The Hidden World: The Visual Culture of Fucked Up

Occasionally people write things about us in an academic type of way.  This is a great paper by someone on FU and art from 2010.

by Evan Blanco

On February 12th, 1992, the highest-selling singles act of 1991 – the KLF – took the stage at the BRIT Awards to deliver their final performance.  Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty – the individuals who comprised KLF – were joined by the crust punk band Extreme Noise Terror for a reworked rendition of “3 A.M. Eternal”.  The grunted and howled vocals, distorted guitars, and blasting beats was by far the largest and most extreme demonstration of what punk had become since the heyday of the Sex Pistols.  The cigar-chewing, crutch-leaning Drummond punctuated the performance by pulling a machinegun from his army jacket and firing blanks towards the audience as well as the ceiling before vacating the stage, upon which KLF hype man Scott Piering announced KLF was finished.  But apart from the fact that KLF decided to end in the manner they did, little else is remarkable about the performance.  Extreme Noise Terror could barely play the song as a cohesive unit, the vocals from Drummond and the ENT vocalists are frequently off-time or poorly executed.  Rather than blowing the lid off extreme music in the early 90’s, Extreme Noise Terror faded back into obscurity.  KLF went on to form the K Foundation, a subversive arts foundation mostly known for burning the remaining million pounds from KLF’s earnings.

Nearly 15 years later on January 16th, 2007, another punk band delivers a shocking and memorable performance on national television.  But this isn’t an awards show full of celebrities and recording industry executives, it’s a concert setting with young people in the audience, and by allowing the aforementioned punk band to perform in this context is what punk relishes upon.  The broadcaster waves her right hand with an ironic gangster swagger as she introduces them: “Effed Up!”  The band is really called Fucked Up, and from the start of the performance it’s apparent that the band will garner a very different reaction from KLF and Extreme Noise Terror.  Fucked Up opens with the very moshable fan-favorite “Baiting the Public”, and the chaos is readily apparent from the opening salvo: slam dancers are running back and forth across the dancefloor, an anonymous stagediver kicks an onstage camera during his or her approach before the leap and a glimpse of his or her sneakers is visible at the edge of the frame.  Singer Pink Eyes is energetically bounding across the stage, barely able to conceal his joy at the sight of the mayhem.  Soon enough, slam dancers are leaping on him from the stage to sing along, sections of the grating along with a trashcan and speaker monitors are sent flying, and Pink Eyes is bleeding from his forehead as the show cuts to a commercial.

Unlike KLF, Fucked Up didn’t construct this moment for public spectacle; it’s just what had been happening at every Fucked Up show prior to this point.  Fucked Up doesn’t fade into obscurity like Extreme Noise Terror – in fact they’ve only become more pervasive in the mainstream consciousness – and they haven’t physically destroyed their earnings like KLF… yet.  VICE magazine was the first to contact Fucked Up about the incident, posting on their blog the sum of the damage was to the tune of $2000 and Fucked Up might be banned from MTV.  The senior producer of the show comments on the blog, surprisingly stating that MTV is indeed open to hosting Fucked Up again (and they do a year and a half later, in a bathroom, where $5000 of damages are incurred).  And the band played on.

Later that year Fucked Up and several other bands are featured in a Camel ad in Rolling Stone without consent from the artists, who accordingly file a class action lawsuit against the magazine as well as RJ Reynolds.  The next year Fucked Up signs to indie rock magnate Matador Records and releases The Chemistry of Common Life.  Fox News talking head Greg Gutfield has Pink Eyes on his late-night talk show Red Eye and declares the new Fucked Up record as the best of the year.  By 2009, the jurors for the Polaris Prize – a $20000 purse awarded to the band whose record is considered the best full length of the year by the jury – agree with Gutfield and Fucked Up wins the 2009 Polaris Prize.  In short, the first performance on MTV represents a turning point – or maybe just a coming out party – in the story of Fucked Up so far: before they were a hardcore punk band capable of packing all-ages shows across North America and Europe; now they play 2 shows a night every time they come to Chicago and have toured the world.

