(Originally published in one of my rags, HUMP Megazine)
“Though I could not caution all, I still might warn a few.”
One of the unheralded true gurus, or teachers, of our generation went by the name Krishnamurti. One of his last works was a transcript of a dialogue that he had with renowned physicist David Bohme, in the book “End Of Time.” The nugget of thought that the book revolved around was the idea that “somewhere in the recent past, humanity has taken a wrong turn.” These two spokespersons for Eastern and Western thought then went on to acknowledge that since that pivotal error, we have all been heading down a path with a very uncertain future.
When faced with a terrible calamity, many find solace in the comfort of prosaic ideology. The other day I heard two yahoos in the laundry mat, drooling with anticipation of the upcoming millennium and its supposed relation to biblical prophecy. “ Didja hear about the plague of grasshoppers in Lake Havusa City, Arizona? Millions of those little buggers descended on that town like Moses himself decreed it! You know in the bible how it talks about the plague being a sign that the end times are coming, well it’s happening now! I can’t wait for Armageddon to finally get here.”
And while the mentally disenfranchised flip their pages through revelations, waiting for more signs, the Mensa contingency spur their own researched results through science. According to a majority of the nation’s biologists, a “mass extinction” of plants and animals is occurring. Recent studies show that within thirty years, 1/5 of all living species will be extinct, and that within ten years, 1/8 of all plant species will become extinct. Luckily, there is a giant asteroid due to hit Earth in 2028, so we won’t have to worry too much about our follies.
On the positive side of things, technology is taking part of the worry of extinction away with our new and improved cloning capabilities. While many poo-poo the idea of cloning, others are taking control of the reins of our destiny while still making a buck on the side. Let’s say your favorite cat “Puffy” was mauled by a van full of hippies with petitions to “protect animals from cruelty,” could you ever resurrect dear “Puffy?” Well actually you can. Geneti-Pet in Port Townsend, Washington takes gene samples from your pets for the near future time when cloning will be as easy as making an apple pie. So don’t cry over Old Yeller, the grooming ain’t over till the geneticist says it is.
Nature, on the other hand, seems to have it’s own way of creating new species. A pig named Ditto was recently born in Iowa that has three eyes and two snouts. The entrepreneurial farmer was minutes away from selling Ditto to a traveling “Freak” show when the hand of helping intervened. An animal rescue group called Pigs Without Partners, based in LA, offered the farmer $5000 to keep Ditto away from the life of being a circus oddity. Usually the group then sends wayward pigs to its sanctuary Li’l Orphan Hammies, a 750 acre pig refuge complete with pig condos and swimming pools. But, once again, modern miracles will do its best to help Ditto become “normal.” Pigs Without Partners is looking for a hospital that will perform reconstructive surgery on Ditto to make him fit in the “LA way,” where, apparently, even pets get face-lifts.
So while we humans hurry to our day of dead reckoning, seemingly convinced that the path we’ve chosen is irreconcilable and unavoidable, murmurings of our place in the Universe are leaking into the mainstream media. Astronomers have begun to announce that “entire planetary systems are everywhere in the heavens.” Could it be that our earthcentric consciousness of being the sole heirs of the universe, are nothing more than a vain attempt at superiority? According to the worlds best astronomers there might be planetary systems containing earthlike planets surrounding the “100 billion known stars in the galaxy.”
It only makes sense to me that there are other Earth’s out there, perhaps billions of them, in which the “wrong turn,” that Krishnamurti talked about, never occurred. Basically we’ve been duped all long that our sun was the best and brightest, but as we’re beginning to learn, in the scheme of things, we’re kind of average. As this 1959 educational song points out, “The sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace, where hydrogen is built into helium at a temperature of millions of degree’s. Yo ho it’s hot, the sun is not a place where we could live, but here on earth there’d be no life without the life it gives. We need its light, we need its heat, we need its energy, without the sun, without a doubt, there’d be no you and me.” And suns are as common in the universe as grains of sand at the beach.
