What Is Punk?

“To me, punk is about being an individual and going against the grain and standing up and saying ‘This is who I am’.” – Joey Ramone

So, what is punk? There’s an awful lot of genres out there with a word, and then “punk” attached. So what makes, say, cyberpunk different than mainstream science fiction? Why isn’t just anything some type of punk?

When it comes down to it, punk is about an aesthetic. Whether the defining thing is a technology, as is the case with cyberpunk or steampunk, or something more general, like splatterpunk, the thing has to reshape the world into the path not taken, or the path that shouldn’t be taken. If you look at, say, steampunk cosplayers, yes, the base of their wardrobe is Victorian in most cases, but there’s brass and gears and goggles everywhere. The real Victorian era had quite a lot of color to it, as new dyes were being discovered and experimented with – but in Steampunk, the world looks a lot like what we see in old photos and clippings, with sepia tones everywhere. Likewise, that technological enlightenment comes with a changing in historical attitudes. You see female mechanics, doctors, and front-line fighters in a lot of settings, many of whom are also perfectly at home in fancy corsets and gowns, right up til they go to work.

In splatterpunk, for another example, you don’t just have horror and graphic violence. You have Tarantino-esque blood sprays, dying enemies who contain way more blood than they should, and highly stylized violence. Meanwhile, the existence of the horrors that populate it shape and inform not just the immediate story, but the entire setting. Night of the Living Dead isn’t ‘punk. You can see the normal world, and normal teens. The evil is unleashed, and then it ends. Zombieland, on the other hand, might be. There, the horror defines the entire setting, and people’s lives, personalities and style are shaped by the horror’s existence – and while “Shoot for the head” can work, people make sure to pack chainsaws and hedge clippers too.

The mainstream is what you would expect, for good or ill, in any genre. In cases of historical-based punk tropes, like Steampunk or Teslapunk, technologies that were never explored become defining parts of the setting. For some of the more modern or futuristic punk genres, the expectations are twisted, and then the style elements are turned up to 11.

So it is with the works you see here. All of the stories here are familiar, or could be, if you read enough Shakespeare. They’re then given a twist or three, letting the storytellers add elements of their chosen genres along the way to making the stories their own.

Say it Loud, You're Punk and Proud

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