In the early 1980s, classic New York hardcore band Reagan Youth sang “We are Reagan Youth!” dropping a “sieg heil” for satirical effect. This was in keeping with punk’s rejection of flower-power’s pacifist tendencies in favor of more confrontational approaches.
Reagan Youth made their name co-opting these kinds of controversial KKK and Nazi images, making political, anti-racist and anarcho-punk statements that sadly — nearly 40 years later, with neo-Nazis marching in American streets — feel more relevant than ever.
In the classic song “New Aryans,” Reagan Youth sings: “No master race will ever rule this land.” And from “I Hate Hate”: “Why waste the life you live/ Hate makes waste — I’m positive/ Why hate the life you live/ Life’s to love — I’m positive.”
So it’s clear Reagan Youth is staunchly anti-fascist. But this is all within punk’s childish, absurd and almost Dadaist approach to reducing and reassigning the power behind what ultimately are empty symbols.
When is a swastika simply a swastika and when, and how, does it become loaded? Can this iconography ever be subverted?
We’re in a postmodern time when words are weaponized, and even gender pronouns can be dangerous. There’s a lot disagreement these days about the power of symbols — when and how words and imagery cross the line from abstraction to aggression.
This might be risky territory for a reunited Reagan Youth. But to help understand a president in the White House who’s openly sympathetic to white supremacists, tacitly implying they “have a point,” we may more than ever need punk bands like Reagan Youth to take those kinds of risks.
Reagan Youth plays with 13 Scars as well as Eugene bands Not a Part of It and Critical Shakes 9 pm Thursday, Aug. 31, at Old Nick’s; $10, 21-plus.