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Are Pussy Riot Punks?

Russian Church Official Says No.

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Are Pussy Riot Punks?

Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot
Are Pussy Riot punks? Russian Orthodox missionary Hegumen Sergy Rybko doesn't seem to think so.

In a statement published on Interfax, Father Sergy expressed disbelief that the members of the band and feminist collective can't be punks, based on the idea that they are expressing political opinions.

In his statement, he said:

I'm outraged that certain girls of impudent behavior called themselves a punk group. I certainly can call myself a Pope of Rome or a Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, but I won't be either of them. First, punks, as far as I know them, are not for sale. And here, it is evidently an ordered action.

Reading between the lines, it seems that Father Sergy feels that Pussy Riot can't possibly be expressing opinions that they agree with. In order for them to make statements decrying the Russian governments stance on women's issues or protesting the presence of Vladimir Putin in Russia's governmental offices aren't possibly opinions they could have on their own, and must be the results of selling out.

He further states opinions that separate Pussy Riot from punk rock:

Rock music, especially punk rock, is made in an absolutely different manner. Rock is intellectual, rockers are intellectuals. Even if they don't agree with something in the Church, rockers don't express their protest like this.

OK, I'm not exactly sure what Father Sergy's experiences with punk are, or if it's consistent with the what has been the scene in Russia, but I know how it differs vastly from my ideas. To be fair, the Father doesn't seem like a bad guy, and has even been saying the treatment of the imprisoned members of Pussy has been to harsh, advocating a punishment more along the lines of letting them "pay a fine or sweep streets and think over the things they did, so that others won't repeat it." But I do think the Father is sorely misguided.

First of all, the idea that punks don't express their protests "like this" is wrong on so many fronts. Ever since the Sex Pistols made a mockery of the Queen's Jubilee in June of 1977 with their performance of "God Save The Queen" from a boat on the Thames, punk has made a point of taking its protests to their source. Even if the Pistols event was more theatrical than political, the outrage generated showed that it worked.

Punk bands have been ever present at political rallies they identify with, and no topic is safe within the confines of a punk tune. Punk bands have built their careers around political ideologies and religion has never been an unapproachable topic. Even some Christian punk bands are highly critical of organized religion, espousing instead a belief that one's relationship with religion is a highly personal ideal.

Taking protest to the streets and hitting the issues at home is nothing new; it didn't begin with Pussy Riot's short protest appearance in Red Square or their actions in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. It's something that's happened repeatedly and held up its effectiveness over the years. From the Sex Pistols Jubilee stunt to the Dead Kennedys crashing the Bay Area Music Awards in 1980 to Crass affiliating itself with GreenPeace throughout the '80s to Anti-Flag and Rage Against The Machine protesting outside the Republican National Convention in 2008, punk has made a point to be at the places where it can make a statement, rather than simply preaching to the choir (although in Pussy Riot's case in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior they served as an exception - they were actually preaching to the choir).

The recent worldwide protests surrounding the Occupy Wall Street movement continued the trend. Amanda Palmer made her presence known in New York and Boston, exposing the ukulele as the instrument for punk protest, Fat Mike showed up in San Francisco (and put his money where his mouth was by closing his Bank of America account) and Billy Bragg and Tom Morello put in appearances in London. Punks, specifically political punks, take to the streets when the need to make a statement arises - not doing so is what would really be considered not punk.

This isn't even an idea that the punks patented. Musical protest has been a viable form of political action since the beginning of music, and musicians have been present at political actions worldwide all along. In the states alone, folk musicians Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger penned and played hundreds of protest songs, passing the torch to the hippies of the '60s, who brought musical political protest to events ranging from civil rights events to Vietnam War protests to The John Sinclair Freedom Rally for White Panther Party founder and MC5 manager John Sinclair. This paved an easy road for hip hop artists and punk musicians to continue down, attacking the Reagan and Bush administrations and the various military operations overseas and on to the Occupy Movement and, with Pussy Riot's actions in Moscow we've come full circle.

This lengthy progression comes to the point that not only was Pussy Riot's making a statement with their recent protest performances consistent with the long-running history of protest in music including punk rock, the fact they were doing it in a place where they faced arrest and criminal charges in order to bring the most light to their stance makes them, along with their compatriots in other lands of illegal punk like Aceh and Burma, even more punk rock.

Which brings me to address the most juvenile bit of Father Sergy's attack on the band - saying their actions aren't punk. Seriously, pointing anything out for ridicule based on the fact that you feel it ain't punk? That just ain't punk.

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