Poseur

Poseur

[poh-zur; Fr. paw-zœr]
Poseur (or "poser") is a pejorative term, often used in the musical subcultures of punk, heavy metal, and hip-hop to describe "a person who habitually pretends to be something he is not." The term is used to refer to a person who adopts the dress, speech, and/or mannerisms of a group or subculture, generally for attaining acceptability within the group, yet who is deemed to not share or understand the values or philosophy of the subculture. While this perceived inauthenticity is viewed with scorn and contempt by members of a the subculture, the definition of the term and to whom it should be applied is subjective and the subject of much debate. For example, the Television Personalities' 1978 song “Part-Time Punks,” "...declared that either everyone who wanted to be a punk was one or that everyone was a poseur (or both)" and it argues that "the concept of...punk rock authenticity...was a fiction.

While the term is most associated with the 1970s and 1980s-era punk and hardcore subculture, it is also used in other musical subgroups, such as the heavy metal community and in hip-hop. In fact, English use of the term originates in the late 19th century. In a 1993 profile of heavy metal fans' "subculture of alienation", the author noted that the scene classified some members as "poseurs", that is, heavy metal performers or fans who pretended to be part of the subculture, but who were deemed to lack authenticity and sincerity. Jeffrey Arnett's 1996 book Metalheads: Heavy Metal Music and Adolescent Alienation argues that the heavy metal subculture classifies members into two categories by giving "...acceptance as an authentic metalhead or rejection as a fake, a poseur. In the hip-hop scene, "white hip-hop kids with gangsta aspirations—dubbed the 'Prep-School Gangsters' by Nancy Jo Sales", wore hip-hop style clothes, and then "...to guard against being labeled poseurs, the prep schoolers started to steal the gear that their parents could readily afford".

History

Etymology

The term developed from the French verb "poser" in the 1870s, to refer to people who "affect an attitude or pose"; earlier versions of the verb in Old French meant "to put or place". Etymonline, an online etymology dictionary, argues that since the "word is Eng.[English] poser in Fr.[French] garb", thus it "could itself be considered an affectation. The Merriam-Webster dictionary notes that the term was also used to refer to a "person who pretends to be what he or she is not" or an "insincere person". The Encarta dictionary states that the term is used to describe a "pretentious person" or "somebody who tries to impress others by behaving in an affected way". The Cambridge Dictionary defines a "poseur" as "someone who pretends to be something they are not, or to have qualities that they do not possess."

While the term "poseur" became widely associated with the punk and metal scenes in the 1970s and 1980s, it is also used in other contexts. A reviewer argues that in Norman Mailer's 1956 essay “The White Negro,” which "lauded a 'white hipster elite' for talking, listening, and playing like black people",...Mailer "...comes off like a poseur attempting to articulate this minority mimicking a minority, these white kids’ existential attempt to deal with the 'psychic havoc' of the atomic age though jazz and dope." As well, Mark Paytress' book The Rolling Stones: Off the Record states that in 1977, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger called singer/songwriter Patti Smith a “poseur of the worst kind, intellectual bullshit, trying to be a street girl…”.

In punk

1970s-1980s

Music journalist Dave Rimmer’s book Like Punk Never Happened argues that the "...first punk kids in London envisioned waging a revolution against the corruption that had undeniably crept into a becalmed and boring rock scene." Rimmer notes that the "...terms in which they expressed their disdain for hangers-on and those whose post-hip credentials didn’t quite make it came straight out of the authenticity movements: "Poseurs" was the favorite epithet." Ross Buncle's history of late-1970s punk rock in Perth, Australia claims that eventually the scene "... opened the door to a host of poseurs, who were less interested in the music than in UK-punk fancy dress and being seen to be hip"; he praises the gigs where there "...were no punk-identikit poseurs" in the audience.

In a review of The Clash film Rude Boy, a critic argued that this "...film was another sign of how The Clash had sold out – a messy, vain work of punk poseurs." In contrast, US music journalist Lester Bangs praised punk pioneer Richard Hell for his honesty and conviction, and for writing the "...strongest, truest rock & roll I have heard in ages", without being an "arty poseur" of the "age of artifice Another critic argues that even by the late 1970s, "...punk rock had already, at this early date, shown signs of devolving into pure pose, black leather jacket and short hair required. Please Kill Me, an “oral history of punk” from 1996, includes interviews with US punks in New York and Detroit who "...rip their English counterparts as a bunch of sissified poseurs.