While the preceding exposition may come off as an overcooked attempt to champion the efforts of Fucked Up, this paper is not an attempt to do so.  Rather, it is important to make the reader familiar with the history of the band as a means of establishing context for the true purpose of this paper: evaluating the visual culture produced by Fucked Up during their existence.  Initially formed in 2001, Fucked Up existed as a relatively obscure hardcore punk band from Toronto whose output largely consisted of limited-run 7” singles released by labels run by friends as well as the band itself.  What little insight on the band that existed was provided through self-published zines such as Town of Hardcore1.  Now, Fucked Up is prominently featured in upper-crust music publications such as Spin, Fader, and Vice almost regularly, with their double LPs and singles kept in print by hipster-familiar labels such as Jade Tree and Matador.  The end result is an extensive catalog of releases by a prolific band that has significantly changed in both sound as well as aesthetics over the past decade.

When Fucked Up started it was a clear and explicit agenda of anti-capitalist, anti-fascist, anti-establishment resistance while simultaneously controlling the minds of their fans.  With a drastically changed sound – while still maintaining a distinct punk influence, it’s not the hardcore it once was – and a larger public persona, Fucked Up made this agenda less explicit while still pervading everything the band does.  By examining the exploits of Fucked Up in conjunction with the visual culture espoused by the band, the inherent contradictions of Fucked Up in regards to how the band can simultaneously interact with both mainstream and punk culture can be reconciled, or at least justified.

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Figure 1. The circle-f logo screened onto the B-side of the Let Likes be Cured by Likes 12”

The visual culture of Fucked Up begins with the logo: a painted capital F within a circle, commonly referred to as the circle-f. 2 According to guitarist 10,000 Marbles, the circle-f (figure 1) is the first and foremost projection of Fucked Up: “…using music laced with subtle hints and a strong emphasis on symbols, sigils and logos – to get people to dig us to the extent that we could dig right back into them.”3  10,000 Marbles then goes on to cite examples such as Black Flag in the Maximum RocknRoll4 interview as well as The Germs in the TOH interview as to how the logo of a punk band is important in order to enter the subconscious of the viewer.5  Therefore, the creation of the circle-f logo was essential to establishing the identity of Fucked Up.  The proliferation of this logo is how Fucked Up communicates with their audience, even if the audience has never heard Fucked Up.

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Figure 2: Black Flag logo

This process of injecting meaning into the circle-f logo is the manner in which Fucked Up has established its own distinct visual culture.  To quote Mirzoeff – one of the leading scholars on visual culture – “The logo itself is an expression of a chain of images, discourses, and material reality…”,6 and therefore the pairing of the logo with certain images creates an explicit link between the agendas of Fucked Up and the subtext contained within these images.  Whereas Black Flag used its 4-bar logo (figure 2) to signify Black Flag and little else, the circle-f of Fucked Up encapsulates a wide range of external ideas and influences.  Therefore the logo not only hearkens Fucked Up from the subconscious, but also all the imagery – as well as the ideas embodied by a particular image – used in tandem with the circle-f.

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Figure 3: No Pasaran 7” Cover

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Figure 4: Inner sleeve of No Pasaran

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Figure 5: Back cover of No Pasaran.

And so with the release of the first Fucked Up single No Pasaran,(figure 3) the circle-f became more than just a logo put upon shirts or armbands as a means of projecting Fucked Up.  The cover displays a poster which proclaims “Madrid 1936 – No Pasaran” with bayonets super-imposed over the cityscape of Madrid pointing upwards to the vultures watching over the city.  The phrase was used by anti-fascist armies during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s as a slogan for their resistance to Franco’s fascist army.  Therefore the poster implies that Franco’s army shall not pass – or take over – the capital city of Madrid.  The insert is filled with images of posters of a similar nature (figure 4), emphasizing how prevalent this anti-fascist sentiment was in Spain at the time.  The back cover (figure 5) features a photograph of Dolores Ibárruri Gómez – the woman who delivered the “No Pasaran” speech on July 18th, 1936 – as well as the circle-f logo in the upper right corner.  According to 10,000 Marbles, the song itself is about opposition to fascism and oppression as well.7  Thus opposition to fascism is incorporated into the subconscious lexicon of the circle-f logo.

