“Do you remember, when you were young and you wanted to set the world on fire?” sings Laura Jane Grace fiercely on her track I Was a Teenage Anarchist, grasping an emotional nerve many a former youth know and giving it a concise squeeze. The potent chemical soup of the teenage brain and the potentially large but unfilled cup of the young adult mind are petri dishes for creative, rebellious, anti-authoritarian and anti-institutional thoughts. Or at least they used to be.
The late 20th century had a plethora of anti-authoritarian cultural icons. As a youth, there was no shortage of fuel to supply your rebellious, anti-authoritarian spirit. We were still tuned to a frequency that I am afraid is at risk of being removed from the dial and currently exists in such a slim band it is harder and harder to find. A frequency of free, wild, crazy, offensive, subversive, even WTF, thinking: Burroughs, Bukowski, Ballard, Basquiat, Black Flag… that is just some of the Bs.
There was still a way of getting the dissident past the gate keepers. Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Alan Freed unleashed the Beat poets and Rock & Roll on the staid institutions of the 1950s. In the 1960s some of the greatest orators of our time inspired entire movements that crossed all boundaries of race, color and creed. Free, no limits, anti-authority and drug fueled changes permeated music, books and art in the 1960s and 70s. Kesey, Garcia, Clinton and Warhol. Heavy Metal, Funk, Rap and Punk.
Since the 1950s our authorities and institutions had been learning a thing or two about intellectuals, writers and musicians influencing counterculture and how this penchant was easy to access among youths. They turned counterculture into pop culture. They silenced our orators of peace and freedom, shot the protesting students and like scurrying little Dutch boys began plugging the holes of dissention in our cultural dyke.
“One thing that did happen during the Sixties was some music of an unusual or experimental nature did get recorded or did get released. Now look at who the executives were in those companies at those times… cigar-chomping old guys who looked at the product that came and said, ‘I don’t know. Who knows what it is. Record it. Stick it out. If it sells, alright.’ We were better off with those guys than we are now with the supposedly hip young executives… The young guys are more conservative and more dangerous to the art form than the old guys with the cigars ever were.”
— Frank Zappa, 1987 interview
By the time the “greed is good” yuppie days of the 1980s rolled around, Zappa saw the gate keepers had been installed to fortify against the unusual, unsanitary or unfit for consumption and Tipper Gore was running around trying to block all but the innocuous from getting through. It was also the start of our hyper-consumption, including: books, music and movies. These mediums overflowed with the innocuous, conforming, ridiculous and trite.
While much of the pop culture of the time was projecting an obnoxiously phoney false reality, you still had Freeds and Ferlinghettis in the form of book store and record shop owners. They weren’t broadcasting or catering to a National Audience but there were more of them. Most reasonable sized towns had independent book and record stores that were owned by deeply knowledgeable and passionate people, often with niche knowledge and interests.
I could stroll down to my local record shop tell the staff I liked the Clash and receive a list of similar bands to check out. I could walk into my local book store mention I enjoyed On the Road and be asked “Well have you checked out Burroughs?” We had independent record companies, fanzines and literary quarterlies. There were still small independent outlets, often catering to niche categories, where you could find rebellious, anti-authoritarian ideas and opinions.
Many of my generation dove into all this with youthful exuberance. We wanted unique and different. Given what was being served up at the time, an era of Huey Lewis and the News staleness, something was needed to break through the purposefully expanding notion that these were mediums of entertainment only. We wanted fuel to set the world on fire. In the suburban mall uniformity of the 1980s you had to turn to the past and/or dig a little to find the tinder. The youth with piss and vinegar found it and almost unanimously they used it to fuel the fire to fight some form of authority: air polluters, ghetto fillers, tree choppers, bomb droppers.
The tide was turning against the vapidity of the pretty in pink packaged product of the time. By the end of the decade the cracks were showing. Power ballads had seen their day and Lionel Richie was getting tired. In 1987, a culture bomb went off in Los Angeles. N.W.A. were Fuck[ing] tha Police, Straight Outta Compton. A few years later a grunge bomb went off in Seattle. Some angry white kid was screaming these heartbreaking songs about his “white privilege.” Shortly after, the Cop Killing Body Count rose and Tipper Gore’s dream of sanitized music took a bullet in the head. There went the neighborhood, we were raging against the machine.
Teenagers of all varieties gravitated towards our generations new anti-authority figures. The affinity was visceral. Most the teenagers I knew had no idea what it was like to be Ice T or Ice Cube. And let’s be honest most of us had no clue what Kurt Cobain was even singing about on Smells Like Teen Spirit. But they were mad and they were screaming and they looked like real people. The ironic gender-fluid hyper-masculine misogyny of commercial hard rock was crushed. The attempt to shave off the pointy edges of rap music failed.