The term was used in a several late 1970s punk songs, including the X-Ray Spex song "I am a Poseur" and the song “Part-Time Punks,” by the mod revival/punk band Television Personalities. The Television Personalities' 1978 song "was a reaction to the macho posturing of the English punk scene". The song lyrics argue that, "while Television Personalities were not themselves punks in the orthodox sense, neither was anyone else." The song "...declared that either everyone who wanted to be a punk was one or that everyone was a poseur (or both)" and it argues that "the concept of...punk rock authenticity, of Joe Strummer, was a fiction." The Los Angeles band Redd Kross (then known as Red Cross) used the term for their song "Standing in front of Poseur” (from the band's debut EP).

An article in Drowned in Sound argues that 1980s-era "hardcore is the true spirit of punk", because "... [a]fter all the poseurs and fashionistas fucked off to the next trend of skinny pink ties with New Romantic haircuts, singing wimpy lyrics...", the punk scene consisted only of people "...completely dedicated to the DIY ethics"; punk "[l]ifers without the ambition to one day settle into the study-work-family-house-retirement-death scenario."

1990s-2000s

Rimmer notes that with the revival of punk ideals of stripped-down music in the early 1990s, with grunge rockers like "...Cobain, and lots of kids like him, rock & roll... threw down a dare: Can you be pure enough, day after day, year after year, to prove your authenticity, to live up to the music [and] live with being a poseur, a phony, a sellout?"
 In an interview for Exclaim! magazine, Lyxzén and Gurewitz used the term to refer to the 1990s-era pop punk fans as "...kids - more specifically the new wave of punk poseurs who came to the music via bands like Good Charlotte..." They argue that these young listeners want "...not to have to think and [instead they] would rather use music as escapism [,] and too many bands seem willing to comply.In a discussion of the history of the LA punk scene, a writer argued that the scene was changed by the invasion of "...antagonistic suburban poseurs" which led to "...rising violence ...and led to a general breakdown of the hardcore scene.
The Gauntlet magazine's review of the US punk band The US Bombs, which was formed in 1993, praises the band's politically-oriented albums as "...a boulder of truth and authenticity in a sea of slick poseur sewage", and calls them "real punk rockers" at "... a time where the genre is littered with dumb songs about cars, girls and bong hits" University of Texas professor Neil Nehring is one of the growing number of music professors who are making the "..study of rock music - particularly punk rock...an increasingly legitimate academic subject". Nehring argues that "....popular music must be studied to understand youth culture", because "...popular music has long been an important part of the identity formation throughout the world for young people". Nehring notes that time has healed old wounds; he points out that some performers "...who in their time we thought of as schlocky pop poseurs" are now seen as interesting and worthy of study. In his classes, the teaches students that he considers the arrival of the UK band the "...Sex Pistols [to be] the most important artistic event in the history of Western art, and I mean it."In Daniel S. Traber's article L. A.'s "White Minority": Punk and the Contradictions of Self-Marginalization, he argues that "...popular music is appealing because it allows fans to construct a new identity" and become a "self-imposed minority" for the purposes of "political dissent". Traber notes that attaining authenticity in the punk identity can be difficult; eventually, as the punk scene changed and re-invented itself, "[e]veryone got called a poseur".

In an interview with Joe Keithley, the singer for Canadian punk band D.O.A. (who has "... been called the godfather of punk"), Liisa Ladouceur notes that a "quarter century later, punk music and fashions are hardly as subversive" as they once were, as punk culture has gone mainstream. Ladouceur points out that now "[suburban mall chains like America’s Hot Topic sell mass-produced, pre-fab fashions racked by “scene”, such as goth and punk. Keithley notes that "for every person sporting an anarchy symbol without understanding it there’s an older punk who thinks they’re a poseur." Ladouceur points out that in Keithley's book I, Shithead, he "...calls them “pukes”—audience members who dress as punks but pick fights or push others around. Ladouceur argues that when a group or scene's "followers grow in number, the original devotees abandon it, ...because it is now attracting too many poseurs—people the core group does not want to be associated with.

