It says a lot about the modern music industry that a band like Simple Plan is somehow considered “punk.” It says even more when a band like them are booked for the expressed intention of entertaining apartheid. That’s precisely what they intend to do at their Tel Aviv show on May 5th.
If you’re one of the people reading this and asking “wait, which one is Simple Plan?” then you’re surely not alone. It’s pretty hard to tell them apart from Avril Lavigne, Sum 41, Good Charlotte, Reliant K or any of the other poppy Blink-182 soundalikes that seem to be the Big Four record labels’ idea of punk rock. In fact, calling such groups “pop punk” might run the risk of discrediting Screeching Weasel, Pansy Division or others who, in originally forging the sub-genre, brought some actual substance to the table.
A more appropriate term for Simple Plan and their ilk might be “faux punk” or “mall punk.” True, it’s a bit derisory, but that doesn’t make it any less apt. This is music that has been made to be sold more than listened to. It’s music that has had any prior connection to the grassroots severed, anything that might be considered controversial sucked out of it. It’s had its rough edges filed off, it’s been debated on focus panels before finally being shrink-wrapped, shipped out and shelved like any other commodity.
Any vestige of what makes punk vital and relevant is missing in this milieu. It’s not even worth mentioning Simple Plan in the same short story as DIY culture, ‘zines, community organizing or anything else that has made punk necessary in the first place. They are, like many of their counterparts, one cog in the music industry’s willful depoliticization of punk rock.
To be sure, punk is not alone in having this process exacted upon it. Any frank look at country, hip-hop, metal or R&B will reveal that this is simply what the music industry does. And when art has been twisted into commodity, it’s a lot easier to turn it into propaganda.
Simple Plan are likely well aware that this is their role; this will be their third concert in Israel. Furthermore, news of their booking was re-tweeted via the State of Israel’s official Twitter account. As the Refrain Playing Israel website has pointed out, this squares perfectly with the words of Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, former deputy director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, when he said: “We are seeing culture as a hasbara [propaganda] tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between hasbara and culture.”
This is, in a nutshell, why we think that an effort like Punks Against Apartheid–modest though it might be–is important in this day and age. Rallying punks behind the international call for boycott, divestment and sanctions isn’t only justified in its own right. It’s a crucial dimension in fighting against forces who have never had the best interests of a vital, rebellious sub-culture at heart–be they fundamentalist police departments, apartheid regimes looking for political cover, or the undeniably soulless drive of the free market.
The past few years have made clear just how un-free this “free market” is. In fact, its reliance on racism and empire has been made unbelievably stark as mega conglomerates like Halliburton, DynCorps and even Burger King have been permitted to run amok in Iraq. Today, it’s sweetheart deals between the Israeli government and utility companies like Veolia Environment. Punk, even at its messy inception, was an instinctive wail against all of this and the stifling dehumanization that accompanied it.
Simple Plan, however, have decided to be a part of that dehumanization. And so we urge all readers, punk or not, to bring the heat to Simple Plan’s front door. Send them emails protesting their decision to play in Israel. Post public statements on their Facebook page calling them out for the poseurs they are. Vomit-inducing though it might be to “like” their page, the fact that the international BDS campaign may gain greater exposure will make it all worth it (you can always “unlike” them later).
Ultimately, though, it is not bands like Simple Plan that drive us to do what we do. The strength, resistance, and vitality of local DIY punk culture will always be what carries us in the work and art we do. So if any band is going to be such willing and public participants in selling punk’s most treasured principles up the river, then they should expect no safe quarter in return.
The plan to provide a soundtrack for apartheid may be “simple,” but that doesn’t make it any less repulsive.