Speaking of suns, I wonder if the “True Son,” that is supposed to accompany the upcoming biblical apocalypse, is, as its proponents make him out to be, the only “Son of God?” If there were indeed billions of Earth’s, wouldn’t each planet teeming with life have its own Messiah? Well, as much as I’d like to answer that question, I’ll leave it up to you, as I’ve run out of room. In the mean time, let me introduce Mark Dery, cultural critic and author of ESCAPE VELOCITY: Cyberculture at the End of the Century.
Hey Mark, this is DNA. How ya doing?
Great. You sound like you're coming to me through the Trans-Atlantic cable, though. Hold on just a second; let me get rid of this pesky caller [on call waiting]. Sorry about that, it was a fax machine. There's nothing more melancholy than the pitiable, faraway bleat of a machine, trying to talk to your machine. It's the lonely song of the information age.
I'm already working on a dating service for computers and other appliances. Why should they suffer from our neglect?
Emily White, the editorial intern on Flame Wars, the anthology that I edited for Duke University Press, coined a marvelous phrase, "electronic autism," which was her neologism to describe the Information Age neurosis wherein you prefer to reach peoples' machines rather than them.
I have those moments.
Everyone does. Nothing is more horrific than getting an *actual human being* on the line these days! Studies show that young
Japanese actually prefer to interface with machines rather than human beings. Vending machines, automated tellers, voicemail labyrinths, and automated services of all sorts are seen as vastly preferable to actual protein robots.
Well, that reminds me of the controversy surrounding the Japanese cartoon, Pokemon ["Pocket Monsters"]. Apparently, one particular episode sent thousands of Japanese kids spiraling into seizures.
I only skimmed the New York Times story on it and I haven't really slipped into my Speedos and trolled the net and correlated all the stories about it. So I can't really grind out any profound perception on it, except to say that what's fascinating about this is that it seems to vindicate an age-old perception of television-- -namely, that its most corrosive effects are physiological, rather than psychological. I can't swallow this, personally, but it's the keystone on which Jerry Manders's argument, in Four Arguments for
the Elimination of Television, is built. He talks about how when people watch television they go into a REM state and that television is so soporific it has a hypnagogic effect on people, and he speculates that "the ingestion of artificial light"---the glow of the TV screen---may be carcinogenic. (Kids, don't sit too
close to the tube!) Robert Kubey wrote a marvelous piece in The New York Times a couple of years ago called "A Body at Rest Tends to Remain Glued to the Tube." It adduced all kinds of statistics to
support the notion that brain wave patterns truly are different when we're watching television. Marie Winn typifies this sort of middlebrow-liberal alarmism about the toxic fallout of television. She buttresses her argument, in The Plug-In Drug, with these sorts of pseudo-scientific studies about what television does to the brain. It's still widely believed, as part of paranoid folklore, that sitting too close to the television will irradiate you.
So I find it fascinating that a media event like this comes downs the pike, seemingly showing that television *is*, in fact, like David Cronenberg's Videodrome---that it does grow TV tumors and short-circuit the synapses. Even so, I tend to be deeply wary of such middlebrow polemics, because it seems boneheadedly obvious that television's most erosive effects are ideological and philosophical. I think the *last* thing that we have to worry about is the stroboscopic flashing of television kicking off apoplectic
seizures among millions of kiddie couch potatoes.
I find it ironic that the Cartoon Network is so hot to get the cartoon to play in the States in the spring---edited, of course.
There's always this tendency to look for labyrinthine, X-Files- style conspiracies behind the manipulative armatures, especially the marketing wing, of our society. I'm a great believer in Roland Barthes's aphorism, "surface is depth." Sometimes, the deepest meaning of these things is written on their surfaces---tattooed on
their skin, so to speak. There's a longstanding love affair, in American pop culture, with the paranoid folklore of "subliminal seduction," as Wilson Brian Keyes called it---the sort of Freudian manipulations or semiotic chicanery mythologized in books like Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders. You know, backwards masking in heavy metal music, and this whole notion that underneath the floorboards of normative society scurry dark emissaries of global conspiracies. All of which belies the fact that, again, you
don't need to look any further than the end of your nose to see what advertising is doing all around us. So this notion that death's-heads in ice cubes and nude women hidden in the camel on a cigarette package are the ways in which public relations wind their tendrils around the collective cerebral cortex strikes me as just goofy. It seems that the manufacture of consent is being done in a much more obvious way---namely, through the commodification of our desires, selling sublime visions of the body beautiful and the good
life back to ourselves.