The early 1980s hardcore punk band MDC penned a song entitled "Poseur Punk" which excoriated pretenders who copped the punk look without adopting its values. As part of MDC's 25th anniversary tour in the 2000s, frontman "Dictor's targets remain largely the same: warmongering politicians, money-grubbing punk poseurs (including Rancid, whose Tim Armstrong once worked as an M.D.C. roadie), and of course, cops. The Berkeley, California punk band NOFX released an album entitled The War on Errorism which includes the song "Decom-poseur", part of the album's overall "critique of punk rock's 21st century incarnation of itself." In an interview, NOFX's lead singer Mike Burkett (aka "Fat Mike") "lashes out" at "an entire population of bands he deems guilty of bastardizing a once socially feared and critically infallible genre" of punk, asking "[w]hen did punk rock become so safe?"

The 1980s and 1990s-era skateboarding subculture in the US had a number of links with the punk and hardcore punk music subcultures. Like the punk scene, the skateboarding subculture attempts to differentiate between authentic skaters and pretenders. A New York Times article on the 2007s-era skateboarding scene notes that "... some first-time skaters drawn into the sport by catchy choruses or candy-colored sneakers are dismissed as poseurs" who are "...walking around with a skateboard as an accessory, holding it in a way we call ‘the mall grab...

In metal

In the 1970s, heavy metal fans began using the terms "sell out" and "poseur" to refer to bands such as Def Leppard who turned their heavy metal sound into radio-friendly rock music. In metal, the term is used to refer to "...someone dishonest who adopted the most rigorous pose, or identity-affirming lifestyle and opinions". The metal bands that earned this epithet are those "... who adopt the visible aspects of the orthodoxy (sound, images) without contributing to the underlying belief system." In the heavy metal subculture, some critics use the term to describe bands that are seen as excessively commercial, such as MTV-friendly glam metal groups. Jeffrey Arnett's 1996 book Metalheads: Heavy Metal Music and Adolescent Alienation argues that the heavy metal subculture classifies members two categories: "...acceptance as an authentic metalhead or rejection as a fake, a poseur.

Ron Quintana's article on "Metallica['s] Early History" argues that when Metallica was trying to find a place in the LA metal scene in the early 1980s, "American hard-rock scene was dominated by highly coiffed, smoothly-polished bands such as Styx, Journey and REO Speedwagon." He claims that this made it hard for Metallica to "...play their [heavy] music and win over a crowd in a land where poseurs ruled and anything fast and heavy was ignored. In David Rocher's 1999 interview with Damian Montgomery, the frontman of Ritual Carnage, he praised Montgomery as "...an authentic, no-frills, poseur-bashing, nun-devouring kind of gentleman, an enthusiastic metalhead truly in love with the lifestyle he preaches... and unquestionably practises.

In 2002, "[m]etal guru Josh Wood" claimed that the "credibility of heavy metal" in North America is being destroyed by the genre's demotion to "...horror movie soundtracks, wrestling events and, worst of all, the so-called "Mall Core" groups like Pantera, SlipKnot, and Korn." Wood claims that the "...true [metal] devotee’s path to metaldom is perilous and fraught with poseurs." In an article on metal/hard rock frontman Axl Rose, entitled "Ex–‘White-Boy Poseur", Rose admitted that he has had "...time to reflect on heavy-metal posturing" of the last few decades. He notes that “We thought we were so badass...[until] N.W.A. came out rapping about this world where you walk out of your house and you get shot." At this point, Rose argues that "It was just so clear what stupid little white-boy poseurs we were."

In hip-hop

In the hip-hop scene, authenticity or "street cred" is an important selling point for rappers and MCs. Journalist Larry Nager from The Cincinnati Enquirer claims that "Hardcore rapper 50 Cent" is an example of "the real thing" in the hip-hop scene. Nager notes that 50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, has achieved chart-topping album sales, a "...career milestone earned largely on the strength of his criminal and medical records". Here Nager is referring to the Jackson's past as a "... juvenile crack dealer" who survived a gangland attack in which he was "...shot nine times in one attack in 2000, including once in the face." Nager argues that Jackson has "...earned the right to use the trappings of gangsta rap - the macho posturing, the guns, the drugs, the big cars and magnums of champagne. He's not a poseur pretending to be a gangsta; he's the real thing. He's a gangsta who has changed jobs, preferring the higher stakes of the rap game.

