Style vs. Substance

Warning to all, I’m in a particularly bitter and cynical mood today. But what a great lead-in to my continued rant about the Fourth Estate: “I can’t imagine MTV with all their censorship…”

Remember back when MTV was subversive and anti-corporate, almost like The Stone at its genesis?

I wasn’t even allowed to watch it because it was full of sex, drugs and rock and roll. I used to race home from school as fast as possible for about an hour of view-time, hoping to catch a Twisted Sister video before my mom got home from work. But now that it’s full of corporate-approved sd&rnr: Watch on kids, become better consumers. Is there anything in our lifetime that better exemplifies the commercialization of pop culture and its resulting affect on the world we live in? You want to name names, MTV is the one, The Devil Made Me Do It.

And for all the bally-hooed Internet Revolution (revulsion), I don’t see much going on that’s at all subversive to the prevailing society, government, corporate music industry, or anything else. Oh, we all read the Web sites about Lisl and get our and then go back to farting around at work, making jack for The Man to buy our crap at Ikea so that we can sit around and bitch about the sorry state of the world in comfort. And don’t give me “Napster, dude,” which was only sort of subversive, because the Old White Men put a stop to that right quick. Besides, when you really think about it, was a bunch of stoners trading unpaidfor copies 70’s disco tunes and bootlegged versions of ICP’s “Slim Anus” really revolutionary?

No. Because the Real Rock Revolution, historically, was about telling The Man to go fuck himself. You had something better, more Real, more Alive, and more fun than anything that He could dream up. You were smarter than He was and you didn’t buy His Pat Boone records. Rock and roll was a lifestyle, a way of thinking, a belief system. “Rock and roll can change your life.”

Rolling Stone changed lives. MTV changed mine and most of my friends’. But to that I say, “Yeah, so what?” We all know that these days. It did change our lives but it didn’t change much else. We told The Man to Take This Job and Shove It and we went out and got another J-O-B. We even got one where we, under the guise of being cool, decided to sell off a part of what rock and roll stood for. “Hey, I can make money marketing cool!?!?”

So we just continue to draw finer lines of cool, to absolutely no end. I do it all the time: “Britney sucks because she’s a corporate drone.” But why can’t Britney “change your life” too? She can, and does. And since no one really ever threw the Man off his or her back, it don’t matter, just don’t mind. Think about it for a second, does it really make a difference if you listen to Public Enemy instead of Backstreet Boys? In this day and age, not in the least, because you’re still lining up at Starbucks regardless.

So what’s next?

The appeal of rock has always been rebellion, but who are we rebelling against when a guy like Ronald Reagan drapes his presidential campaign with a Springsteen song that’s not even about the patriotic furor that the Elephants thought it was? (Or maybe they were smart enough to know that the American public would buy it anyway. Who really cares as long as I can pump my fist and shout, just don’t spill my beer.) And this was over 15 years ago; people haven’t been getting much smarter since.

But we have been getting cooler. We’re all hip to the Rock ethos. We’ve substituted this phony rebellion for anything real in the world. There is no rock and roll left, just marketing campaigns. There is no truth, no honesty, no nothing: All style, cool, no substance.

But why?

Blame falls on only one set of shoulders here, and yes, it is this thing, formerly known as The Press, currently known as The Media. But let’s just call it what it is: the corporate infotainment industry. To bring this entire rant full circle, remember the Lester Bangs character’s statement in Almost Famous, the crucial thing that he tells Crowe on the phone about journalists? “We’re not cool,” he admits. Funny how, in a world where everything has to be cool, the media shouldn’t be. But it is. Increasingly more so, every day.

This is wrong, absolutely wrong. Our job as a member of the Fourth Estate isn’t to make friends with the world, it isn’t to be a nice guy. It’s to be suspicious, critical, and keep these mofo’s in line. To keep society from being ignorant and stupid and liking shit music, shit culture, shit politicians, shit everything. We’ve been doing a really fucking good job, haven’t we? We suck.

And that, my friends, is the great crime of the turn of the century, that the media has substituted Rock and Roll cool for honesty. And thus, rock, in its conquering and all-powerful moment has come to destroy itself. Or rather, we have destroyed it. Part of the bargain that we made with rock in the 60s was that we’d die before we get old, that we’d have sympathy for the devil, that we would teach the fucking world to sing. But we didn’t. We didn’t change the world, we didn’t even really change ourselves.

Except we all got cool. Great. Enjoy that new mass-produced single and your 60-hour-a-week job and your closet full of Gap crap and your boring life that’s only punctuated by a few fleeting moments of greatness in anything before it becomes recycled and corporatized. And we’re really sorry, but we’re too busy sucking down free cocktails to care. Party like a rock star, dude. Or if you’re a journalist, just party with one.

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