And as a safety net to insure that the masses get the overt/covert message, the hidden message can only be deciphered with Prozac.
There was a marvelous little squib in the magazine _Civilization recently, a brief item on the *actual* use of subliminal seduction in TV advertising. Rather than inserting stroboscopic blipverts, a la Max Headroom, that subliminally bombard your brain with brand names or whatever, the new trend in television ads is to have the spot play and then, at the end, almost as a postscript, a brief
message winks by. You're fully conscious of it having appeared, but within the structural logic of the ad, it's seen as an afterthought, a wry rye aside to the commercial you've just seen. And that's proven to be highly effective, leaving legible traces on people's minds. So it's "subliminal" seduction which,
oxymoronically, is not at all subliminal. The "hidden agenda," in this case, unplugs our critical resistance by being hidden in plain sight, like those "Absolute Subliminal" ads for Absolute Vodka, which
winked at Wilson Bryan Keyes by showing the logo traced in the crevices of the ice cubes. Generation X (a term we're stuck with, I'm afraid, though no one can use it without groaning) flatters itself that its hardened carapace of cynicism renders it immune to the carpet bombing of advertising and public relations. But
advertising does an end run around that cynicism by letting everyone know that they're in on the joke. This is an old critique, of course. It's Mark Crispin Miller's "Hipness Unto Death." I've touched on the notion that advertising eats cynicism for breakfast in essays I've written for Adbusters.
Do you still work with Adbusters?
I don't; I had a falling out with them. It seems a no-brainer to me that commodifying anti-consumerism in the form of Adbusters T-shirts and calendars and all the other merchandise they peddle comports ill with their culture jamming ideology. There's a delicious irony, there. There's also a puritanical censoriousness
to their sensibility that makes unhappy common cause with the Andrea Dworkinite tilt of too much Canadian culture, in my opinion. I mean, this is the country notorious for writing the Dworkin-
MacKinnon argument that pornographic fantasy is inseparable from physical rape into law! That's part of what made me recoil from them. Parody ads about the supreme evils of *coffee* are a little
too abstemious, for my taste (not to mention the fact that they demonize my vice of choice, which is going entirely *too far*!). Adbusters' editorial voice also plugs itself into the tradition,
descended from Frankfurt Marxists like Horkheimer and Adorno and carried on by cultural critics like Neil Postman and James B. Twitchell, of left-wing and liberal critics of mass culture being sneeringly elite about popular pleasure and cheap thrills. I'm thinking specifically of Bertolt Brecht who moves to Los Angeles with other European expatriates and spends all his time in a hothouse environment with fellow European expatriates and never goes down to the Mahogany of his dreams, which is mere blocks away
at the long shoremans' cafes in downtown L.A. Historically, there's a yawning divide between the left wing hipoisie and the ordinary booboisie. I see that kind of firewall being erected in AdBusters, through their growingly puritanical posturing. They seem to miss the point that it's one thing to look at the deleterious effects of, say, cattle culture---the desertification of the Brazilian rainforest and the first-world medical fallout of a beef-heavy diet, as documented in Jeremy Rifkin's Beyond Beef, for instance---but that it's another thing altogether to imply that people should *not be allowed* to smoke. I'm hardly a libertarian
in the Ayn Rand sense of the world, but that way lies the mental gulags of the insufferably PC, not to mention our disastrous War on Drugs, which is predicated on the very notion that the State stands
between us and our central nervous systems, even in the (largely mythical) privacy of our own homes.
