Way back in the 19th century, German existentialist Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche brought up this thing called “the transvaluation of all values.” Basically, he thought it was only a matter of time until Western civilization gave up on the tried-and-true Judeo-Christian norms and exchanged them for more Eastern-influenced philosophical doctrines. Specifically, Nietzsche espoused Buddhism, because its core principle – to escape from suffering – was the diametric opposite of Protestantism and Catholicism, which were built around escaping sin. To Nietzsche, the “future” of mankind was exalting life – and accepting all our instincts and passions as valid – instead of exalting asceticism, which he believed filled man with contempt, disappointment and self-loathing.
While the great German philosopher’s “dream” of a eastern spiritualist society hasn’t exactly been fulfilled, there’s no denying that – since the 1960s, especially – Western culture has been moving further and further away from the old school Christian “values” of yore. Western culture across the board has become far more liberal in its attitudes pertaining to sex, and it has definitely gotten more welcoming of substance use. Indeed, we are at the point now that among millennials, the group consensus is that polyamory and recreational drug use are practically natural rights. Give it 20 years, and the niche “hippie” values that were once the bane of American society are almost certain to become legally codified guarantees.
And that, naturally, presents us with this paradox: if drinking and doing drugs and having casual sex and using profanity and hating “the man” are historically “cool” because they are non-mainstream activities, does that mean they are still “cool” when the majority of people – and not the hip, counter-cultural minority – are doing them (or, at the very least, accepting them as culturally permissible?)
As a teen, I was super hardcore into late 1970s and early 1980s punk. The Ramones, The Misfits, Black Flag, DRI, The Dead Kennedys – I was into all of it. Granted, the bands could barely play three chords and their records were so poorly produced that half the time you only heard warbled feedback, but that was the point. The great appeal of punk rock was that it was so off-putting to so many “mainstream” music fans. I listened, and loved, the Cro-Mags and the Circle Jerks because everybody else couldn’t stand hearing them for more than five seconds. The hatred they stirred in others was just as big a factor in my enjoyment of their works as the quality (or lackthereof) of the music itself.
But there was another element in play. You see, the punk bands I loved may not have had the chops of Van Halen or Joe Satriani, but what they did have was, and I quote, “cultural awareness.” They just weren’t singing songs about fast cars and loose women and worshipping the devil, they were publicizing the ills of corporate America and Reaganomics. Subscribing to the old Marxist superstructure doctrine, the music “showed” me how our institutions – our courts, our schools, our churches, our mainstream media outlets – were all forcibly holding us back to benefit their own interests. By proxy, pretty much everything the Moral Majority didn’t like – drugs, disobeying your parents, same sex tongue kissing, affirmative action, globalism, etc. – became symbolic weapons in the cultural war against the squares who listened to Billy Squier and drove Camaros and wound up getting jobs as day traders after college.
And that message – that moralistic, us against them mentality – empowered me as a listener. Whenever I put on Reagan Youth or Bad Religion or Anti-Flag, I wasn’t just rocking out like all of those brain-dead, sell-out, mullet-headed larval yuppies who sit three tables over during lunchtime. I was bombarding myself with a truly important social message, which in turn, made me a great foot soldier in the battle for cultural righteousness.
Well, flash forward to 2016, and old Nietzsche would be proud: all of the “counterculture” norms promoted by bands like The Adolescents and The Vandals are now the moral compass of an entire generation. Today’s high schoolers and college students not only embrace multiculturalism, they flat out demand it and are willing to punch, kick and Hulk Hogan leg drop anybody that dares declare diversity unimportant or unnecessary. Not only do they support gays, lesbians and transgender folks, they’ve gone out of their way to make people feel as comfortable as possible, even reinventing the English language to better accommodate people and their sexual/gender identities. They all believe drugs should be legalized (decriminalized, at the least), America’s borders should be open to all, the government ought to pay all our schooling, healthcare and living costs and perhaps signifying the ultimate triumph of “punk virtue” over the old morality, they tend to embrace a more minimalist lifestyle by eschewing materialist pursuits like cars, hating the holy hell out of multinational corporations like WalMart and simply stealing stuff off the web instead of paying for traditional entertainment.
That’s the reason why punk doesn’t exist as a music genre anymore. The entire underlying ethos of the musical format was to be against-the-grain, countercultural and instinctively oppositional to any and all forms of mainstream taste. Now, CEOs have green hair, researchers rock tongue rings and wear neon blue lipstick to the lab and publicly declaring you despise the pillars of Christianity, can’t stand the “police state” and think racist old people ought to be forced to pay for the gender reassignment surgery of convicted murderers is pretty much a prerequisite for Gen Y camaraderie.
