Recalling British punk rock of the 80s we often think of "Dead Kennedys" and of course, "The Sex Pistols." The stereotypes of the spiked hair, leather, piercings, and safety pins are remembered to this day and hold true to an extent for punk fashion starting in the 70s. What many forget or don't realize however is a certain facet of that fashion: the swastika.
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For punk teens of the time it was all about the music and rebellion. The intent wasn't to alienate those who were Jewish or to spread an anti-Semitic message, at least for most. Ironically, "The National Front" -an anti Jewish and immigrant organization- tried to recruit young members from the punk movement. This divided fans as well as major bands. Sid Vicious of "The Sex Pistols" was of those who sported the swastika as an act of rebellion but did not adhere to its ideals or the history behind it. One could have supposed that anyway with his relationship with Nancy Spungen, who was in fact, Jewish. Meanwhile, the band "The Clash" refused to let anyone play their instruments at a punk festival who was wearing a swastika.
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The Pistols' and The Clash's managers Malcolm Maclaren and Bernie Rhodes also argued because of this. Maclaren was on the same side as front man Sid Vicious meanwhile, Rhodes agreed with his band members. Meanwhile, the punk genre as a whole was an "inclusionary haven" of sorts, to quote Vivien Goldman of The Guardian. Just being 4 decades or so after World War II, Jewish Brits identified with the misfits and outcasts that made up punk culture. The dilemma was whether the swastika fit the "rebel" on the outside bill or if it was just in extreme bad taste.
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Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen
Punk as a whole including managers Maclaren and Rhodes were against racism and bigotry, their influence helping to start organizations like "Rock against Racism". American punks were getting over Vietnam and those in the UK who adopted the "fashion statement" considered it to be just another thing against authority. The real question is for the generation now and those before us, as well as after us. Was it completely out of place? Should all bands who wore swastikas have been banned from playing in venues?
Obviously today, the topic of bearing a swastika, whether out of mere rebellious fashion or political means isn't seen as much of a debatable issue. Considering the function and presence of social media, the bands who participated would've been hounded from the get-go, and in retrospect, it really probably was the greatest eblem a movement could bear. There would be a whole lot more social media key board warriors who considered Sid and the gang evil and ignorant for wearing them, than people who would write it off as simply a part of punk culture.The answer however, is not to bring a solution. We need not respond or reflect on the morality. It's just another interesting fact of music culture and beneficial to know the surrounding events to influenced the decision one way or another.