Well, that shows what I like about your work. While you can spin cyber-yarns with the best of them as well as critique fringe culture, you manage to stay fairly well rooted in a sentiment that is more humane and less Borg.
Flattering of you to say that. But what do you mean, exactly?
You know, like your critique of what you call the "cyber-rapture" and how we're going to download our minds like they do in the movie _Brainstorm_ into whatever unit will take them. I don't know if this is a kernel of your message or something I gleaned off the top, but it seems to me that you make a point of redirecting awareness to the fact that we are still in our bodies, in corporeal form, and we still have many issues that have never been dealt with. My question is, even if we all do get hardwired, what is
going to be the message that send back and forth? Will it be something like, "What were we thinking, I wish I still had my body?"
On a purely nuts-and-bolts, practical level, these Extropian bedtime stories for would-be cyborgs that are being recounted around our cultural campfire these days---Hans Moravec's fantasy of downloading human consciousness into the glittering matrixes of a massively-parallel super computer fashioned from the infinitely dense matter at the heart of dead stars, and on and on and on---are light years beyond existing technologies. And *even if* you could download human consciousness into robotic explorers, at the far rim of infinity, or massively parallel computers, you're merely exchanging one sort of body for another. There's a marvelous quote from Bruce Sterling that appeared in an old issue of Mondo 2000,
something to the effect of, "the real future of cyborging is going to look like a distraught cyborg staring into the gutter at his prosthetic arm, which has just fallen off and lies there, infested by roaches." It reminds me of the inventor Steve Baer's tart comments on the space colonies imagined in the 1960's by a gang of
libertarian technocrats called the L-5 Association. Baer predicted that the L-5 colonies would look a lot like Mir---grim, grimy space stations with acoustic tiling falling out of the ceiling and old underwear stuffed behind it, the stale smell of halitosis, with an eerie airport hum in the background. A cross between the bridge of the _Enterprise_ and the Greyhound terminal in downtown L.A.
So I think that an important thing to point out is that all these fantasies of exfoliating the body, like so much dead meat, are really a bait-and-switch, trading one body for another. And nothing is more unreliable than hardware. My god, the human body is infinitely superior to the best Detroit robot welder; those things
foul up and break down all the time! There's a marvelous quote from Octavio Paz, where he says that nothing has a more sublime sadness to it than a broken-down machine, rusting among the weeds.
Rust never sleeps. Even as the human body is overtaken by age and decay, so, too, are machines. It's just a matter of exchanging one decrepit body for another.
So, on a practical level you can easily let the air out of the cyborg fantasy. And on a political level, we have to look at these fantasies, as I point out in _Escape Velocity_, as joined at the hip with a whole pernicious tradition of deep-seated body loathing. In Western culture, it's rooted in the Gnosticism that predates Christianity. The Manichean sense of the world as a loathsome mess of matter, and of mind as pure, Neo-Platonic ectoplasm that floats untethered over everything, is alive and well and living in Roman
Catholicism and, arguably, in Protestantism. Certainly, fundamentalist visions of the Rapture are complicit with a contempt for the flesh and a contempt for the mundane, for the material world, for the here and now; they emphasize the there and then, some sort of numinous otherworld that looks a lot like Gibson's
cyberspace, if New Age encounters of near-death experiences are to be believed.
And this sort of body loathing has provided the philosophical justification, throughout Western history, for our rapacious attitude toward women, the natural world, the "primitive" (inevitably darker-skinned) Other, and other "exploitable resources" whose philosophical status as closer to the material world, rather than the imagined realm of pure, bodiless thought, condemns them to the unhappy fate of raw fodder for the engines of domestic domination, capitalist production, and colonial expansion.
