'The Punk Singer': Is Punk Dead?

Erin Batchelder '17 Assistant Arts Editor

The 90s never really died. On Nov. 11, a near-packed Graham Hall looked like time had been turned back 15 or 20 years. Everyone was out to see a screening of “The Punk Singer,” a documentary by Siri Anderson about Riot Grrrl icon Kathleen Hanna. For most, Hanna is best known for being the front-woman of Bikini Kill (1990-1997), but she has also fronted bands like Le Tigre (1998-2011) and The Julie Ruin. More significantly, Hanna is known for being a figurehead and symbol of third wave feminism.

Anderson’s film covers the entirety of Hanna’s career from the formation of Bikini Kill to the Julie Ruin’s first show. However, Anderson made the documentary about so much more than just music. As a subject, Hanna tied the subject matter into the history of music and feminism. There is a sequence that describes Hanna’s close friendship with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, particularly the night when Hanna coined the term “Smells like Teen Spirit.” Similarly, Hanna’s close relationship with both third and fourth wave feminism made an entire comprehensive breakdown of the various waves of the movement.

Hearing about Hanna’s life is more than just inspiring. Pieces of her story are relevant to everyone, yet her humanity renders her a vulnerable subject. Her stage persona makes Hanna seem larger than life, yet in the middle of her second project, Le Tigre, she was struck by a debilitating illness. Hanna was diagnosed with late-stage Lyme disease.

By an interesting twist of events, Anderson herself was diagnosed with the same disease during the making of this film. In the screening’s question and answer section, Anderson spoke in depth about her interest in the disease. At the time of her diagnosis, Anderson knew of 27 other artists who were diagnosed with late-stage Lyme disease besides herself and Hanna. Currently, Anderson is developing another project which will tell the stories of these artists.

Hearing Anderson speak about the film was easily one of the most captivating moments of the night. Invited by the American studies department, Anderson opened for questions, prefacing that there is never a question she wouldn’t answer. Each answer she gave was well-thought out and eloquent. In fact, audience members could ask a simple question like “Does Kathleen crochet?” and Anderson was prone to answer with a deeply intelligent response about how Hanna wanted to celebrate all women.

The final question, from the professor of studies of women and gender Anna Ward, was, “Is punk dead?” Anderson’s answer was short and sweet: No. After watching “The Punk Singer,” a viewer can’t help but agree. Punk is no longer an aesthetic. People can still dress like a classic punk, but women like Hanna and Anderson represent the best of the feminist punk movement. They represent anger and intense sisterhood that have been essential to feminism since the beginning. Punk is not just the Sex Pistols. Punk is a revolutionary movement of new thinkers and icons that call for change. Punk is everything that Hanna represents.