Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools
Sections

Commentaries on this Media!

Build it Up to Tear it Down: Black Flag’s Transgressive Geographies

by Ethan Tussey

by Greg Blair for IN MEDIA RES

Greil Marcus once wrote that the Sex Pistols were akin to the “sound of the city collapsing,” as they laid waste to the decency and refinement of English tradition. Around the same time, across the Atlantic Ocean in the USA, another group of punk rock musicians known as Black Flag, were also subverting the norm by deploying a transgressive geography.

Black Flag’s process of destruction actually entailed the initial building up of a place; defining and instilling it with certain ideological and political attributes, so that once clearly delineated, it could be torn down. In order to develop this process of construction and destruction, the band deployed a rhetorical strategy of negation.

Through a series of negations, Black Flag constructed an ideological place, which they referred to as the mainstream establishment. For Black Flag, the geographical grounding of the mainstream was Hollywood, with its accompanying celebrity culture.

Part of Black Flag’s spatial otherization process was to also locate the highly detested shiny and happy, valley pleasant mellow sounds of Top 40 radio (epitomized by the Eagles) within the borders of the Hollywood mainstream. Once Black Flag had defined the established mainstream as everything that they were not, as everything they did not stand for, they began to destroy their target.

Destruction was a vital component of Black Flag’s identity—the name of the band itself “has the connotation of anarchy, of negation.” Songwriter Greg Ginn captured the destructive tendencies of the band in his lyrics for "No Values":

Don’t you try pretendin’

Telling me its all right

I might start destroyin’

Everything in my sight!

By delineating the place of the established mainstream, along with its social norms and impositions of power, Black Flag were able to step out-of-place, removing themselves while they destroyed (with a healthy dose of vitriol), the political and ideological underpinnings of that locale.

Black Flag utilized this negating destruction as a subversive act that didn’t merely obliterate, but also erased as it generated, functioning as a kind of “provisional erasure.” The destruction of place was also an act of creation as it produced what Terence Martin refers to as a “genuine point of beginning – with its attendant hope and promise for the future.” Destroying the mainstream meant slipping out from under its landscape of expectations and impositions to emerge with a new sense of individual freedom.

Build it Up to Tear it Down: Black Flag’s Transgressive Geographies

by Ethan Tussey

by Greg Blair for IN MEDIA RES

Greil Marcus once wrote that the Sex Pistols were akin to the “sound of the city collapsing,” as they laid waste to the decency and refinement of English tradition. Around the same time, across the Atlantic Ocean in the USA, another group of punk rock musicians known as Black Flag, were also subverting the norm by deploying a transgressive geography.

Black Flag’s process of destruction actually entailed the initial building up of a place; defining and instilling it with certain ideological and political attributes, so that once clearly delineated, it could be torn down. In order to develop this process of construction and destruction, the band deployed a rhetorical strategy of negation.

Through a series of negations, Black Flag constructed an ideological place, which they referred to as the mainstream establishment. For Black Flag, the geographical grounding of the mainstream was Hollywood, with its accompanying celebrity culture.

Part of Black Flag’s spatial otherization process was to also locate the highly detested shiny and happy, valley pleasant mellow sounds of Top 40 radio (epitomized by the Eagles) within the borders of the Hollywood mainstream. Once Black Flag had defined the established mainstream as everything that they were not, as everything they did not stand for, they began to destroy their target.

Destruction was a vital component of Black Flag’s identity—the name of the band itself “has the connotation of anarchy, of negation.” Songwriter Greg Ginn captured the destructive tendencies of the band in his lyrics for "No Values":

Don’t you try pretendin’

Telling me its all right

I might start destroyin’

Everything in my sight!

By delineating the place of the established mainstream, along with its social norms and impositions of power, Black Flag were able to step out-of-place, removing themselves while they destroyed (with a healthy dose of vitriol), the political and ideological underpinnings of that locale.

Black Flag utilized this negating destruction as a subversive act that didn’t merely obliterate, but also erased as it generated, functioning as a kind of “provisional erasure.” The destruction of place was also an act of creation as it produced what Terence Martin refers to as a “genuine point of beginning – with its attendant hope and promise for the future.” Destroying the mainstream meant slipping out from under its landscape of expectations and impositions to emerge with a new sense of individual freedom.

The Destructive Art of Black Flag

Black Flag's "No Values"

from No Values (2012)
Creator: Black Flag
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
Keywords
Genres
Options