So we have to remember that the body, in these giddy rhapsodies about cyborging the flesh or jettisoning it altogether, is a symbol for a whole series of bodies. For example, we have the libertarian technophile, George Gilder, who is a fixture in Wired magazine, seething with contempt for large cities. The city, in architectural discourse, is often referred to metaphorically as a body. So abandoning the "mongrel metropolis" where the urban poor live and cloistering ourselves in the gated communities that are springing
up like asteroid belts around big cities is one more way of leaving the body---in this case, the body politic, the body of social responsibility and civic life---behind. Fantasies of space migration that view the Earth as this hunk of used-up clinker are about scrapping another sort of body---the planetary body ("Gaia,"
in New Age parlance, metaphorically imaged as an ecological immune system of sorts). What I'm suggesting is that this fantasy that we're telling ourselves about jettisoning the body like the third stage of a rocket as we approach millennial warp-out is really a political myth woven by an economic elite---a story about the digerati's desire to leave social responsibility behind, to uncouple itself from the contemptible urban poor and the toiling second wave masses and ascend, into the penthouses of Fritz Lang's
Metropolis or, more appropriately, Blade Runner.
Do you think that Americans have matured in their view of self? I'm thinking of how the average diet is moving away from red meat. Is this reform born of desperation or is it a more conscious choice?
Well, I don't know if it's the benchmark of a more mature America but I'm fascinated by the mounting paranoia about things like diet. I mean, chicken, which was the "healthy" meat until recently, is now seen as some sort of pathogenic soup in which salmonella is cultured! And just yesterday there was a _New York Times_ story about rampant contamination and pesticide residue in fruit and vegetables. So now even the most abstemious Vegan has to step lightly through a gastrointestinal mine field. Of course, this situation arises from automation and globalization, where small family farms no longer exist and everything is brought to you by multinationals like Archer Daniels Midland, "supermarket to the world." There's is a corporatizing of everything. What I find hilarious about Wired (my favorite straw man, because their smiley-face futurism is so fatuous it practically douses itself with gasoline and hands you the match) is the laissez-faire fable that Wired fellow travelers like John Perry Barlow and Kevin Kelly are always spinning, namely this notion that our economic and political landscape is becoming more and more decentralized. And yet, if you dolly back the camera, you see that *centralization* in transnational corporate capitalism proceeds apace all around us--- the centralization of the factory farms we were just talking about, the centralization of Murdochian newsmedia conglomerates, the centralization in book and magazine and newspaper publishing industries. This creeping phobia about mad cow disease and salmonella and pesticides and PCBs seems to be in a large part about the mega-corporatizing of the process of raising and slaughtering and distributing the things that end up on our plates.
There's a real disconnect between what dangles on the ends of our forks and how it got there, and a vague sense of unease about our profound ignorance of the dirty details. In George Bataille's Encyclopedia Acephalica, he talks about how the slaughterhouse, even in the Paris of the 1920's, was already becoming a rare sight. Bataille thought it was a bracing corrective to the disengagement of modern life to walk through an abattoir and see how meat animals are *really* slaughtered. Sue Coe rams this point home in her unforgettable book Porkopolis, a blistering excoriation of contemporary slaughterhouses, full of unsavory facts about the hygiene and humaness---or lack thereof---of the slaughterhouses of the '90s.
When I'm president, there will be mandatory field trips for kindergarten classes to slaughterhouses.
That's another example of this dynamic that we were talking about a few minutes ago: the dynamic of disembodiment and disengagement that is the hallmark of our age. There's an unbelievable corporate
membrane of automation and packaging and distribution interposed between you and the naked lunch, as it were, on the end of your fork.
Apropos of nothing, what did Steven Johnson have to say when you interviewed him in your last issue?
Well, his book, Interface Culture, which started off as a Master's thesis on Dickens, became an examination of the world of Hypertext. Steve likened our place in the digital world to the first chapter of a great novel---a novel that will entertain us as it educates us about our place in the industrial and digital world.
I'd like to read the book. Browsing the Web always reminds me of the Situationists, who liked to use the French term *derive*, which Greil Marcus defines, in Lipstick Traces as drifting through the city, "allowing its signs to divert your steps, and then to divert those signs yourself, forcing them to give up routes that never existed before---there would be no end to it." It's felicitous wandering, basically, stumbling on whatever you happen to stumble on and enabling it to further direct you in your wanderings.