In short, punk – and all of its highfalutin underground values – have indeed become, well, mainstream. No longer is the progressivist Tao of bands like MDC, Discharge and Bad Religion countercultural – today, it’s just plain old cultural.
Which brings us back to that old Nietzschean transvaluation from earlier. If the anti-mainstream punk ideology of 25 years ago is now the guiding moral precept of society, what does that make the old morality of Reagan’s America?
Logically, it means but one thing – conservative Christianity is the new punk rock.
Think about it. Back in the heyday of the punk movement, punk kids were absolutely loathed. They were mercilessly derided as the scum of the earth, a bunch of lawless degenerates with no regard whatsoever for the greater good of society. They were viewed as rancorous, hate-filled weirdos who subscribed to a nihilistic, discriminatory ideology. All they wanted to do was break stuff, dress like goofballs and yell at us from afar all the things they thought we ought to be doing with our lives. They were a grave threat to civility itself, and left unchecked, who knows what untold carnage they may wreak.
Go on any college in America and that’s pretty much the same description today’s gilded youth would give if you asked them to share their thoughts on Donald Trump supporters or Rush Limbaugh listeners. The same way punk rockers were the “dangerous” uncivil barbarians at the gate four decades ago, Christian conservatives are seen as the great “unhinged” undignified social menace of our age.
Two coeds swapping spit on the campus green would’ve causes a ruckus 30 years ago. Today, girl-on-girl and boy-on-boy public face-sucking doesn’t even warrant a batted eyelash, but you know what would? People reciting the Lord’s Prayer out in the open. Student newspapers have no problem printing the “f” word or the “s” word now, but good luck finding one that’ll include the words “Jesus” or “Christian” in them without the words “homophobic,” “hate crime” or “intolerant” nearby. The enlightened masses will fight to the marrow to ensure the civil rights of Muslims and Jews aren’t encroached upon by the “tyrannical” majority, but it’s considered painfully uncool – if not dangerous to one’s professional aspirations – to associate one’s self with any sort of traditionalist Christian sect. Good luck finding employment or a student-worker position if your name is equated with an adamantly anti-abortion church and especially one that frowns upon gay marriage.
There’s really no way around it. Dudes with tattoos whose most expensive belonging is a bong shaped like Gandalf the Grey aren’t the great cultural pariah anymore – instead, it’s the republican-leaning protestants who tuck their shirts in and actually paid money to watch God’s Not Dead 2 in a real-life movie theater. Those are the people the great Gen Y hivemind believes are the dangerous ones – the ones who want to deny us our rights, the ones who endlessly criticize us, the ones who probably want the God of Leviticus to come down from the heavens and smite the wicked, preferably while wearing a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap.
Being punk today doesn’t mean slicing yourself up with shards of broken beer bottles like Iggy Pop used to or taking a dump on stage and fistfighting audience members like G.G. Allin was oft prone. Today, all you have to do to freak out the “masses” is put a “WWJD?” bumper sticker on your car or wear a shirt with a Jesus fish on it to class. Blasting tongue-in-cheek odes to necrophilia by acts like T.S.O.L. won’t stir anyone into a tizzy, but try putting on some Mercy Me or Casting Crowns at a social mixer and prepare to see some palpable unease take hold of the partygoers. The regulars can chit chat about all sorts of sexualized violence and amoral mayhem on programs like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, but hearing someone say Duck Dynasty is their favorite show makes them visibly uncomfortable. Hell, I’m fairly sure telling your classmates you’re going to heroin-fueled orgy over the weekend will earn you less critical looks than if you said you were going to Sunday mass.
The young have a natural inclination to be different, to revolt from the group mentality. Maybe it’s only a matter of time until today’s high schoolers and college frosh realize that the most rebellious thing they can do – and the most infuriating to the “normies” – is to read the New Testament, watch Sean Hannity and go to pro-life rallies?
Sure, it sounds absurd now, but just you wait. Give it a few years, and all of the rebels and renegades won’t be hanging out at vegan restaurants and tattoo parlors and heavy metal concerts or anti-fascism rallies.
Instead, parents coast-to-coast will be worried about their offspring hanging out with that great epicenter of ruffians, revolutionaries and radicals – the local Chick-Fil-A.