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Figure 6: Baiting the Public cover

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Figure 7: Baiting the Public inner-sleeve

Baiting the Public (figure 6) was the first of many attempts by Fucked Up to antagonize their listeners. The song “Baiting the Public” cannot be heard seamlessly, as each half of the song is committed to a different side of the record.  The insert (figure 7) is a photograph from an Actionist piece from the 1960’s in Vienna8 which shows the naked bodies of the performers spilling into the audience.  The lyrics are but an illegible collage of the words in the song without any particular order or grouping.  The rationale behind this – according to 10,000 Marbles – is that “Baiting the Public” is a song about creating a destructive frenzy within an audience.  The aspect of paying for a record with a confusing lyric sheet and a song that requires the record to be flipped in order to be heard in its entirety is inherently maddening.9  Therefore, the physical record attempts to accomplish what the song it contains espouses.  Accordingly, the chaos created by Actionist exhibitions is paid tribute by Fucked Up in both aural and physical form.  Likewise, the circle-f becomes imbued with the aspect of transgression and frenzy inherent to the Actionist movement.

A re-examination of the MTV Live performance with this in mind now suggests that maybe the chaos created by Fucked Up’s performance wasn’t so spontaneous.  Rather, the band may have planned for a certain reaction by manipulating the subconscious tendencies of the fans in attendance.  By playing “Baiting the Public”, perhaps Fucked Up knew attendees would be compelled to slam dance with the same anger elicited by the 7” single.  But this begs the question of how Fucked Up established such a precedent for controlling the minds of their listeners.

In both the TOH and the MRR interviews 10,000 Marbles waxes on the aspect of a punk band controlling the minds of its fans.  He claims “At any show, Henry [Rollins, the iconic vocalist of Black Flag], could have stopped playing and said ‘OK, now we’re going to go to the police station and set it on fire,’ and 100 people would have followed him and done it.”10 as a means of conveying the control Black Flag had over their fans.  To 10,000 Marbles, punk is no longer dangerous because punk bands no longer exert such control over their fans:

“…danger to me doesn’t mean getting a black eye at a show… Danger is about getting your life fucked up.  A dangerous band doesn’t lead to injuries in the pit, but is a band that has the ability to hold and control people’s attentions.”11

Rather, pop musician Justin Timberlake is dangerous due to the attention he commands from his audience.  10,000 Marbles then concludes that Fucked Up wants to be inside the brains of their audience for the explicit purpose of achieving their agendas as well as implicitly making punk music dangerous once again.12

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Figure 8: Dance of Death

Fucked Up approaches this topic in their music by addressing the main source of mind control existing in modern society: the state.  The Dance of Death (figure 8) single from 2003 confronts this issue head-on.  The lyrics to “Dance of Death” convey how the individual is fooled into forsaking self-determinism and true freedom for the pursuit of instant gratification.  10,000 Marbles gives insight by describing what he considers the “imperialist lifestyle”: people are indoctrinated into the capitalist lifestyle of the Western world and since material pleasures are obtained so easily they become convinced it’s the best way of life.  He likens it to Stockholm Syndrome with how imperialist society takes the individual hostage, but the individual loves and reveres society.13

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Figure 9: Split with Haymaker

The cover is the Alfred Kubin sketch “Sterbendes Mädchen” [“Dying Girl”]from his Dance of Death series of sketches.14 The sketch shows a girl sitting in a chair with a downward glance as the specter of death looms over her right shoulder.  As death reaches out to clutch the left wrist of the girl, she offers no recourse nor wanting.  She is totally complicit with the end of her own life.  This relates to the message conveyed by “Dance of Death” in the sense that the individual is complicit with thedeath of their individuality or ability to self-determine.

