Ruminating on “Can you accidentally do a Nazi salute?”

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A few days ago while skimming my morning RSS feeds, I read a news article about a soccer player being banned for giving the Nazi salute while celebrating a goal.  I know little about sports and even less about the specific sport football (US soccer), but the title of the BBC article has haunted me: “Who, What, Why: Can you accidentally do a Nazi salute?”

Giorgos Katidis. image from guardian.co.uk

My mind keeps drifting to this question of intention, meaning, and interpretation.  A few years ago I had an argument about a similar, albeit more straightforward, issue of the use of the swastika by punks in 1970s England.  For the umpteenth time I was reading Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: the Meaning of Style (of which there is so much to say, but I’m trying to stay focused!).  In the book Hebdige argues that in being used by punks, the swastika “lost its ‘natural’ meaning-fascism,” “was worn because it was guaranteed to shock,” and “[t]he signifier (swastika) had been willfully detached from the concept (Nazism) it conventionally signified…its primary value and appeal derived precisely from its lack of meaning” (p 177).

punks in the UK wearing swastikas, 1970s. images from http://www.punk77.co.uk

I was discussing the book with a fellow student who agreed with Hebdige, that the swastika was signifying shock and not actual Nazism.  I disagreed with him, namely, and reason I say this argument was more straightforward than the soccer player, because the context in which the punks were displaying the symbol was in England roughly 35 years after the Blitz.  Maybe their parents and certainly their grandparents, experienced the bombing, death, and destruction.

the blitz. images from www.english.illinois.edu , www.nmaw.org

The interpretation of the symbol by others, the signified, is inarguably Nazis, Hitler, fascism.  As far as the punk’s intention, the symbol is not a ‘rhetoric of crisis‘ but a rhetoric of fascism, no matter its bricolage context.  Yes the symbol caused ‘shock,’ but it was a particular type of shock.  Other symbols like unnaturally dyed hair and PVC clothing also caused shock.  While perhaps not active in Nazi groups, there was purpose in the use of the symbol, its ‘natural’ meaning was being evoked.  Wielding this signifier demonstrates there is no absence, or ignorance, of meaning.  To have clear, personal ties to such a political signifier indicates a specific kind of violence and hostility.

more punks. images from www.punk77.co.uk , http://www.acc.umu.se

While I feel similarly about the recent football incident, I believe my unfamiliarity with the various factors is part of why I feel it is more complex. The player has claimed 1. that he was pointing to friends, then 2. that he did not know what it meant.  His coach has said “He is a young kid who does not have any political ideas. He most likely saw such a salute on the internet or somewhere else and did it, without knowing what it means.”  But is that even possible?  Why has he given different explanations to interpret the symbol?  Where would he have seen the symbol out of its ‘natural’ context?

I am aware that the sport, as many others, is rife with gender and race issues and it is sometimes entwined with neo Nazism.  I’m also aware that while those of us with radical leanings bask in Greek anarchist riot porn, the country also has a rising neo Nazi contingent in the Golden Dawn party.  In the US, it has become widespread and commonplace to use politically charged symbols with ambivalence and for consumption, the ultimate ‘defusion’ of the symbol.  In addition, I find it interesting to think of this symbol temporarily embodied becoming permanent in film and media.

white celebrities embodying racist stereotypes of cultures that are not their own. images from http://www.nativenews.net, bitchmagazine.org, stream.aljazeera.com

In this case, the player has been banned from the national team, but would still be able to ‘go pro.’  I feel somewhat settled in my belief that no, this player could not have done an accidental Nazi salute.  Yet, I teach young adults and find myself confounded by their simultaneous abundance and dearth of existing knowledge.  When paired with the proliferation in transformation of the political to the apolitical, I am troubled the answer to such a question could possibly be ‘yes’.

symbols being used by celebrities who either do not understand or do not care as to their significance. images from www.sodahead.com, www.bet.com, www.celebuzz.com

*Note on the images I’ve used:  In placing these images next to one another I do not mean to infer equivalency between them.  They are merely images I believe demonstrate the use of symbols packed with politicized meaning.  

 

POC ZINE PROJECT’S “RACE RIOT” TOUR STARTS TODAY!

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By now you’ve probably already heard that our friends at the POC (People of Color) Zine Project are leaving for a 14-day tour starting today. We couldn’t be more excited.

In November 2011, we partnered with POC Zine Project and Barnard Zine Library to produce “Meet Me at the Race Riot: People of Color in Zines from 1990-Today,” a panel and corresponding zine show at Barnard College. After the event, Daniela Capistrano, founder of POC Zine Project, immediately started planning their 2012 tour, Race Riot!, with fellow Meet Me at the Race Riot participants Mimi Thi Nguyen and Osa Atoe. The tour kicks off tonight at 538 Johnson and returns to Brooklyn on October 7th to close the tour at Death by Audio.

The tour will consist of “DIY” events (like the kickoff this evening) featuring bands, music, and readers, as well as school-sponsored panels, bringing POC zines into the university. For a preview, see a video of our Meet Me at the Race Riot event produced by Barnard.

