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October 30, 2002

He Was A Punk, She Did Ballet, What More Can I Say?

As Christopher Hitchens points out today in Andrew Sullivan's Book Club,which still pales in comparison with the moral focus of the discussion we've been having on this site, "the test of any serious person is his or her ability to handle contradictions, and to recognise them in himself or herself as well as in others, and then to confront them honestly."

So I wonder how Orwell would respond to the most important issue of our day: Whether or not Canadian singing sensation Avril Lavigne is a punk rocker. Just fine, I think. Orwell was remarkably presicent on this topic, writing in 1947, "you can totally dress in ties and hold a guitar and sing about destroying the mall, but, like, that doesn't make you a punk." In an essay called "Beware File-Sharing, Whatever That Is," he presaged the current wars between corporations that want to control images of youth culture, and the youth themselves, who sometimes want to be controlled. I imagine he, like all men, would have been at once repulsed by Britney Spears but also desirous of her. Who among us haven't woken up ashamed after a Britney-dream-induced night orgasm, and then prayed for a punk-rock backlash against that assembly-line sexpot succubus? Orwell struggled with dreams like that his whole life. In fact, I once had the honor of introducing the literary critic F.L Pritchett, who famously called his boyhood friend Orwell "the original see you later boy."

Still, is Lavigne genuine, or is she a bl8tant pop-cultural construction? She takes great pains, much as Lenin did qua Trotsky, to paint herself as the moral and intellectual opposite of Britney, going so far as to say, "omigod, I would never dress like a slut." But does that make her punk rock? I think that Avril Lavigne is SO not punk rock. But what do I know? What is punk rock, anyway? Any follower of popular music or the leftist press should be asking themselves the same.

So I suggest a change in the question stream, my friends. From here, the Orwell discussion changes to an Avril Lavigne discussion. Or a punk-rock discussion. Or the interstice between the two. Pose questions to the email address to your left, and they will get answered. Sully and Hitch say this strand is beneath their abilities, but to them, I say, "Chill out, whatcha yellin' for? Lay back, it's all been done before. And if you could only let it be, you will see."

This could get complicated.



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