The split 7” with Haymaker (figure 9) from 2004 is more explicit about mind control with its imagery: the cover is a photograph from a Hitler Youth rally where Hitler is saluted with the seig heil by all onlookers.  The Haymaker logo and the circle-f are placed adjacent to each other in the top left corner of cover.  I consider this to be a heavily-layered image from the Fucked Up discography.  As stated before, mind control is an explicit agenda of Fucked Up from the start.  As history has proven, there has never been a state which exerted such a widespread and dominant control over its populace as Nazi Germany.  As such, the circle-f now becomes synonymous with mind control to achieve political or military ends.

I feel it is important to distinguish that Fucked Up is not a band of Nazis, fascists, or National Socialists, but there is a precedent in punk rock aesthetics that began with Sid Vicious’ tee shirt bearing the swastika during his time in the Sex Pistols.  To save myself a lengthy digression on the usage of Nazi or Holocaust imagery in punk music, many punk bands of have used such imagery with the primary intent of offending the viewer, not promoting hateful ideologies.  Likewise, Fucked Up and Haymaker use this image to offend the viewer.

Since the circle-f is a device which takes on the meanings of the images it is paired with, the logo now now has Nazi associations.  This is reconciled by what the No Pasaran single first imbued into the circle-f.  No Pasaran takes an explicit anti-fascist, anti-oppression stance, while the Haymaker split merely alludes to Nazi ideologies through its imagery.  Therefore, the implications of fascism are not adopted by the circle-f, but the aspect of mind control emphasized by the photograph as well asDance of Death remain intact in the logo.

Since the circle-f is used in tandem with the Haymaker logo, it can also be implied that Fucked Up encapsulates what Haymaker tried to accomplish.  And Haymaker was a band which only tried to create complete and total chaos.  Mainly documented in the pages of TOH, descriptions of Haymaker shows typically included fireworks set off with reckless abandon, furniture and light fixtures being smashed, and debris of all kinds being used as makeshift weaponry.15  Therefore, the chaos attributed to Haymaker becomes a part of the Fucked Up pathos.  Thus the frenzy of the MTV Live performance isn’t just about how Actionists confronted audiences or how angry the noncontinuous Baiting the Public single made fans, but also how Haymaker shows were a guaranteed source of chaos.

So with the Haymaker split, Fucked Up had established a visual canon for their music as a means of mind control, but how was this to be implemented?  Again, in both the TOH and MRR interviews 10,000 Marbles expanded on what Fucked Up could possibly do with a group of devoted followers.  Rather than simply command their followers to consume, 10,000 Marbles states that these people can be utilized to do a wide variety of activities, ranging from “fuck[ing]a lot of things up” and “building things, finding things, bringing them back in so that they could be used for whatever we needed”16 to marching on a city.17  In the case where many punk bands exist in a city, it can be surmised that each band has a group of fans exclusive to that one band.  Each band organizes their group of fans to accomplish certain tasks at the micro level, operating as individual cells.  With many people working towards a common goal, 10,000 Marbles suggests that bands could control or greatly impact parts of cities.18

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Figure 10: Black Cross

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Figure 11: Black Army

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Figure 12: Makhno insert

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Figure 13: Makhno insert reverse

This aspect of mind control being implemented for activist or revolutionary means is best exemplified by the Black Cross/Black Army  7”s (figs. 10, 11).  While the two singles indeed contain two different songs and covers, they both refer to the same organization: the revolutionary army led by Nestor Makhno during the Communist Revolution in Russia.  Both singles contain an identical insert (figs. 12, 13) which has a photograph of Makhno on one side, with the tale of their exploits on the reverse, punctuated by “THE STRUGGLE AGAINST THE STATE”.  What makes these singles intriguing is how they reflect the aspirations of 10,000 Marbles expressed in the MRR and TOH interviews.  Essentially, the Black Army was an anarchist military group formed in Ukraine by Makhno to combat the encroaching Red Army.  As the Black Army advanced across Russia they liberated villages from both the White and Red Armies and allowed the populace to self-determine without killing those of dissenting opinion (e.g. Bolsheviks).  With each village liberated, the Black Army established a cell committed to keeping this self-determined order.  These cells were united under the banner of the Black Cross.  If the situation necessitated it, these cells would unite and fight the opposition in a coordinated effort.