We had the fuel and we were doing what teenagers and young adults should do and have done for decades. Question authority. Any, all, perceived, imagined, didn’t matter much. Wannabe wild ones rebelling against whatever authority you got. If you had a fire in your belly to go protest or shout someone down for hours on end, it was against some authority.
Now our youth are becoming the tools of authority. Their path to adulthood seemingly detoured from a route on the road of desire for liberty and freedom to a route destined for doctrinal dependency. Unable to confront sticks and stones and taking words like a fist straight to the face. Filling their heads with nonsense, anti-science, postmodernist bullshit. Where feelings are some sort of precious unicorns that fart gold dust while absorbing CO2. Unless you are a “patriarchal white male” than your feelings are evil demons sacrificing babies at the altar of Moloch!
How the fuck does anyone see this ending? What, if any, is the resolution to dividing us initially as “white male historic oppressors of all” and everyone else as their victims? But not victims equally, no, no, there is a house of cards hierarchy to this victimhood.
What is the price that must be paid? To whom? Are we expected to rewrite our history as an even more nefarious delusion than it already is? Is the goal really to wipe out “white male oppressors?” Good Luck.
There are insane tools of authority on the Right and I have many concerns about the racism and antisemitism that just never seems to die the cold hard death it needs to. I do not have the same level of concern because the White Nationalist movement in North America is nowhere near the size or scope the “All Trump supporters are racist Nazi White Nationalists” agenda claims. While alt-Right views are odious, they themselves are rather pathetic. They meet in Ramada Inn conference rooms. Worship failed demagogues and ideologies. Their “leader” gets decked in public. They recruit through ignorance and weakness, predatory, like child molesters. They are unfortunate societal perversions.
Contrast this to the global spread of institutionalized indoctrination of a divisive, authoritarian and puritan ideology built on logical sand. Reducing the level of debate on the campuses of higher learning to the rantings of petulant children. Demanding we all must change and western society must be torn asunder and raised anew, but unable to articulate why. They may as well just close their eyes, plug their ears, stomp their feet and scream “LALALALALALALA!” I expect the extreme Right to be a bunch of sexually-obsessed idiots. You’ll have to pardon me for having higher standards for university graduates.
We have let charlatans in to teach our young adults. I am in no position to weed them out. But I can plead with the young adults of today not to believe these people. Don’t just believe anyone. Learn the difference between someone teaching you how to think and what to think before you even start to believe anything. Dream, rebel, be creative, think way outside the box about everything. It is the time of your life to do it.
Most people are not out to get you. Living your life like they are is a wasted life. Strangers do not care that much about you at all. They have their own bullshit to deal with, problems to solve, rent to pay, job to find, life to live. Leave them alone, most will oblige you kindly. Take a little piece of wisdom from the Merry Prankster, the only thing he claimed to know.
“All I know is this: nobody’s very big in the first place, and it looks to me like everybody spends their whole life tearing everybody else down.”
— Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
You are being used as part of a malignant agenda. You are the jackboots, all the other jackboots are figments, MSM-hyperbole, or belong to the government you want to grant more power. There is no bigger fascist storm brewing in western society right now than the forces you are aligning yourselves with. What you seek is accomplished through liberty and freedom for all individuals as individuals. Authority only takes this away, it never grants it.
Go be a “teenage anarchist”, you’re likely to grow out of that. Start at no authority and figure out what controls you believe should be added as you learn and become wiser. If you start from the position of anything you believe, based solely on feelings, must be accepted by all, otherwise you require safe spaces or shout them down or attack them. I see a limited future for you. If you believe the world is so full of opportunities for you and everyone that has an opportunity to offer is going to agree with you, you are sorely mistaken. Will you suck up your fucking pride and act like an adult when rent or food is on the line? What will snap you out of this destructive trap of self-inflicted victimhood you have fallen into? No one convincing you that you are a victim is looking out for your best interests.
I fear for your generation, awash in the illusion and fed this surreal sadomasochistic fairy tale of both vital and impending self-destruction. Your creative arts have been converted to entertainment for consumption and quick disposal. Much of it simply rehashed leftovers of more creative times. Music has been divided into an ever-increasing number of niche genres and streamed through corporate channels, sensitivity editors are censoring books, the Left is demanding the burning of art. There seems to be little hope of any mass ground swell of rebellious spirit to unite you against authority in these conditions. We are all subdivided, segregated and stereotyped.
With accelerationist, nihilistic, and post-whatever ideologies being de rigueur. Have we all just chosen to say, “fuck it” and ride this out to wherever the hell it goes? The main goal now being to make the road to hell as inoffensive as we can to as slim a demographic as possible, maybe get some virtue signalling in on the way. Our current situation makes me think of Charles Bukowski’s perhaps prescient poem Finish. A part of that poem resonates with me when I think of a generation of youth potentially lost to the neo-Marxist bullshit of pseudo-intellectual charlatans.
“We are like roses that have never bothered to
bloom when we should have bloomed and
it is as if
the sun has become disgusted with
— Charles Bukowski, Finish