Some hip-hop performers are criticized for falsely wrapping themselves in the mantle of "ghetto" credibility. A 2008, Utne Reader article by Jake Mohan describes the rise of “Hipster Rap”, which "...consists of the most recent crop of MCs and DJs who flout conventional hip-hop fashions, eschewing baggy clothes and gold chains for tight jeans, big sunglasses, the occasional keffiyeh, and other trappings of the hipster lifestyle." Mohan notes that this "hipster rap" has been criticized by the “old-school hip-hop website Unkut, and Jersey City rapper Mazzi", who call the mainstream rappers "poseurs" or "...fags for copping the metrosexual appearances of hipster fashion. Prefix Mag writer Ethan Stanislawski argues that there are racial elements to the rise of this "hipster rap". He claims that there "...have been a slew of angry retorts to the rise of hipster rap," which he says can be summed up as "white kids want the funky otherness of hip-hop...without all the scary black people."

A This Are Music review of Caucasian rapper Rob Aston criticizes his "...fake-gangsta posturing", calling him "a poseur faux-thug cross-bred with a junk punk" who glorifies "...guns, bling, cars, bitches, and heroin" to the point that he seems like a parody. A 2004 on BlackAmericaWeb claims that the "late Russell Tyrone Jones", better known as rapper "Old Dirty Bastard" was not "a rough dude from the ’hood" as his official record company biographies claimed. After Jones' death from drugs, the rapper's father claimed that "...his late son was a hip-hop poseur, contrary to what music trade magazines published in New York" stated. Jones' father argued that the "....story about him being raised in the Fort Greene [Brooklyn] projects on welfare until he was a child of 13 was a total lie”; instead, he said "...their son grew up in a reasonably stable two-parent, two-income home in Brooklyn." The article also refers to another "...hip-hop poseur from a decade ago", Lichelle “Boss” Laws. While her record company promoted her as "...the most gangsta of girl gangstas", posing her "...with automatic weapons" and publicizing claims about "prison time" and an upbringing on the "hard-knock streets of Detroit", Laws' parents claim that they put her "...through private school and enrolled [her] in college in suburban Detroit."

As hip-hop has gained a more mainstream popularity, it has spread to new audiences, including well-to-do "white hip-hop kids with gangsta aspirations--dubbed the 'Prep-School Gangsters'" by journalist Nancy Jo Sales. Sales arguest that these hip-hop fans "... wore "Polo and Hilfiger gear trendy among East Coast hip-hop acts", listened to hip-hop, and rode downtown to Black neighbourhoods in chauffeured limos to experience the "ghetto life", at least from the safety of a Lincoln Town Car. Then, "...to guard against being labeled poseurs, the prep schoolers started to steal the gear that their parents could readily afford". Sales claims that the white kids were experiencing the "decadence of hip-hop while avoiding the poverty, desolation, and destruction from which it derived".

Other genres

The term "poseur" is also used in other music genres. In the dance music and DJ club scene, LA City Beat magazine argues that "dance music had its Spinal Tap moment some time around the year 2000", a reference to the tongue-in-cheek mockumentary of heavy metal. The magazine claims that in 2000, "the prospect of fame, groupies, and easy money by playing other people's records on two turntables brought out the worst poseurs since hair metal ruled the Sunset Strip"; "[e]very dork with spiky locks and a mommy-bought record bag was a self-proclaimed turntable terror". A Slate magazine article argues that the issue of authenticity exists in the independent music scene. The article notes that "...[w]hile this scene can embrace some fascinating hermetic weirdos such as Joanna Newsom or Panda Bear, it's also prone to producing fine-arts-grad poseurs such as the Decemberists and poor-little-rich-boy-or-girl singer songwriters...

Further reading

  • Andes, Linda. "Growing Up Punk: Meaning and Commitment Careers in a Contemporary Youth Subculture." Youth Culture: Identity in a Postmodern World. Blackwell Publishers: Massachusetts, 1998, 213-231.
  • Fox, Kathryn J. “Real Punks and Pretenders.” Constructions of Deviance. Wadsworth Publishing Co: Belmont, CA, 1992, 373-388.
  • Popham, George. "Sellouts, Poseurs and Suicides: Punk Rock and the Pursuit of Secular Otherworldliness" (currently pending publication).
  • Widdicombe, Sue and Rob Wooffitt. “‘Being’ versus ‘Doing’ Punk: On Achieving Authenticity as a Member.” Journal of Language and Social Psychology. 1990:257-277.

References

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