Lollipops and Chainsaws: Doesn't Anyone Listen to Punk Anymore?
If Lollipop Chainsaw with its dichotomy of ditzy, youthful provocativeness and horrific, grisly violence bothers you, it's mission accomplished for Suda51.
Nick: Isn't spazmatoid an offensive term?
Juliet: To who?
Nick: ...to spazmatoids -- like your sister.
-- Lollipop Chainsaw (Warner Bros., 2012)
“Beat on the Brat” is a song that gleefully celebrates violence against a child. Of course, the Ramones would also turn a Nazi assault tactic into a catchy pop tune with “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Joy Division embraced the dark irony of their own name borrowed from Nazi brothels run in concentration camps. And, of course, Johnny Rotten infamously declared that he was “an antichrist.” This is the language of provocation. This is the language of punk.
Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture, leading as always with their motto and declaration of their own aesthetic, “Punk's Not Dead,” has once again embraced the role of the provocateur with the release of the developer's latest, Lollipop Chainsaw. The game speaks the language of misogyny, is gorier than any game since at least MadWorld, and is equal parts rude and profane. If you have any sort of decency, you should hate it -- which is exactly the point.
While others have tied Suda51's claims to a punk aesthetic to his love of 1970s and 1980s vintage leather and ripped up jeans, I have observed before that Suda51's philosophy really runs deeper than merely costuming his characters within the confines of a traditional punk fashion sense (”Shadows of the Damned: Punk's Not Dead?”, PopMatters, 29 June 2011). Suda51's games desire to be indecent and antagonistic in the same manner as a Johnny Rotten spitting on his own fans from the stage.
Many of the originators of punk very much embraced a spirit of anarchy and that spirit was not merely political, but social as well, as the above examples demonstrate. Punk doesn't merely dislike laws. It sticks up a finger at rules in general, at taboos, at sacred cows. Thus, the “casual” embrace of horrific and painful imagery with no regard for decency. It aligns itself with the indecent, weaponizing words to trigger discomfort and pain... and uncomfortable laughs.
Nowhere is this more apparent in Lollipop Chainsaw then in the game's first boss battle with a punk rocker zombie named Zed. Of course, that Lollipop Chainsaw produces a 1980s vibe in its construction of characters and its love of retro arcade games and that Suda51 almost immediately unseats our expectations about what stands for decency during that period has something to do with how a punk himself (someone Suda51 should admire) becomes the game's first villain. John Hughes and really almost all 1980s media that was pointed at a teenaged audience during that era taught us that the outsider, the loner, and the weirdo was the “good guy” or “good girl.” It was the blonde jock and the cheerleader that we should recognize as the enemy. They are bullies and cruel.
If that idea has become established in the cultural consciousness, Suda51 does the only reasonable thing that a punk can do once a monolithic idea has been established. He flips it on its head, making the peppy cheerleader and bone headed jock our heroes and “his own people,” the punks, the goths, the death rockers, into this game's villains.
Again, though, in Zed in particular is a recognition of words as tools of discomfort and pain and a tendency of the punk to embrace that ideology. As Juliet Starling, our cheerleader turned zombie hunting hero approaches his stage, his most indecent words for her become palpable things forming in the air to directly attack her. His screams of “Vanilla Slut” and shrieks of “Stupid Cooze” can actually strike home and do Juliet literal damage, provoking and striking to hurt and maim. Juliet's own body, hypersexualized as it is, is as problematic as these words. Yet, Zed's degradation of her marries uncomfortably with the idea of the “cheerleader slut” that is very often assumed by ourselves as those quick to judge appearances and cultural identities.
As quickly as we dismiss her as an airhead and an idiot, as a slut and a cock tease, Zed brings to life those same ideas and screams them loud enough for us to really hear them and feel uncomfortable about our own thoughts coming to such bold and tangible life. The scene is as uncomfortable and agonizing as other scenes in the game are stupid and rude. Again, this seems to be the point.
If Lollipop Chainsaw with its dichotomy of ditzy, youthful provocativeness (the lollipop) and horrific, grisly violence (the chainsaw) bothers you on either level (or both, since the two are combined in the image of Juliet Starling), it is mission accomplished for Suda51. Punk harbors no love for a moralistic rhetoric slavishly afraid of words themselves or ideas. It prefers a rhetoric that challenges any moral system, progressive, conservative, or otherwise, unafraid of being indecent or potentially causing pain. As Kurt Cobain (one inheritor of the punk legacy) once ironically intoned, “Oh no, I know a dirty word.”