way. Their superfluous punctuation predates that of Therapy? by a good few years). They were a British anarcho-punk band from the mid-80s that are mostly forgotten now, and they’re unlikely to be reappraised in the way Discharge or Amebix have been. I guarantee you won’t see any A-list celebs wearing their shirts. What’s that? They’re not that great? Yeah, funny how popularity can occasionally be an indication of quality, isn’t it?

Like the inherent sexism that masquerades as elitism in underground music, the is-it-a-catalyst-or-a-cultural-dead-end argument isn’t one that’s going to be resolved any time soon. Regardless, there’s something wonderful about the artwork of Ray Pettibone – one of the finest underground artists of our times – being thrust into the spotlight, being seen by millions, if not billions, if only for a fleeting moment. Multi-millionaire David Beckham unwittingly wearing a Crass shirt? I think even Debord himself would have had a chuckle about that. And, really, if we’re talking about traducing the good name of Black Flag, aren’t they currently touring in two separate entities – the ‘real one’ and the ‘one that people would rather see’ – like so many acrimoniously-divided 70s glam bands who refuse to call it a day? Watch out, Hollywood celebs, your coolness factors might take a hit if you continue to champion a band that is currently about as hip as the Bay City Rollers.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today