The Resurgance of the Lunatic Right; blame it on Idol, Perry, and Beiber.

In trying to make sense of the “conservative resurgence” of late – beyond the demographically driven, sociocultural change underway in the US, beyond the fear of the first non-fully-”White” President, beyond the death spasms related to the “last days of Archie Bunkerism” — I can’t help but to also find fault in today’s “youth culture” . . . or lack thereof.  This may be the first generation in modern American history to not have such a culture.

The TWENTIES were roaring with flapper decadence and illicit booze.  By the late FORTIES into the early FIFTIES the smooth and cool sounds of the clove cigarette smoking, Jazz-loving ”Hepcats” were causing a stir.  The “American Graffiti” of the mid-to-late FIFTIES into the SIXTIES saw the first blending of Black and White culture with its “race music” later coined “Rock-n-Roll”.  The SIXTIES itself, of course, blew the lid off of this twentieth-century counter-cultural impulse of a maturing America by literal blending disparate, counter-cultural desires with “love-ins, peace-ins” and the like.  And then there was of course the Civil Rights movement(s) for racial and gender equality.  By the SEVENTIES, the “Stonewall Riots” gave notice that the “Gay community” was joining the Civil Rights train and contributed greatly to the massive if not brief counter-cultural phenomenon of Disco with it Studio 54 and various off-shoots.  By the late SEVENTIES into and through the EIGHTIES, boredom, “malaise,” and Reagan “austerity” bred life to the Punk and New Wave movements.  By the late EIGHTIES and early NINETIES, Grunge briefly flirted with its time in the sun, only to be cut short with the passing of its ”voice of the generation” in Kurt Cobain.

So here we are, devoid of anything giving artistic succor to the perpetuation of this generation’s “youth culture”.  While all the previous eras eventually, perhaps inevitably, fell prey to commercial desires and indulgent dalliances, they non-the-less were able to ratchet forward the American popular culture and its attendant social understandings and expand its sensibilities.  The problem with pop music today (and subsequently the body politic) is that having no corresponding youth scene/culture that allows it a contextual voice it becomes all about hype, self-promotion and exaggeration — elements that used to mark the end of a movement, not the movement itself.  I will argue that like most things organic, societies too detest voids and when a progressive artistic/cultural void corresponds with a time of rapid, seismic, sociocultural change the energies of conformity and familiarity fill the empty space.

This “regressive” attempt to fill space on the part of US “conservatives” too will pass and like most things, it may be quite ugly for some time.  The sad thing is that in the past when the social fabric became challenged and frayed, we had innovative music to listen to, books to read, and movies to watch reflecting the rising voice of the new generation.  Unfortunately, for now, all we have are digital files of manufactured culture and artificial reality programming like American Idol and the air-brushed Barbie perfection of Katy Perry.  Give me Billie Holliday, Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown, Diana Ross, Grace Slick, Jim Morrison, Michelle Phillips, Marianne Faithfull, David Bowie, Nico, Patti Smith, the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie Sioux, Debbie Harry, the Ramones, the Sugarhill Gang et al. and the art houses, the sweaty clubs and caverns that nurtured their art and our culture!

Culture bespeaks the society, hopefully this digitized plasticity won’t be America’s cultural legacy for it will then likely also foretell its demise.

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  • As far as youth culture, this is the first generation that, for most of their lives, have lived in a world where the Internet, blogs, Tweets and Facebook are all they know or at least old hat to them. The 80s were mostly shaped by MTV as a music network; the current generation by whatever is on MTV now. So, that's probably where their "culture" is.

    As a frame of reference, when they brought back Soul Train on Bounce and for the Don Cornelius memorial, it struck me that most of them were not cool (at least those recorded after 1976). Times change.

    I also doubt that the conservatives arose as a result of the void in the youth culture, as, for instance, El Rushbo and Newt are from the 90s. The only question is whether the Facebook generation is going to be apolitical, Occupy, or some different form of Young Republican.

  • In reply to jack:

    Certainly my thesis is speculative, however politics, like life, hates a void. "Occupy" certainly has a chance but to sustain itself and evolve into sustained social relevance I maintain it will need a corresponding "cultural movement": art, literature, music and the like to assert that it is now the generation to be reckon with. Certainly the eras I speak of made their presence felt, but I agree with where I think you are going, and as I ended with: the digital, "reality," plasticized offerings that today's youth are calling their "culture" seeming lends itself to something looking like "passive aggressive apolitics".

  • In reply to Ameriviking:

    I don't think that Occupy has a cause, let alone a cultural movement. Complaining about the 1% doesn't mean that they have any suggestion about what to do about it, and others have pointed out that when the issue becomes whether they have a First Amendment right to squat in the park, there really isn't any other message.

    At least the Tea Party wants to repeal Obama Care. I don't agree with that, but at least there is a tangible goal.

  • In reply to jack:

    I have vacillated in my opinion of "Occupy". I really do want to like them but find that in my travels around the country they have been overly "coopted" by wannabe "anarchists". I will repost an essay I wrote about them soon.

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