Paul Morley has been at it again, the strap line for his latest article in the Guardian being … “The new generation is blocked from moving on creatively, not only by the babyboomers but also their own inertia” … and citing the forthcoming Rolling Stones performance at Glastonbury festival as an example of how the babyboomers “remain in control of the pop culture they invented and reinvented between the late 50s and the late 70s, even as the record industry and traditional media, business and television approach extinction.”
Most of which isn’t exactly news- the bands the babyboomers love are still the ones most likely to fill out stadias worldwide, and with their balance sheets looking iffier by the day, as far as recording income goes, then while they can still – just – get through a set without actually dying on stage, then it stands to reason that getting out there again will definitely give the pension a boost. Bowie has a new album out, Depeche Mode (while a lot younger) also. The Old Guard, apparently, still run the show.
What surprises me about Morley’s piece is how he doesn’t seem to have realised that it’s precisely that ‘extinction’ of the media industries he mentions that’s causing the apparent ‘inertia’ of a younger generation to contribute to the ‘counter-culture’ – and that the counter- culture itself was almost entirely a construct of the media industry. True – Ken Kesey’s ‘acid tests’ weren’t initially funded or created by any form of media industry, but it was the media industry’s realisation that there was plenty of money to be made out of it that spread the word, from hippy era to punk to acid house. None of the apparent ‘movements’ or ‘tribes’ which have appeared since the 60s could have existed without a relatively centralised communication system that favoured a few over the many, and could disseminate an idea to millions of people simultaneously just at a time when there was no competition to the power of the media.
It’s no accident that ‘dance music culture’ (or EDM as the US belatedly call it) was pretty much the last and final tribal music movement, and has been since the mid 90s. Since then, the internet has appeared, grown, and ‘disrupted’ the communication system of the media industries to the point where it’s now impossible for any small grouping of youngsters to get picked up by media interest and get their ideas across to enough people in a short enough space of time for the idea to spread and create a new movement.
But what about Psy ? And Harlem Shake ? YouTube lolcat virals ? Surely it’s now easier than ever to get ideas out there ?
Well, yes … but then again, no. The most salient thing about any viral success is that it has to be simple, slightly stupid, funny (ha ha, not peculiar) and appeal to the lowest common denominator while not frightening the horses in any way. To be successful, in the internet era, means getting across an ‘idea’ that can be understood, consumed, and discarded, within about four minutes. Preferably less. Hardly conducive to sustained thought about serious issues, possibly leading to rejection of current norms and the growth of a new movement finding another way to live…
I suspect the younger generation who Morley thinks suffer from inertia are not so much lazy about contributing to some onward movement of the counterculture, as both bored to hell with the idea, and so stupefied by a barrage of ‘messages’ from both the media industry and their own peers on social media that they’ve no idea where to turn, and it’s possible any truly new or original ideas in their heads are drowned out by their constant intake of ‘media’ of all kinds. They’re both far more savvy about media manipulation than the babyboomers were at a similar age, and far less original in their ideas. Nothing like the interminable boredom of a Sunday afternoon in the suburbs, anytime from 1955-1985, to force a teenager into some kind of original thought…
The one thing they do know, however – better, it seems, than Morley – is that the counterculture has always been a myth, one more to do with fashion and consumption than it’s ever really been – at least in it’s most public manifestations- with true revolution. Morley himself has contributed to that myth, working as part of the machine that used to pick up ideas from the ‘underground’ and make them mass marketable, but somehow along the way he seems to have forgotten that the revolution never happened – it was only ever a marketing scam, a ploy to sucker in consumers, persuade them to join the tribe (and get the right haircut), and then sell them records. Preferably from a relatively small selection of artists signed to big record companies. That way both artists and companies made a great deal of money.
No wonder the young don’t want to play this game. They know this is the Age of the Niche, and they can jump from one to another with just a click. Expecting them to pick up the baton from the babyboomers and all wear the same clothes and buy the same records – for maybe 4 or 5 years before they knuckle down and get a job- is a true babyboomer’s fallacy. The counterculture has moved back underground, and is now a whole plethora of countercultures, not a media industry construct, and offers nothing to the media industry, or media industry journalists, because it can no longer get the numbers out of it to make a profit.
The ‘counterculture’ is, basically, dead, according to Morley. No it isn’t, Paul. It’s just everywhere, now, and it isn’t one culture, but thousands of cultures … but being an old media dinosaur, you don’t know where to look. You’ll not find it in the Guardian, that’s for sure.
[gratuitous plug - for a three hour mix of music from various cultures- counter and otherwise- which have inspired my own, please go to http://www.the180.info/ ]