With the alignment of the circle-f with these images of the Makhnovists, the agenda of Fucked Up comes full circle.  Fucked Up is a band which has an agenda of creating a self-determining society by manipulating their fans to carry out the tasks which will amount to liberating themselves from the imperialist mindset.  In conjunction with this agenda, the circle-f is encapsulates all the imagery and ideologies that brought Fucked Up to making this agenda explicit.  In some ways, the circle-f is a sigil for what Fucked Up is trying to accomplish.

10,000 Marbles explains sigils in the MRR  interview as monograms which represent a goal.  First, a goal is formulated, written down, and then represented by a monogram.  The monogram is then memorized and the goal is forgotten as a means of disassociating the goal from conscious thought.  Accordingly, the goal is stored in the subconscious and is eventually achieved without the user consciously working towards the goal.  10,000 Marbles cites a sigil he placed at an intersection for an OCAP [Ontario Coalition Against Poverty] action, or how guitarist Concentration Camp made a sigil for the 2002 Toronto Maple Leafs playoff run (the former was successful, the latter was not).19  Therefore, the circle-f can be considered to be a sigil representing the ultimate goal of self-liberation and determination for Fucked Up.

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Figure 14: Hidden World

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Figure 15: Hidden World back cover

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Figure 16: Hidden World dust jacket & label

With the release of the first Fucked Up full-length Hidden World (figure 14) in 2006, the process of forgetting the meaning of the circle-f sigil has concluded in both the literal and aural sense.  The lyrical theme of the record is how the visible realm interacts with that which is hidden.  This theme directly correlates with sigils: the monogram is explicit, but its meaning is buried within the subconscious.  Both the back cover as well as the labels (figs. 15, 16) feature a Venn diagram.  While the back cover has the circle-f logo in the upper-right hand corner, the labels have the circle-f placed where the two circles of the Venn diagram intersect.  This is a direct expression of the circle-f functioning as a sigil.  I previously stated that this record is when Fucked Up forgot the meaning of the circle-f, and the statement is qualified as the lyrics no longer espouse an explicit political agenda and Fucked Up has shifted gears from sounding like a hardcore punk band to just sounding punk-influenced.  Therefore, the goal represented by the circle-f – using hardcore punk as a means of self-liberation and determinism – has become lodged in the subconscious of Fucked Up and only the circle-f remains.  The circle-f is clearly visible, yet holds a hidden meaning, and therefore resides in the center of the Venn diagram between the visible and hidden worlds each circle represents.

With Fucked Up voluntarily disassociating their former incarnation to a sigil, this begs the question of how this newer, more mainstream version of Fucked Up subconsciously works towards this goal.  The immediate result is layout of Hidden World itself.  For example, 10,000 Marbles states in the MRR interview Fucked Up obfuscates lyrics or info as a means of forcing their listeners to “dig deeper” to understand or enjoy Fucked Up in fullness.20  With Hidden World, the previous output of Fucked Up is subordinated to the circle-f in the Venn diagram.  It’s hard to fully grasp a band whose amnesiac legacy has been summarized by – or subordinated to – a logo in a Venn diagram.

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Figure 17: Two Snakes jacket stamp

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Figure 18: David’s Christmas

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Figure 19: David’s Christmas

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Figure 20: Dangerous Fumes/Teenage Problems inner-sleeve

Marx’s “Fetishism of the Commodity” comes into play as well.  A commodity is not determined by its function nor use-value, but rather the extraneous social implications attached to the environment in which it was produced.21  Before Hidden World, Fucked Up forced their audience to pay attention through intentionally nonsensical records such as Baiting the Public (in regards to having to flip the record in order to hear the whole song).  10,000 Marbles wanted Fucked Up records to be kept as commodities which commanded the full attention of the listener and would remain valuable because of that.22  With a record such as the Two Snakes (figure 17) single, the record is stamped 300/018, ultimately frustrating the record collector in the same manner Baiting the Public frustrates its listener.  The concept of the commodity is still being toyed with, but now it is the collector that’s being mocked rather than the listener.  In turn, it is not the listening that must be paid full attention, but rather the variations.  TheDavid’s Christmas (figs. 18, 19) single came gift-wrapped with either a green or a red ribbon and must be unwrapped to be heard, ultimately resulting in sacrificing the coveted mint condition in order to examine the actual record.  Likewise, the Dangerous Fumes (figure 20) single features a separate cover for the B-side “Teenage Problems” as the inside of cover, prompting the collector to either take apart the cover or seek out the limited Teenage Problems single with its respective artwork on the outside.  This wide range of variants also alludes to the Black Cross/Black Army singles and their similar construction.

