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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

THE NEW COOL

"Meanwhile, Bob Dylan became a conservative."

I Hate Hippies
I'm in my 40s so I'm a bit out of touch with modern young people's slang. I know some of it just by exposure to popular culture but I'm not sure "cool" is all that, well, cool any more. There's probably another word being used these days to indicate someone being culturally significant, charismatic, and appealing. But its a word we all understand, even if it is old as "hip" or "BMOC."

And the left isn't cool any more. Sure, it used to be. It was the home of the rebel, of the ones who shocked modern culture. It was where Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles lived, it was the home of the cultural drivers and what teens loved and aspired to. Roger Simon, even more a curmudgeon than I am, writes:
I mean – do you think Deborah Wasserman-Schultz is hip? This is one of the meanest things I’ve ever put in print or online, but that’s the girl who was standing in the corner at the sixth grade cotillion and you said, “Oh, no. Do I have to dance with her?”

And how about the great Obama himself – he and his “choom” friends twenty years too late to the party, replaying Bob Dylan and company in Hawaii long after the Band burned old Dixie down. It’s all a bad chapter from David Brooks’ already-predictable-whe- published Bobos in Paradise. The minute rebellion goes middle class, there’s nothing less rebellious. It’s all as boring as a Volvo.

So we are in an era of desperation. A certain class of people who staked their lives on being cool ever since high school — whenever that was, the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, who knows — are beginning to be confronted with the truth – that their ultra-conventional received wisdom, that which they thought was cool, is a bunch of hooey. (I was one of them, so I know.)
Simon overstates the popularity of libertarianism and the disappearance of social conservatives, but he has a point here. What's happened is what I wrote about years ago: the left has gone from the young exciting rebels fighting the establishment to becoming the old, bitter, and angry establishment. They aren't outside calling for change any more, they're in charge and not making the changes they call for. They're not the idealists condemning corruption and collusion, they are the ones doing it.

And today, if you look for what's the most exciting, cool, and teen-liked stuff being made, it actually is sort of surprising. In movies, its stuff that portrays crazy teens doing wild stuff... but in the end learning its no good (pick any movie by the Farrelly brothers, although that's getting a bit dated now). In comedy its guys like Nick DiPaulo and Adam Carolla who are on the rise, not Margaret Cho and David Letterman. The young people of today are attracted less and less by ancient hippie talk and more by what people tend to call "libertarian."

Libertarianism is pretty much fiscal and national security conservatism without the social parts. Its small government, kick the ass of bad guys without the concerns over abortion, porn, and drugs. Its guys who smoke dope and sleep with supermodels saying "stop taxing me so much and wasting money." Its guys who don't care what you do in your bedroom or what you take, as long as you don't tell them how to live their lives.

Libertarianism, as I've been saying for years now, is the future of American politics. Its what will win over the country for the first party to actually grab hold of it and run. Abandoning social conservatism is attractive because it leaves behind almost all the baggage the left has piled on Republicans. And while most libertarians will say that they personally have a problem with LSD and Bath Salts on the streets, its none of their business. That they think abortion is a bad thing, but who are they to say you can't do that? That they may oppose porn for kids in libraries, but hey, free speech.

And you'll find young people respond pretty well to condemning Bloomberg's endless nanny state campaign while saying "but hey, if you want to sleep with those middle school cheerleaders and film yourself, who am I to say that's wrong?

The truth is, libertarianism appeals to modern Americans at a very visceral level: leave me the hell alone and stop taxing me so much. Gone are the principles of liberty for a reason and the idea that a republic cannot survive without an ethical, virtuous public. In its place is a near-total self-fixation and isolation from culture and society. The principle of owing your neighbors more than respect and lack of judgment is gone. The entire idea of the social contract where we all give up some to gain much is being subverted to the idea where everyone else leaves me alone and I gain all.

And for for young people, facing a world where you are born owing millions to the government is not a very happy prospect. And knowing that most of that is going to old people is even less attractive. And as time goes on I suspect that perspective will grow among young people, and there are some hints this is happening.

At the same time, the popular culture is controlled by the left, as is the bulk of the media. So nearly every movie, every song, every TV show, every popular event is put out by people who have a strong leftist ideology and think what they do and think are cool. But there are cracks in that wall. Adam Carolla has almost entirely bypassed the entire system with podcasts and the online personality is growing rapidly in popularity. This media can totally ignore the left-controlled infrastructure, and ideas that they'd never be able to get through in old media soars in the new.

The conventional wisdom is that Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report are the hot thing with young people and where they get all their news. Except the ratings for these shows are actually quite low, compared to other cable shows. A commenter called Ucfengr writes at Pajamas Media:
Jeremy, in the 18-45 demographic, the Daily Show pulls about a 0.5 share, as does the Colbert Report. By comparison, Swamp People pulls a 1.3 share, and even Pawn Star re-runs get a 0.6. I seriously doubt a “vast majority” of any demographic gets their news from Stewart or Colbert.
That totals fewer than 400,000 people a night, combined. While that's quite a few people, its a tiny fraction of the number of young people in America (estimated 46,524,790 in 2010 census). I suspect most young people have absolutely no interest in the news or politics, but if asked whether they think the government should tell them what shower head to use and how big a soft drink they can buy, they'd say "are you @#(*$ing me?"

And who is cool vs who is not doesn't make much difference in the big picture, it does tend to influence what young people lean toward in politics and culture. And if John Kerry represents the Democratic Party more than John F Kennedy, that's going to make a dent in their electoral chances.

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