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June 20, 2008
RATING: 3/10

With its commercial dilution long lamented, the term "punk" cannot possibly have any meaning left. The social message and expressive spirit present in the early days of punk rock music have been stretched so far and in so many different directions that the word itself has ceased to be relevant to anything anymore. Presently, bands like The Ramones and The Clash have been condensed into logos for t-shirts, jeans and jackets are manufactured pre-ripped, and mohawks are a laughable cliché. All of the most accessible aspects of punk rock have been assimilated into the realm of pop culture for the sake of selling clothing, hair dye, and music.

Frankly, this doesn't particularly bother me. I enjoy a lot of the music that came out of the true punk era of the genre's birth and appreciate its role in inspiring many of the bands I love today. But as a movement it never struck a particular chord with me and, as such, I am not in the business of maligning its downfall. That being said, the new Burning Angel photography book from Goliath Press, which I approached with every intention of having my fancy tickled, has simply managed to chap my ass.



Joanna Angel, founder of the alt-porn website BurningAngel.com, states in her introduction that "punk is more than just a look, it's a lifestyle, a sense of humor, and a philosophy." I imagine many people the world over would wholeheartedly agree with such a sentiment; it embodies just about everything one can say about the essence of punk rock, or really any cultural movement with which one chooses to identify. However, none of those principles are evident anywhere within the book. For argument's sake, assume I am a person interested in expressing myself through the punk rock lifestyle. My experience with Burning Angel has shown me that all I need is to be naked, tattooed, and in Brooklyn for some indeterminate period of time during which I will be encouraged to present myself A) eating ice cream, B) squatting uncomfortably in front of some truly uninspired graffiti, or C) rolling around my apartment on a pile of candy-corn/garbage/et cetera. Afterwards, a long day of standing around outside holding things (swords, guns, my naughty bits) behind me, I would retire to my bedroom and collapse into a deep sleep atop a pile of amplifiers tucked mysteriously away under a curtain. Rock and roll!

As far as the girls presented in the book, there is literally no information given that suggests they are the slightest bit the punk rock temptresses they claim to be. Any insight into the minds or interests of these women is provided by props and (often garish) set dressing, which serve only to further objectify and demean the subjects on display. I am no feminist and of course my pornographic perspective is purely subjective, but this seems to be a clear case of cashing in on horny saps through the guise of alternative expression. From a capitalist perspective I say Good Show, Ladies! But it is discouraging to think that Burning Angel could be setting some sort of standard for youthful creativity by tattooing "mayhem" upon their collective pubis.



On top of my conceptual gripes, this book has several additional problems. First off, it costs $45 which, after a brief investigation, I calculated to be about half the cost of a yearlong subscription to the Burning Angel website, which seems to be updated fairly regularly with images and videos, like a post from last week in which the site's founder cleverly takes a game of Truth Or Dare to the next level ("I dared them to DP me"). Does this book contain six months worth of masturbatory fuel? My research indicates that it does not. Second, every one of the 700+ photographs in the book were taken by the same photographer, and while the porno purview covers such a wide range of physiques as to offer a selection of women to suit the personal standards of most any self-satisfier, there is however no variety to the technique or color scheme of the images themselves; everything in the shot is in focus, some of them are cropped awkwardly, and the colors are often blown out and just ridiculous. From a technical perspective, this book offers nothing that couldn't be accomplished with a mid-range camera phone and five minutes of Photoshop tutorials, and it represents an insulting lack of craft even for so-called pornography.

Perhaps, in search of a deeper narrative, I'm trying to read too much into the photographs (for more on this please read Dave Sim's brilliant new pseudo-comic, Glamourpuss). I can imagine some may cry foul - "Shame on you, Sir! Allow these nubiles to prance about unabashedly in the buff for our enjoyment! Art thou a conservative fuddy-duddy? Or merely a disinterested homosexual?" But even if I were a repressed pink square, it would not change the fact that, on a creative level, Burning Angel is offensive. Though the debate over the death of "punk" and the term's subsequent exploitation has been raging for more than a quarter century (the oft t-shirted slogan (un)ironically being coined by an aptly named band exploiting not only the term but the debate), it still seems irresponsible even now to distribute a book that masquerades itself as a volume of progressive, counter-culture sexuality at such an exorbitant cover price. The reader is given no opportunity to make a judgment one way or another about the models. They could very well be as vapid as they seem on paper, or they could transcend the stereotype they are proliferating by posing within. Unfortunately there is no way of knowing.



With art, beauty and eroticism are so esoteric and subjective that there's no clear way to determine a standard for quality. Burning Angel, however, is not art, it is simply pornography; the book's photographer, The Lovely Brenda, is no closer in style or mechanics to Eric Kroll than a vacationing grandmother with a Kodak Instamatic. And although there are obvious levels of quality, in a lot of ways it feels very silly to critique pornography. But a critic's job is to inform the public of the various aspects that comprise a product so that they can be wary of unsound purchasing impulses. Burning Angel seems to me like a book devoid of anything in particular - an audience, an objective, or any truly meaningful content whatsoever. But maybe I am just an old, gay fuddy-duddy.

SEE ALSO: www.BurningAngel.com
SEE ALSO: www.goliathbooks.de

--
Mike Shea
A staff artist for LAS magazine, Mike Shea is bringing comics all up in the ish from his home in Brooklyn, New York. You can visit his blog at www.mikeshearules.com.

See other articles by Mike Shea.

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