I was a girl in 1999. I mean, I was a girl in 1993 (when blink-182 recorded their first demo), and I was a girl when “Dammit” was on heavy late-night cable rotation in 1997. But by the time “What’s My Age Again?” was getting radio air I was a girl, a body, sexually situated and old enough to start thinking of myself as A Girl. And then, by the time “All the Small Things” was ubiquitous, I was A Girl negotiating girlhood in the notoriously hypermediated year 2000. And by the time Take Off Your Pants and Jacket was released in 2001, I was, of all things, a self-styled Punk Rock Girl. Maybe I don’t need to say it, but I will say it anyway: in the late 90’s and early aughts, blink-182 and the particular pop culture climate that created them had everything to do with my adolescence, my identity, and how I understood what it meant to be a girl. And, maybe more importantly—
I hated blink-182.
(Oh hey, my name is Rikki but everyone calls me RGR and I have a women’s studies minor and a blog and a lot of feelings.)
We cannot examine how much we like this band or why we like this band without addressing the time we’ve spent hating this band. Most of us hated them, right? If you were a preteen punk, or a kid that got picked on, or even just some high-school sophomore who maybe overidentified with Stephen Malkmus, there’s a pretty solid likelihood that you’ve dropped the “poser” bomb once or twice in conversation. (Or at a least, like, you called Tom Delonge a douchebag.) It wasn’t cool for hip kids to like blink-182, and it wasn’t cool for uncool kids to like blink-182. I hated blink-182 in my adolescence and then, after that, I spent nearly a decade forgetting that they ever existed.
This hatred, and the halls in which it festered, to me, is as much a text as anything—a reading of blink-182 is a reading of our own situated identities and our relationships to media (and, duh, high school) in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. There is no blink-182 without these things.
That’s the reading of blink-182 I want to attempt this week. So let me talk to you about what I like to call my methodologies.*
*I am a professional
I find this passage by Vanessa Corby, drawing from the psychoanalytical art theorist Bracha Ettinger, to offer a useful way of thinking about “reading” “art”:
the viewer/witness is not contained within the “after” of an artwork; a passive receiver of sensation ‘expressed’ by the artist/work. Rather at an intersection of the production and reception of the work, the artist and the author/viewer are intertwined in a transformative process of making and remaking that renders the artwork forever in the process of becoming.
We have all been blink-182’s witness, but that doesn’t mean we’ve been receptacles for Mark Hoppus’s Feelings. It seems like on the rare occasion we see a reverent and/or critical lens applied to blink-182 (especially earlier blink-182), there’s usually an emphasis on the role of feelings/affect. And there’s often an inclination to “interpret” these pop punk emotions. And, even more, there’s typically a tendency to assume that Mark Hoppus’s Feelings were transferred into our own bodies. Like, as if we all feel exactly what Mark Hoppus was feeling about his imaginary hot ex-girlfriend.
I think that’s kind of bullshit. As an early adolescent teen punk girl, I had a very intimate affective experience with songs like “Dammit” and “Josie” and even “Adam’s Song,” but those feelings were completely mediated by a context (and, you know, the fact that I’m a girl), and I couldn’t have cared less what Mark Hoppus’s intentions were when he wrote them. (Maybe this is all review, but bear with me.) To frame it as Corby might, Mark Hoppus and I were intertwined—pop punk shaped how I understood and realized what it meant to be a teen punk lady and at the same time, perhaps, my Geocities proto-blogging about how much blink-182 sucked was mediating the reality that made and continues to make blink-182. Forever in the process of becoming. Becoming blink-182.
(The passage above was taken from Corby’s book about Eva Hesse, if that tells you anything about my background, politics, or feelings about how texts should be treated. This is Serious Pop Punk Theory.)
These are the places I want to visit. How were masculinities and femininities constructed throughout the blink history? How did the culture of consumption, circulation, and media that received this band ultimately serve to create this band? How is our memory of pop and pop punk history located within this? How many words can I possibly churn out about the cultural institution of “the poser”? What the fuck is up with this Billy Madison shit?
Some final notes on form:
Whenever possible, I’ll be using music videos instead of audio files. The music video is so important to this period of pop music, and it offers a much richer reading of the stuff. (Plus I’m obsessed with late nineties pop punk heroine fashion and I’m not even gonna hide it.)
You might have noticed I’ve opted for the lowercase b. This is because Mark Hoppus himself confirmed on his tumblr that the proper articulation is “blink-182.” Tumblr is canon. Henceforth “Mark Hoppus’s Feelings” will be capitalized because I said so.
Finally, I want to try and use as many multimedia sources as possible
because let’s be honest, a poster of Tom Delonge with is shirt off is as important to Western Canon as any of their albums. Lots of photos, videos, memorabilia, and as many scans as I can manage to share with you. I’m also really, really into outdated internet artifacts. Screencaps Of Things Written By 14-Year-Old-Boys In 2001 are like my favorite sources ever. My affinity for the archived internet (and the archive of internet) and the year 2001 will make itself known when I talk to y’all about my very, very favorite blink-182 track, (spoiler!), “Online Songs.” Needless to say, The Wayback Machine is my methodology of choice.
Up next: before I get into the meaty bits of music crit, I’m gonna take a minute to tell you how blink-182 went from “loathed posers” to “basically my favorite band in the world.” Thanks for reading 1,000 words about one of the most divisive/maligned/irrelevant/stupid/perfect bands in rock history!