DIY — your help needed

Happy Sunday folks!  For those of you watching the baseball playoffs in the US of A, I can’t help but wonder about Prince Fielder, the artifice of his home-run antics during the regular season, and his post-season struggles extraordinaire. I’m inclined to think it’s part of the karma balance sheet, but it’s difficult to confirm.

Prince Fielder

Fielder as bowling ball, his teammates as bowling pins, following a walk-off home run, in 2011 (I believe).

Fielder, after a rare appearance on the bases, gets tagged out at third to kill a Detroit rally (ALCS, game 6, 2013).

Speaking of karma: in a previous life I played a sociologist, and I periodically get called upon to assume that role in the form of writing a book review or an encyclopedia entry. With the help of Joe Rumbo, an old comrade of mine, I submitted a variation of the prose below for “DIY,” which tracks the literature of sociology, rather than the good writing on punk rock.

In the DIY spirit, I’m looking for your help to improve this piece to include some of the better ideas on DIY, and I figure I’ve got to start with Azerrad’s *Our Band Could Be Your Life,* but I’d like to hear from you about your favorite prose on the matter of DIY. In due time, I’ll polish this post up, so that future readers have a sense of what DIY meant to our generation(s).

Do-It-Yourself (DIY)

The DIY spirit eventually associated with punk rock, especially, was first articulated in sociological circles by Vance Packard in Status Seekers (1961), in which he extolled the delights of the “do-it-yourself” handyman.

DIY refers to a range of practices in which individuals or groups demonstrate self-reliance in the production of material objects, representations, and cultural events. The articulation of the DIY and “anti-establishment” spirits emerged in the late 1960s,[1] and coincided with a shift from DIY material practices to the production, distribution, and consumption of culture. To begin, lifestyle movements of the early 1970s exhorted the qualities of naturalness and authenticity, in their newsletters and small-batch consumer goods,[2] and found consumers in communes and nuclear family households.

Likewise, the DIY spirit was manifest in the “intentional communities” of Haight-Ashbury, as well as the “peace-and-love” ethos of the Vortex Festival (est. 1970), the Rainbow Gathering (est. 1972) and, more recently, the Burning Man Festival. Revelers at these sites constructed temporary, autonomous spaces to celebrate free love, egalitarianism, cooperation, and altered states of consciousness.

Coincidentally, rock music in the mid-1970s adopted new scales of concerts and heightened artifice and, in turn, produced a DIY backlash in the form of punk rock. In punk, the DIY ethos celebrated the amateur, the interpreter, and the auteur. Punks started their own fanzines, established independent record labels, formed bands, and created a network of venues to pursue the joys of (semi-) popular music. The effects were aesthetic, corporeal, and political: punk revolted against the virtuosity of progressive rock and, counter to the “smile-on-your-brother” demeanor of stoned-out hippies, punks “costumed themselves as post-apocalyptic street urchins with a dystopian outlook fueled by amphetamines.”[3] DIY punks celebrated their autonomy, industriousness, and a life relatively free of corporate influence. Outlook notwithstanding, the DIY ethos of rejecting mass culture and creating one’s art were imbued with an aura of independence and empowerment, as many expressions of punk music and style articulated an oppositional lifestyle politics aligned against corporate and governmental authority.

The DIY ethos held sway in other musical genres, even if it was not always recognized as such. In its commercial ascent from the 1970s through the 1990s, rap music and hip-hop culture engaged similar questions about authenticity, musical virtuosity, self-representation, and entrepreneurship, such as the FUBU (For Us, by Us) clothing line.[4] As with punk, rap’s DIY ethos often grew out of economic necessity as it democratized cultural production along class and race lines. Likewise, the rave scene grew out of deejay experimentation and appropriation of spaces for enjoying electronic music and culture.

DIY also extends to other forms of culture, including independent filmmaking, improvisational public pranks, culture jamming, queer “counterpublics,” and of course, internet outlets such as blogging, YouTube, and social media; all of which seek to democratize the production of culture.

With respect to material consumption, contemporary alternatives to markets for mass-produced goods and services continue to manifest in various trends and movements. These developments include buy-local movements, eat-local movements, community/urban gardens and co-ops, time-dollar economic systems, second-hand economies, and the re-purposing of recycled materials. Whether due to economic necessity or by choice, many consumers are joining the growing voluntary-simplicity (or “downshifter”) movements. Such consumers often find their busy “work-and-spend” lives to be unsatisfying, and instead seek satisfaction through more meaningful relationships, healthier lifestyles, therapeutic pursuits, self-discovery, meaningful work, and a heightened sense of community.[5]

DIY, though, in these arrangements, are unevenly linked to larger social movements and cultures of resistance against the forces of capitalism, consumerism, and/or governmental authority. Rather, voluntary simplicity is largely seen as a lifestyle choice, and thus an individually experienced phenomenon. Similarly, DIY has come full-circle, and corporate hardware stores such as Home Depot systematically target the DIY consumer. Such chains cater to the needs of a predominantly male consumer base seeking to purchase various materials, tools, and machines in order to engage in DIY practices that variously provide the consumer with a sense of independence, autonomy, authenticity, satisfaction, and/or meaning–again, on an individual basis, rather than as a collective force.

# # #

Thanks much for checking out today’s lengthy (and slightly tardy) post. Have a delightful week!

[1] Ian P. Moran. 2010. “Punk: The Do-It-Yourself Subculture,” Social Sciences Journal 10(1): 58-65.

[2] Sam Binkley. 2007. Getting Loose: Lifestyle Movements in the 1970s. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

[3] Ryan Moore and Michael Roberts. 2009. “Peace Punks and Punks Against Racism: Resource Mobilization and Frame Construction.” Music & Arts in Action. 2(1): 21-36.

[4] Negus, Keith. 2004. “The Business of Rap: Between the Street and the Executive Suite,” pp. 607-625, in That’s the Joint! The Hip-Hop Studies Reader, edited by Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal. New York: Routledge.

[5] Juliet Schor. 2011. True Wealth: How and Why Millions of Americans are Creating a Time-Rich, Ecologically Light, Small-Scale, High-Satisfaction Economy.New York, NY: Penguin.

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3 thoughts on “DIY — your help needed”

  1. You probably know this one , but just in case… As good as any concise explanation of the origin of the UK indie/punk scene is Ch.6 ‘Autonomy in the UK’ of Simon Reynolds ‘Rip It Up & Start Again’. It starts with ‘Spiral Scratch but stops before the scene splintered into the many genres we saw in the mid 80s (and the sort of anarchist sub culture of Crass & Conflict et al that I think you are referring to). Hope this helps!

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