Punk body adornment, the most notorious and celebrated of recent styles among youth the subculture, emerged in the mid-1970s and in varying forms has persisted to the present day.
This study illustrates the confrontational aesthetic of punk and neo-tribalism, the most shocking form of art. Like members of previous counter groups, denizens of the punk subculture have created a coherent and elaborate system of adornment calculated to horrify the general public. Their aesthetic of shock and negation expresses nihilism, apocalypse, and a profound cultural pessimism. These philosophies are revealed not only through adornment but also through music, art, dance, “fanzines,” and dramatizations of violence and other antisocial behavior. Their symbolic inversions, ritual pollutions, and carnivalesque antics violate conventions of daily life. Their anti-commercial, do-it-yourself ethos, with its emphasis on parody and gender confusion and its interest in the exotic and the forbidden, further challenges dominant cultural values and ideologies. As mainstream society and the fashion industry incorporate such countercultural styles, the vanguard in shock aesthetics permutates into new forms of outrage.
Here, along with a survey of distinctive styles that have been influenced by punk ethos and aesthetic, is a focus on one new-tribalist, Perry Farrell, who has utilized forms of adornment inspired by non-Western body art and modification (tattooing, piercing, scarification). This informally-taught artist and musician, who once lived in the streets of Los Angeles, founded the band Jane’s Addiction and created the Lollapalooza tour. Understanding this key figure in the alternative culture illuminates the subversive and transformative appeal that body art has for American youth.