U.S. Intellectual History Blog

The Meaning of Ideology: A Cultural Historian’s Perspective (Expanded Edition)

What follows is an expanded version of the talk Michael J. Kramer gave as part of a plenary at the most recent S-USIH Conference in Indianapolis on the topic: “The Ideology Problem in Teaching and Scholarship.” We already posted Andrew Hartman’s ideology plenary talk here, and Christopher Shannon’s here. Michael Kramer holds a visiting assistant professorship at Northwestern University, where he teaches history, American studies, digital humanities, and civic engagement. Michael also works as editor in the Design, Publishing, and New Media Department at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. He is the author of The Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture.

I think I am the cultural-historian ringer among the intellectual historians on this panel. Which is not to say that my colleagues do not think about culture. What I mean is that I may the one with the most investment (perhaps even ideological investment!) in working on culture in the sense of aesthetic material and artistic expression. So, in considering ideology, I want to focus on this aspect. What does it mean to think about ideology when it arrives not in the written word, which dominates the field of intellectual history as its core historical type of evidence, but rather in other kinds of expression? How do we address ideology as it travels through or is generated by music, dance, visual arts, film, television, architecture, clothes?

There is another debate to be had about the exact difference, precisely, between, on the one hand, ideas and thought, and on the other, cultural belief systems in the anthropological sense. But I wish for us to set that aside for now and attend to aesthetic form, which, I argue, forces us to ask different questions about ideology than the ones typically posed in intellectual history narrowly defined.

What do we do when we open up what it means to think, acquire, hold, and share ideas beyond language alone? To ask that sort of question in terms of ideology is to move quickly to definitional issues: What is ideology, exactly? And how does it work when it is not expressed in some straightforward or outright way, when it sneaks in around the edges or just below the surface or it is buried deep? Critics and theorists in the Marxist tradition have probably spent the most time grappling with these questions, though in recent decades the term ideology has been increasingly bandied about in the land of American conservatism as well, particularly in its more shrill manifestations of accusation and attempts to silence others (as a side note, I would say that the only thing more nakedly ideological, perhaps, than ideologically-driven scholarship and teaching is the accusation of it against others—thus concludes my ideological dig of the presentation).

In Marx’s writing and subsequent theories of cultural Marxism, ideology marked the substitution of a particular group’s or class’s belief system for the universal truth. This is the notion of ideology as mystification, as a disguising of self-interest within a shell of supposedly total, all-encompassing, self-evident, and natural truths. Whether one takes a hardline material position—a vulgar Marxism—on the origins of ideology in mechanistic economic relations or complicates the picture by teasing out the cultural dimensions of Marx’s focus on social relations—as was done so prominently by Lukács, Benjamin, Gramsci, Adorno, Althusser, Foucault (not a Marxist exactly, true), Rancière, and countless others—ideology becomes a tool for chipping away at the exterior of some kind of expression or act or piece of historical evidence to reveal some secret interior.

An odd quality of ideology is that it has meant many things to many people. For a term that is designed to unveil the key, essential, underlying, hegemonic, or dominant idea guiding all other activities, it is awfully diverse and contested as a concept. Ideology is used to specify revelations, but it is actually a bit of a mess when considered historically as a term itself to analyze the past. There is a paradox here: ideology has a kind of looseness to it methodologically, and yet it is supposed to pinpoint the precise nature of power underlying belief systems and actions. This pinpointing is exactly what makes it such an appealing interpretive instrument for many historians. It can be wielded like a magnifying glass, seemingly able to focus the rays of the sun on the surfaces of the historical past and burn through their bark to hidden inner forces. And yet its magnifications always grow a bit fuzzy upon closer inspection, especially when viewed in comparison to other glimpses into the ideological interior of some phenomenon or text or cultural material.