We at For the Birds have been busy making copies of Mimi Nguyen’s Race Riot zines to accompany the zinesters on their tour, and we’ll be sending copies of our own zine So You Want to Start a Feminist Collective… and International Girl Gang Underground to join them!

POC Zine Project has been spotlighting all of the members of the tour on their tumblr. Here are some of our favorite quotes:

Osa Atoe:

I think that being able to tour & travel has helped me deal with how white punk can be because I’ve been able to make connections with black & brown punks all over the country and even internationally.

Mariam Bastani:

Even though zines are largely seen as either a literary art form or as a “music thing,” imagine the transformative nature that zines could have in all aspects of our lives? The power of narratives being read straight from the pens of those living them with out fear of persecution within and outside of their own community, or, inversely, the recognition of a POC voice within their community and power lying in the ease in which a zine can be created—we don’t need anyone’s publishing money, we don’t need anyone’s approval.

 Mimi Nguyen:

I wanted to go on this tour… to connect with other punks of color about this thing we love and sometimes hate, to present something –a zine, a tour— that might make sense of that push and pull and give it a history, and then to create something new between us.

Cristy C. Road:

Emphasizing the voices of POC in Zine culture (and any media) is imperative to revolutionizing any “alternative” space. If diversity isn’t present we aren’t moving forward.

Anna Vo:

I decided to join the [POC Zine Project] tour because I thought it was an awesome opportunity to hang out with women of colour who I could hopefully talk to about things that I think about alot, but don’t necessarily get to talk about that much in the communities and cities that I live in! I’m working on the third issue of my punk zine Fix My Head, which is a collection of interviews with “Punx of Colour,” mostly women who have been playing in hardcore/punk bands for some time, and their experiences of racism/fetishisation/exclusion/etc.

For all of the Race Riot tour dates and details, check this link and be sure to follow along with the POC Zine Project tumblr.

September is all about music: Screenings & Events

As we swiftly approach the most beloved of seasons — the fall – people are coming out in droves to share their work with the world. This week is all about music!

FROM THE BACK OF THE ROOM: A Documentary about Women in Punk
TONIGHT, SEPTEMBER 14 @ SPECTACLE THEATER
WILLIAMSBURG (BROOKLYN)

Check out this new documentary playing at the Spectacle Theater (“a collective of film collectors, filmmakers, editors, performers and misfits”) tonight:

This documentary chronicles the past two decades of female involvement in the DIY punk community. We’ve interviewed tons of amazing women ages 17-40 from all over the United States!

You can RSVP on Facebook; showings at 7:00 and 9:30PM. $5.

YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION?
A Panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2PM @ ST. FRANCIS VOLPE LIBRARY
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS

Music is often the voice of a generation-a touchstone for issues both personal and political, and a way for its fans to understand themselves. Mark Yarm, (Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge), Marisa Meltzer (Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music) and Marcus Reeves (Somebody Scream: Rap Music’s Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power) – look at the impact of punk, hip hop, riot grrrl, and more on the lives of its fans. Moderated by Will Hermes (Love Goes To Buildings On Fire).

For more information on this panel, click here; for more information on the Brooklyn Book Festival, see their main site.

& THEN… LATER THAT NIGHT!

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 7:30PM @ UNION DOCS
WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN

Verso Books has declared September “the month of White Riot and I am not one to disagree. Stephen Duncombe (Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture) and Maxwell Tremblay (The SLEEPiES) have edited this pioneering collection on punk and race. Verso and UnionDocs have teamed up to bring us this night of films and a discussion on the subject. You can listen to Stephen and Max on WFMU discussing the book, too.

From UnionDocs:

Sunday, September 18 at 7:30pm // at UnionDocs // 322 Union Ave., Brooklyn, NY // $9 suggested donation.

Movie selections and critical discussion on punk rock and race, from the Clash to Los Crudos, skinheads to afropunks, with professor Stephen Duncombe and writer/musician Maxwell Tremblay. More after the jump.

FOR THE BIRDS & POC ZINE PROJECT PRESENT: AFRO-PUNK

We are thrilled to announce our first collaboration and co-sponsored event with POC Zine Project: a screening of Afro-Punk. This is the first event we’ve booked since The Big She-Bang IV last August and we couldn’t be more excited. The good folks at Book Thug Nation will be hosting us and there will be snacks provided by POC Zine Project. As part of their mission, they’ll be distributing free zines by POC zinesters, too! We hope to have folks stay after the film is over for a discussion about why we chose to screen the film and any general reactions or interactions from fellow community members & audience participants. You can RSVP to the Facebook event here.

SUNDAY, MAY 30 at BOOKTHUG NATION
100 N. 3rd St., Brooklyn // 7pm // FREE
For the Birds Collective & POC Zine Project present a screening of AFRO-PUNK

From the website: Afro-Punk, a 66-minute documentary, explores race identity within the punk scene. More than your everyday, Behind the Music or typical “black history month” documentary this film tackles the hard questions, such as issues of loneliness, exile, inter-racial dating and black power. We follow the lives of four people who have dedicated themselves to the punk rock lifestyle. They find themselves in conflicting situations, living the dual life of a person of color in a mostly white community. Continue reading