Talkin' 'Bout Regeneration

Politics, pop culture, and teen spirit

(Page 2 of 2)

That's the truth. It's a crapshoot whether or not a fan is going to buy into a band's politics. Not every fan of Rage Against the Machine or the Dead Kennedys is against globalization and free trade. Marilyn Manson -- yes -- guardedly endorsed George W. Bush during the 2000 election, telling the defunct Talk magazine, "If I had to pick, I'd pick Bush and not necessarily by default. I know I don't support what the other team is about." In the end, very few Dixie Chicks fans, judging by ticket and album sales, care all that much about the band's stance on presidential IQ or geopolitics.

So why does Goldberg get it right in some chapters and fill other pages with wishful thinking? Most of his analysis comes from his personal experience, which is very much that of a left-wing New Yorker who lives in Greenwich Village and works with rock stars. He never explores the growing numbers of kids who listen to country or Christian contemporary music. Surprisingly, he doesn't dig into the annual UCLA polls of college students, which have shown more and more young people deserting the left since the early 1970s, the same time many adults did. Goldberg explains the 2000 youth vote split by saying that Bush-Cheney didn't advocate censorship and Gore-Lieberman did. It wasn't that simple.

Maybe Goldberg's equation of "teen spirit" with "pop culture" is at fault. He writes that "during most of American history, liberals and progressives understood how to communicate with average people through pop culture," which is arguably true. But are conservatives, and nonliberals generally, really dead set against popular culture? Nixon appeared on Laugh-In and inspired a James Brown song ("Funky President"). Reagan invited John Travolta and Michael Jackson to the White House. And it was Nancy Reagan, not Rosalyn Carter or Hillary Clinton, who famously once sat on Mr. T's lap during an anti-drug photo op. Libertarians and Barry Goldwater Republicans have always been against censorship. On the other hand, there were good liberals in the Catholic Legion of Decency -- probably a lot of them.

It's simply impossible to assign people a political stripe based on whether they like pop culture, or what sort of pop culture they like. To bring it back to the Ramones -- in discussions of pop culture, it always comes back to the Ramones -- guitarist Johnny Ramone vehemently objected to the original title of the band's anti-Reagan song, "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg," forcing them to release it in the U.S. as "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down." Said Johnny, "I thought Ronald Reagan was the best president of our lifetime."

Until Danny Goldberg can account for such statements, he'll add little to our understanding of politics or pop culture. Or to the Democrats' chances of pulling the youth vote in November 2004.

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