From Punk to MCA

From an amateur punk player to a professor in visual arts: How a raw music aesthetic changed a man’s way of thinking

Long Nguyen, Contributing Writer

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An Associate Professor of Screen Studies, a writer, and a Program Director at the Department of Visual and Performing Arts: he is Professor Hugh Manon of Clark University. All of Professor Manon’s expertise in psychoanalysis, media and culture studies, screen studies to visual arts and sound aesthetics, started from his teenage years with the interest in Punk Rock.

“There is no way I would be doing this job today if I hadn’t encountered this kind of music,” he said.

Manon first became interested in punk rock in the 1980s, when the new wave of punk bands emphasized the punk movement and appeared on television as a phenomenon.

“I can remember really vaguely watching ‘The Sex Pistols’ on television in the late 1970s, I was only 10 at the time,” he said. “New wave bands like Devo, Talking Heads, The B-52s started becoming popular in the 1980s and that was the sweet spot for me. That was when I started learning more about these band and it was revolutionary for me. It rewired my way of thinking about everything.”

These early punk bands interested Manon in that they were all politically progressive, they all hold a political agenda to themselves. In the late 1980s, he started playing guitar as a part of a high school punk band.

“I started playing guitar in 14, but honestly, it was really noisy and badly played rock music,” he said. “We didn’t know what we wanted to be and there are inconsistencies in what we are doing. As time progresses, we then move to the direction of playing punk.”

Being involved in playing and learning about punk music gave Manon a deep insight in the cultural phenomenon that was popular during the 70s and 80s.

“There is a lot of political fractures in pink, but at its best, punk tended to be a white guy phenomenon; it was a real reinvention of the music industry,” he said. “It struck me as a revolutionary thing that people like me are engaged in doing, I get on board with punk because I feel right, I feel like it is politically progressive.”

The politically progressive nature of punk is also what changed Manon’s way of thinking and his vision of the world. He grew up as an apolitical teenager, only to discover a radical alternative to that: the political and propaganda nature of punk. It is something that he described as a ‘radical-left propaganda that is cool and fun that is unlike most other propaganda.’

“The aesthetics of punk were also political,” he said. “Kids that were into punk confronted the fact that highly successful bands like The Who and Led Zeppelin benefitted from layers upon layers of studio production, and lots of funding.  Punk bands did everything with nothing, and the raw sound of punk was itself a political or ideological statement. I saw a band called D.R.I. in 1985, and it completely blew my mind how precise and fast they were.”

The exposure to punk music, its unique style of aesthetic, and  its political nature were the first steps that Manon took in the path of his career. It was a genuine way for him to buy into thinking seriously about art, but little does he realize at the time what he was doing.

“I just thought punk was cool, but what I do now has a lot to do with aesthetics, visual arts, and cinema,” he said. “Punk is such a raw aesthetic that part of it is because the lack of recording technology. These bands sound raw because they could not afford to sound slick. Punk helps me to appreciate the radical avant-garde, and it steers me to investigate point of ‘rupture’ in culture—point at which the normalizing Symbolic is traumatized by a return of the real.”

As a professor in Screen Studies, and Media, Culture and Arts, Manon encourages students to have a complete knowledge of arts as of sight and sound, and punk provides a historical perspective as a cultural revolution.

“I could imagine Clarkies being really interested in punk once they felt what their interested bands are, especially feminist punk and hybrid punk,” he said. Studying and listening to punk gets you to the core of a lot of trends that you see today. To me it is like a part of a long tradition of subversive artwork.”

Joe McDonough, a freshman at Clark University, enjoys the wide range of topics and Professor Manon’s range of knowledge.

“He really engages the class and knows a lot in his field,” he said. “He sometimes talks about soundtracks in class – that is one of the great and interesting parts of the class that I enjoy.”

Today, apart from teaching, Professor Manon’s research areas and expertise include film genres such as Horror, Pseudo-documentary, film analysis theories such as Lacanian Psychoanalysis, Glitch, Lo-Fi aesthetics, and especially Punk aesthetics. His publications include topics about film analysis, psychoanalysis, and art aesthetics.

“I think as a professor, it’s really special that Hugh knows a lot about music because he’s able to use musical knowledge to make his classes more fun,” said Michaela Davies, a junior at Clark University. “His classes are more memorable because of his personal anecdotes and knowledge of music.”