November 10, 2015 | by Dylan Wachman

There’s a division in what people expect from punk. The split has one side arguing that unity, positivity, companionship, and respect for all things is what “punk” is. The other side claims nearly the exact opposite, spewing offensive phrases into a brown paper bag and lighting it on your doorstep. I’m tired of stepping in it, if I’m honest.

I’d like to address a controversial elephant in the room. This elephant may expect you to carry it after it front-flips onto you, so keep that in mind. Be careful, and make sure that you don’t deny this elephant because that wouldn’t be very “punk” of you.

The punk show is the perfect metaphor for the split in the two sides of “punk.” From the time I was a middle-school teenager attending my first Rancid show, I was indirectly informed by the pit bosses of my city that if I fell down, I’d get picked up. Maybe they were just singing along to “Fall Back Down.” Regardless, this proved to be true. When a human refrigerator in a kilt would throw himself along the walls of the pit, I’d lose my feet from under me. A truly treacherous moment. To my surprise, someone would always be there to help. From the outside looking in, the punk show setting is violent and exclusive, when in reality; it’s nearly the opposite. Kind of like how from the outside looking in, punk might seem disrespectful and shitty. To me, and many alike, it became a home of solidarity and friendship.

As I’ve aged, I thought that I would hate being one of the older guys in the room, but I actually enjoy the sense of responsibility. A few months ago I was at a Menzingers show. Seeing all of the college freshman and high school kids, combined with being one of the larger people in the room, I knew I’d have plenty of opportunities to better the experience of those around me. It is a privilege to offer this service, being 6’3” and 265 lbs. I take pride in my work.

When The Menzingers finally took the stage at this sold-out show in Chapel Hill, NC, the crowd anxiously waited for them to strike their first chord. As the opening feedback rang out and anticipation was building, three full-sized dudes who are about my age climbed up onto the stage from the load-in stairs and did somersaults onto the faces of people blinded by stage lights against the barricade. People were visibly upset at these studded-jacket gymnasts but that didn’t stop it from happening, nor did the club do anything about it. This kind of shit is just to be expected. It’s the bird shit on your windshield. It’s the dog shit on your shoe.

Four songs in and the acrobatics have not stopped. These people are monsters. Backflips, front-flips, and anything you can think of one notch below a Randy Orton-level RKO. Why can’t they just use their size advantages for the betterment of the show? Why must they impose on everyone’s good time? There is now a 20 feet wide circle of emptiness in the room as people tried desperately to sing along in unison, pressed against the walls of the club, while avoiding getting smashed by a human cannonball. The same three dudes, over and over again. I couldn’t take it anymore. People weren’t having a good time and nothing was going to fix this. It was time to assume the gilded role of the pit boss.

Here he comes with yet another front-flip onto a ragged audience member. Furiously, I worked my way towards him. With all of my might, I wriggled one of his shoes off. This would at least buy everyone some time as he scrambled to put it back on. As I held on to his shitty white Nike, he punched me directly in the face. Thankfully, Tom May of The Menzingers saw this happen, who immediately stopped playing, and asked security to remove the guy who punched me and his two other friends. Finally, the oppressive force was gone. The tone of the room changed immediately. The gap filled and people began having fun.

It’s not hard to find the assholes in the room when they invite themselves on a stage for everyone to see.

Stage diving is an inherently selfish act. Punk shows provide catharsis to everyone in attendance, but what makes it unique is that it’s a unified catharsis. We all feel it together. It’s an indescribable experience to be spiritually lifted by a punk song in a sweaty room full of people who are just like you. When you stage dive, you force the audience to focus all of their attention on you so they don’t get injured. I know I’m not the only one who has caught an ass to the back of the head. It’s more than enough to remove you from the moment and maybe even enough to leave you injured. Shit happens and that’s a fact. Sometimes people get hurt at punk shows, but when it’s related to stage diving, it’s never a truly legitimate accident. “Sorry I launched my 200 lb. body onto you, I didn’t mean to hurt you” is a wildly absurd apology to make to someone.

After the Menzingers were done playing, I found the shoe I’d removed from the human Crass patch. I wanted to bring it back to him even though he sucker punched me. Nervously, I went outside and he was furiously smoking a cigarette with his friends. I was right in front of the venue, so I didn’t expect confrontation. A crowd of mutual friends gravitated towards us as I approached him. I handed him his shoe and apologized for inconveniencing him. He went on to tell me that I ruined his night. He scolded me for ending his good time and said that he had to muster all of his willpower to restrain himself from hitting me again. His friends were calling him an asshole and he just couldn’t seem to understand how unreasonable he was being.

My friend Mike said it best: “Punk is about punching up, not punching down.” We use it to escape the realities of everyday life. Every oppressive stage diver is your boss, your professor, your stepdad. It’s the antithesis of everything for which we claim to stand.

I’m not even totally against crowd surfing or stage diving. I just think that before someone does it, they should ask themselves, “Am I too big for this?” or “Am I going to potentially hurt the people I land on?” If you weigh under 180 lbs. and are shorter than six feet tall, then maybe you can do it without ruining someone’s moment. It’s a touchy subject. I’ve been big my entire life and sometimes it can really suck. No one wants to be told that they’re too big for anything, especially in an inclusive place, but sometimes you’re just too big for the ride and you risk injuring yourself and others. Instead, carry others of smaller stature above your head. It’s the least you could do after they spend the majority of the show staring at your sweaty back.