In the modern rat race it can be difficult to stop and enjoy the little things. We’re all reaching for the brass ring; loading up on classes, padding our resumes, and scouring the earth for a job that fits our skills. We grind through the days one at a time until we get… somewhere. But, one of the little things that I feel shapes young people into fully functioning members of society is the importance of subverting your own expectations, and in doing so, reflecting on our culture in a meaningful way through the exploration of music, comedy, and the arts.
Popular music was a gateway drug in the 1960s. The Beatles stunned an entire generation with floppy haircuts and songs about holding hands. Parents hated The Beatles. Guitar based music led to dancing, and dancing led to unplanned pregnancies as far as they were concerned. In the 1960s, listening to pop music was akin to civil disobedience, but young people did it anyway.
Why would they want to subvert the natural order their parents had laid out for them? It made them ask questions. Questions like; “Why don’t they like this, too?” “What am I doing wrong?” and most importantly, “Why the hell should I care what they think?” By questioning the moral standard, they came up with their own answers, and defined themselves and their generation.
As the ‘60s waned, and The Beatles were fading into a cloud of Art-nouveau, eastern philosophy and LSD, another British super group rose to power in their place. I’m talking, of course, about Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Python came crashing into people’s living rooms with sketches, songs, and satire, the likes of which had never been seen before. Sure, the comedy variety show had been a television staple for many years by this point, but nothing so cheeky had ever been broadcast before. “The Lumberjack Song” is about a man with a confused gender identity in a masculine profession. This was hugely subversive for the 1960s, and brought something to light that people had never thought about before, but made them laugh. Like giving your dog medicine in a wad of peanut butter, comedy can make a difficult subject easier to swallow. Comedy holds a funhouse mirror up to society and makes you decide what you are seeing. It is a tool of expression, like music, that doesn’t tell you anything, but makes you ask the question yourself. Is it funny? Is it Offensive? It forces you to examine your morals, and if it makes you uncomfortable, it’s working.
Music became more directly subversive in the 1970s with the advent of Punk. The Sex Pistols and The Clash brought social commentary to their music, and directly challenged the establishment, spreading waves of disobedience and rebellion. The establishment was no longer safe from the younger generation. They had to answer for and protect their authority. Interestingly, the Americans didn’t really get into the politically subversive kind of punk until the early 80s, and mostly in California. Wild and challenging, bands like Black Flag, Bad Religion, and the Dead Kennedys shook a lot of cages. Jello Biafra from DK ended up on a lot of lists for the things he said. Like the Sex Pistols before them, the California scene incited people to challenge authority.
The front man of Bad Religion, Greg Graffin, a professor of Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University has said about punk, “Punk is a personal expression of uniqueness that comes from growing up in touch with our innate human ability to reason and ask questions.” When you question the moral order and cultural standards, even if you don’t have an answer, you learn something about yourself. Merely asking the question can set you on a path of healthy self debate and teaches you to question the world around you. A lot of our time is spent doing things we think we should be doing; “I should get some credit,” or “I should get a degree in a field that will pay well,” or “I should avoid partying like an animal” but if we can’t properly question our own choices, we end up doing things we “should” be doing instead of things we actually want to do. Questioning the expectations of society and ourselves is the natural order of things. The human mind wasn’t designed to be told what to do, and without understanding and relating to something cheeky and subversive like comedy or music, you may never know it.
**Warning** Side Effects of punk may include fear and loathing of police, possibly head trauma, and hearing loss.
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