In Going Mainstream, ’60s Counterculture Has Lost Its Edge - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
In Going Mainstream, ’60s Counterculture Has Lost Its Edge

It’s been a strange time to be a freethinking rock fan. Counterculture legends Joni Mitchell and Neil Young — the very man who once taught us to “keep on rockin’ in the free world” — led the charge to deplatform comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan from Spotify for the capital crime of dissent. The two rockers made a decidedly unhip ultimatum: it’s either Rogan or us. Then — without a hint of irony — Young directed his fans to the streaming service of Amazon. Yes, that Amazon. The multinational company owned by the richest man on the planet that forces its drivers to urinate into plastic bottles.

Other less notable stars of yesteryear made the same demand of Spotify. First came David Crosby (who’d forgotten that he’d already sold his catalog), followed by Bruce Springsteen’s former guitarist Nils Lofgren, a name few recognized. Ever hip to the vibe, the mainstream media plastered Lofgren’s announcement across the airwaves as if it were a cultural earthquake. A baffled public proceeded to search the internet for this supposed giant of rock, only to discover the photo of an elderly man dressed like a teenager having an identity crisis, weakly lifting peace signs with two withered hands.

Spotify accepted their terms. Within 24 hours, it pulled down their music. As of this writing, Rogan seems to have successfully weathered the storm. Whether or not he is eventually deplatformed (speaking of, why are liberals bent on turning ugly nouns into even uglier verbs?), it is notable — even shocking — how little influence Mitchell and Young had on the national consciousness. These Mount Rushmore of Rock legends have garnered 60 years of sustained devotion. In terms of quality and cultural resonance, their work has hardly been matched. We’ve been conditioned not simply to respect these figures, but to revere them. So when the news flashed that Joni Mitchell and Neil Young had made a stand against Rogan, it felt like a big deal.

But nothing happened. There was no cultural earthquake, only a passing rumble like that of a rusty pickup on a dusty road. It was startling and sad even for those who disagree with their politics but love their music. It marked the sudden and definitive end of an era we once thought was incapable of growing old.

Perhaps the most disorienting aspect was the role reversal at play. Mitchell and Young’s revolution once held the right to dissent at its very core, especially in relation to the Vietnam War. So how could these very same figures be leading the charge for censorship? Until recently, it was progressives — embodied in the righteous and moody Mitchell and Young — who considered free speech its preeminent virtue. Consider the pride with which the ACLU would defend the right of neo-Nazis to assemble and rally. Not even the vilest of characters could shake this conviction, let alone the pot-smoking, Bernie Sanders-supporting Joe Rogan. Free and open discourse was the main ingredient of liberation and revolution, and censorship was the pathetic refuge of warmongers and prudes. This is the creation myth we’ve ritualistically repeated in our music and movies for over a half-century. And yet it lacks all relevance in the current cultural moment.

The public is still catching up to these shifting dynamics. For decades, we have associated Mitchell and Young with the forces of counterculture and rebellion, and so we reflexively perceive their actions as defiant. But the countercultural movement of the ’60s has long represented America’s status quo. Its core principles — sexual liberation, recreational drug use, environmentalism, and feminism — have been adopted by the vast majority. The counterculture went mainstream, or rather, the mainstream went countercultural.

And now it appears oblivious to its own dominance. Last year, when rapper Lil Nas X released the music video for his hit “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”, in which the openly gay star gives Satan a lap dance, the mainstream media hailed it as a defiant act. It was supposedly rebellious and subversive for a gay man to be openly sexual, an assertion to which millions replied in their minds: Really? What could possibly be more mainstream?

The countercultural revolution of the 60’s lost its edge precisely because it won the culture war so convincingly. Free love is everywhere now. There’s nothing left to rebel against, no one left to shock. And as such, the push for censorship by the new mainstream makes sense, no matter how hypocritical. It’s what defenders of the status quo have always done, irrespective of ideological wiring.

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