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Figure 21: Triumph of Life print

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Figure 22: Shirt w/ Nazi war medal

Fucked Up also continues to use Nazi imagery in conjunction with the circle-f.  For example, the Triumph of Life (figure 21) print is an appropriated Nazi work of art23 which displays the classically-proportioned Aryans under the circle-f.  A Nazi war medal adorns the neckline of a shirt (figure 22) from the Hidden World tour, with the circle-f in the center of the iron cross.  While the split with Haymaker used explicit Nazi imagery, Fucked Up post-Hidden World links the circle-f to more subtle Nazi imagery.

The path taken by Fucked Up has undoubtedly alienated some and endeared many, but by carefully examining the early output, a rationale can be constructed as to why Fucked Up is now the band it is today.  While intensely political and relatively unaccessible in the early years, Fucked Up began to formulate a visual culture which would serve as the narrative that shaped what the band is today.  The pairing of the circle-f logo with certain imagery imbued it with the accompanying subtext of those images, thus allowing the visual culture of the band to be summarized by the logo.  Likewise, the goals conveyed through their early music are also represented by the circle-f and thus the logo also became a sigil for the band.  By letting the sigil store these meanings, Fucked Up forgot their original sound and intent with the release of Hidden World.  Now, the circle-f functions on a subconscious level, where Fucked Up exists moreso in the listener’s head than on a stage.  If this sounds like a justification for Fucked Up selling out, you’ve missed the point.  Look no further than the next Fucked Up show and wait for the opening notes of those early songs to ring out.  The subconscious goal of Fucked Up and the circle-f is accomplished as Fucked Up becomes dangerous once again with their command over the audience.

 

Bibliography

Dufresne, Gord.  “Fucked Up.”  Maximum Rock’n’Roll May 2004.

Haliechuk, Mike and Falco, Jonah.  “RE: Fucked Up cover art.”  Emails to the author 13 Sept – 11 Oct 2010.

Mirzoeff, Nicholas,  Marx, Karl.  The Visual Culture Reader.  Ed.  Nicholas Mirzoeff.  New York: Routledge, 2002.  3-21.  122-123.

Wiltse, Steve.  “Fucked Up.” Town of Hardcore: Zineography 2002-2005.  Eds. Anthony Romano and Jason Clegg.  Boston: Eating Rats Press, 2007.

 

1Abbreviated as TOH.

2Dufresne, 2.  Since the issue of MRR isn’t paginated the number refers to the page of the interview itself.

3Ibid., 2.

4Abbreviated as MRR

5Wiltse, 8.

6Mirzoeff, 3.

7Wiltse, 9.

8Email correspondence with 10,000 Marbles 9/21/2010.

9Dufresne, 2.

10Ibid., 2.

11Ibid., 2.

12Ibid., 2.

13Ibid., 4.

14Email correspondence with 10,000 Marbles 9/21/2010 & Kubin – Dance of Death and Other Sketches, 63.

15Wiltse, 13,23.

16Ibid., 8.

17Dufresne, 2.

18Wiltse, 8.

19Dufresne, 2.

20Ibid., 4.

21Marx, in Mirzoeff, 122-123.

22Dufresne, 5.

23Email correspondence with 10,000 Marbles 9/21/2010.

 

Acknowledgments:

I would like to thank the following people for making this paper possible:

-Matt Clark for allowing me to photograph his collection

-Robert Drewry for providing photographs of The Temple at Amarna and guidance

-Guinea Beat aka Jonah Falco

-10,000 Marbles aka Mike Haliechuk for help with identifying the artwork

-All true punks, skins, and moshers for making every Fucked Up show I’ve attended memorable