In this interesting article, the author says that Rock-n-Roll is now dead. I recommend reading the whole article—which is mostly about how the fans of Rock-n-Roll loved the stupid things that Rock Stars did, and don’t any more—but the part I want to talk about is the conclusion:
At some point we seemed to have changed our minds about what we expect from these people. Today our idea of a famous person is a tepid Hillary Clinton supporter.
Maybe as a culture this means we have moved past rock and roll. If that’s the case, fine. There are certainly dated things — handwritten letters, for example — that are more worthy of being defended.
Somebody call Tipper Gore and let her know she won.
(For those who don’t know, Tipper Gore led a public decency campaign.)
The issue which I have is that the author of the article credits the wrong person. Tipper Gore didn’t win. Rock-n-roll did. The problem is that it was a revolution, and revolutions are inherently temporary things. As G.K. Chesterton noted (in What’s Wrong With the World):
A revolution is a military thing; it has all the military virtues; one of which is that it comes to an end. Two parties fight with deadly weapons, but under certain rules of arbitrary honor; the party that wins becomes the government and proceeds to govern. The aim of civil war, like the aim of all war, is peace… They do not create revolution; what they do create is anarchy; and the difference between these is not a question of violence, but a question of fruitfulness and finality. Revolution of its nature produces government; anarchy only produces more anarchy. Men may have what opinions they please about the beheading of King Charles or King Louis, but they cannot deny that Bradshaw and Cromwell ruled, that Carnot and Napoleon governed. Someone conquered; something occurred. You can only knock off the King’s head once. But you can knock off the King’s hat any number of times. Destruction is finite, obstruction is infinite: so long as rebellion takes the form of mere disorder (instead of an attempt to enforce a new order) there is no logical end to it; it can feed on itself and renew itself forever.
I don’t mean that Rock-n-Roll intended to be a revolution. In many ways I think that the Rock stars were the overgrown children that they were usually charged with being and, like children, wanted to play and have the grown-ups watch over them and clean up after them. They were only playing; they didn’t want to destroy the house they were playing in. To use Chesterton’s language, they only ever meant to knock the King’s hat off.
But they missed and his head came off instead. Whatever the particular historical reasons for the victory they never meant to achieve, Rock-n-Roll changed the culture. It would be more accurate to describe it as one branch of the military which overthrew the culture—it didn’t do anything all on its own—but it won. And the problem which all successful rebels face is that they must now become conservatives. They must conserve what they have changed things into.
There’s a certain irony involved in the hedonists having become the respectable people, but they did, and they now face the same restrictions which respectable people always face.
That’s the problem with rebelling against morality: even when you win, you lose.