There's the notion of the psychogeography of urban space as having a surreal, dream-like quality, the sort of thing you see in the Broadway musicals of the 20's and '30s, like Lullaby of Broadway-
--the sense that the "mongrel metropolis" after dark becomes a sort of consensual hallucination in neon. What's fascinating about this is that, just at the moment where we're able to engage in our own *derives* in the *virtual* reality of cyberspace, our own discursive wanderings around the global cat's-cradle of Web links, public space in *material reality* is disappearing. More and more, you have the theme-parking of urban space, like Faneuil Hall in Boston or City Walk in Los Angeles, a sanitized, mythologized L.A.
street which is actually part of Universal Studios. And of course now Disney has built a planned community in Orlando, Florida, called Celebration. It's a Disneyesque, Main Street, USA-style
resurrection of a small town idyll that never was. People actually live there, in this embalmed, turn-of-the-century town--- controlled, of course, by the Magic Kingdom's minions. Meanwhile, as Mike Davis has exhaustedly chronicled in his book, City of Quartz, the theme-parking and privatizing of public spaces and the sequestering of the upper tier of our increasingly two-tiered society in gated communities is simultaneously robbing us of the experience that the Situationists were writing about. In New York, for example, you have the Disneyfication of Times Square, which used to be this marvelously seedy playground for weirdos like Diane Arbus---and, admittedly, a locus of structural decay, fleshpot
exploitation, and just plain misery---is now becoming a must-see for American families on the Disney World/South Street Seaport circuit.
I think it's very fruitful to examine such phenomena in a Cheng and Eng way, seeing them as conjoined twins in terms of the larger cultural dynamics of the world we live in. For example, Howard Rheingold's book, The Virtual Community, extols the notion of BBS's and MUDs and MOOs and MUSEs as an attempt to return to the lost commons. The notion of the electronic agora is seductive, and I don't want to sneer at it reflexively, but the fact that it happens at a time when teenagers can't find anywhere to hang out
except the local megamall makes me suspicious. These dizzy rhapsodies about the electronic agora as an alternative public space are paving the way, in terms of public acceptance, for the corporatizing of the commons in the material world. So again, I think it's most useful to look at the interlock or the handshake
between a lot of these phenomena.
I run a series of concerts in town and what I find interesting to watch are the migratory packs of people as they move about the park. On nights when the entire Jr. High contingency is out, they flock like bees lured by pheromones. I think that the electronic world, besides lacking an olfactory sense, also misses the boat on
just the sheer uniqueness of airing out your body amongst others. And that spontaneous ballet will never be translated to the party lines of the Web.
Well, as someone who works with kids, what do you make of Gen- Xplotation and the sanguine vision of Gen X as the skeleton key to the coming millennium? People like Douglas Rushkoff are foDNAer
and always bandying about lighter-than-air phrases like "the kids are alright," which seems to imply that youth culture offers a crystal ball through which we can auger cultural change? Does this
ring true to your ear? (Now I'm interviewing you.)
I've found that as tight a pigeonhole as we like to stick people in, labels usually fall off the moment you get to know someone on a deeper level. While the youth might be viewed as punks, Marilyn Mansonites, slackers, nerds, or what have you, oftentimes these poses are nothing more than battle armor to protect them from the world. Personally, I think this Gen-X thing is a load of crap to keep people down. It's disempowering to be thrown into such a large category. Unfortunately, if you're told you're worthless and have no voice in your society, you eventually end up believing it. I've just got to say that I don't see myself as some statesman who greases his podium every night. The only person I represent, somewhat haphazardly, is myself. Like you said about Adbusters becoming ineffective, once Gen-X began to be a parody of itself, the term became useless.
Let be clear about what I said about Adbusters since I was fairly withering in my critique of them. I think what they're doing in terms of attempting to evangelize teeny-somethings and twenty-somethings about the importance of media literacy and critical thinking, about resisting the marketing and advertising armatures of our society, is *tremendously* important. They serve a vital purpose in that regard. But one of the forks in the road where I part company with them is in their unwillingness to drive the nail all the way home. For example, Adbusters editor Kalle Lasn has this knee-jerk, almost red-baiting resistance to the specter of the '60s New Left. He seems to be very sanguine about free-market capitalism and seems to see the New (old) Left vanguard as consigned to the dustbin of history. Unfortunately, he's training his crosshairs on the symptoms of the most corrosive aspects of consumer culture, not the root causes. What brings us the unending acid rain of product placement in movies and corporate-sponsored rock tours and William Burroughs shilling for Nike and now advertisements on fruit, for Bob's sake---as well as the increasing reduction of human beings to clouds of demographic statistics and purchasing patterns---is not advertising *per se*, but multinational capitalism in the post-industrial age. You have to be willing to bore down through the sedimented layers of our culture to get to the roots of things to make a thorough going critique, and Adbusters seems unwilling to call capitalism to account in any profound way. It's confusing the symptomology with the disease. So there's a failure of nerve, there, that weakens the
magazine's critique immeasurably.
But to return to youth culture, I suppose that one of the reasons I was baiting a trap, in my question, is that I'm deeply wary of this Doogie-Howser-in-cyberspace, Jimmy-Olsen-on-whippets punditry that whispers sweet nothings into the ears of corporate culture, massaging the corporate ego by convincing it that consumer culture drips rebel cool---that watching Ren & Stimpy really is the most radical gesture. At the same time, this sort of compromised public intellectualism is selling corporate America visions of Gen-X as a way of enabling marketers and public- relations people to target teeny-somethings and twenty-somethings. There's a rotten philosophical core to Rushkoffian notion that youth culture is ground zero for subcultural resistance, that watching Beavis and Butthead represents some sort of grassroots rebellion.
For one thing, youth culture is a figment of the postwar consumer culture brought to you by mass production, advertising, and TV, among other things. The arrival of the rebel teen, in the '50s, goes hand in glove with the advent of pop culture as we now know it. The seeds of youth culture were sewn in the early part of this century by advertisers who were interested in able bodies for automation and assembly lines. It began to destabilize the patriarchal paterfamilias of the Victorian era that still held sway in America at that time. It replaced it with an inverted social schema in which youth led old age. Stuart Ewen writes marvelously about this whole cultural metamorphosis in his book Captains of Consciousness, which unearths the social roots of the consumer culture.
I'm not saying that youth culture is *not* an enormous source of subversion and vitality and endless inspiration, but it's *also* raw fodder for the engines of manufactured trends. Kids represents an immense source of disposable income and unlike their parents, who presumably have a lot of ingrained prejudices and tend to be wary of the sales pitch, youth culture is traditionally driven by the desire for immediate gratification, peer pressure, microfads and trends du jour. The "kid's culture" pundits like Rushkoff extol
is partly---and I emphasize *partly*---conjured out of the inarticulate yearnings of focus-grouped teens by thirtysomething marketing executives in suits. There's a feedback loop between subcultural subversion and multinational megatrends. In that respect, teenage rebellion is red meat on merchandisers' and advertisers' plates. So before we go extolling the virtues of twenty-somethings as the last, best hope for Western civilization, we ought to think about the way that giddy vision plays right into the hands of the stage managers of public opinion, whose business it is to sell us shrinkwrapped visions of rebel cool, as Tom Frank documents in his book, _The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism_. So this blindly uncritical notion that genuflecting before romantic visions of
adolescent rebellion will somehow save us from the deeply anti- democratic forms of repression proliferating around us---the growing sense that corporate influence in politics has made a mockery of the one-person, one-vote presumption, for example---is surely the limit case in credulity. The passing microfads of adolescent subcultures are the bread and butter of what Benjamin Barber wryly calls the "McWorld" we live in. What we need is real engagement with the gritty political issues of our moment, not a retreat into vanguardist, vidkid fantasies of zapping the forces of domination with our video-game joysticks and our TV remotes.