There is an even more confounding dimension to ideology: any use of its magnifying lens reveals the ideological positioning of the viewer. To tease out—and perhaps torture—the metaphor a bit more, the intensification of the sun’s rays through a magnifying lens to burn through the surfaces of the past functions by refraction, by bending light. That is to say, ideology has to, in some sense, distort to reveal, alter to show. So the challenge is to think carefully about the term, but to do so with some humility as to the ways in which it always warps back on itself, with no fixed point from which to mount inquiry. As Andrew Hartman eloquently put it in an email exchange, any time we turn to the topic of ideology we are almost always trying to put on ideological lenses in order to look at ideological lenses. Can we ever truly see ourselves seeing? Probably not. As Clifford Geertz famously claimed an Indian friend told him when asked what stood below the turtle upon whose back the universe rested, “it’s turtles all the way down.” Might we also say that it is ideology all the way down. And also all the way up?

That famous saying about turtles itself had a rather sneaky ideological interior within its shell of asserted truth, so it is a good one to appropriate. We should also pause to remember that Geertz was, wink wink, playing sly in making a widely-circulated folktale about turtles and cosmology seem like a single illuminating encounter he had. The anthropologist took the destabilizing cosmological remark of his friend and transposed it into a stabilized context in which to examine not the symmetry of fully realized systems of thought, but rather the messy rings upon rings of cultural expression. That was, in its way, an ideological move: it smuggled within its protective covering of seeking to understand “the other” an ideological drive, perhaps colonial and imperial, to reconstruct ordered interpretative ballast in the face of perceived chaos and multiplicity and bottomless mystery.

This is what we do with the term ideology—we peel back layers, burn holes in the bark, find the cracks in the armor, see through to the tender body of thought within the carapace of rhetoric. Ideology lets historians perform the tasty ironic gesture of aha, you thought it was that, but it was in fact this! Yet underneath it there is still that nagging sense of historical mystery rather than clear ideological motives. No deus ex machina really. Which doesn’t mean that ideological accusations are not worth making, just that we should remember that as an analytic tool, ideology often wierdly offers solace in its aggression, a calming sense of order in its combative allegations. It keeps the jumbled disarray at bay. By unmasking, it winds up hiding again the confusion that it seeks to contain. And it does so not merely by providing context—and what are we historians if not believers in the ideological power of contextualization!—but also by arguing for root causes, foundational forces, core logics.

Using ideology as a blunt instrument in historical study has produced more than just a cottage industry of criticism and scholarly practice; it is, in fact, one of the largest machines in the whole factory of history-making. Fabricating—and I use that word purposefully—interpretations upon a kind of mechanized grindstone of ideological revelation is part of what we do. Operating instructions for historians: insert historical context along the conveyor belt here, watch the apparatus of ideological analysis pull away the façade of universal truth to reveal a deeper causal motive, and voila: publish.

What, then, do different types of historical evidence—music and dance and visual arts and architecture and clothes and bodies—force us to face about the use of ideology as an analytic tool in historical study? I would argue that they make the use of ideology as a method of interpretation a far more vexing project. Which is why, often, ideological interpretations of non-linguistic materials have been among the most silly, clunky, or outrageously turgid kinds of analytic writing. Certainly, in terms of disciplines, asking how ideology is at work in non-linguistic modes pushes intellectual history closer to cultural studies (its alter-ego?), a field in which there has been more work struggling to put into words the ideological dimensions of aesthetic forms. One of the problems in cultural studies is that faced with the seeming incoherency of logic in non-linguistic forms, the density of possible meanings, the field has often been too reductionist—trying to nail down the ideological specters haunting or driving certain cultural forms, and thus unsatisfactorily reducing their intellectual complexities; or, if not too reductionist, these approaches in cultural studies have been too wishy-washy—settling for the view that any and all cultural forms are “complex,” as if it is enough merely to state that their history is complicated.

Of course, well, er, um, their history is…complicated. The key question—one that ideology can help us to address—is how they are so. To develop answers to the issue of how ideology works, or at least to continue to improve the questions we ask, requires a rethinking of the methodology in which ideology functions. This is where cultural history might serve as a meeting point, a crossroads, between cultural studies and intellectual history.

For instance, in my book The Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture, I examined psychedelic rock music in San Francisco and Vietnam during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In Vietnam, particularly, I discovered that there was no clear evidence that this genre of music was ideologically stable in any particular way. It neither created definitive antiwar attitudes, nor merely became a soundtrack for Americans to wage war. It was neither exactly an outlawed mode of vernacular troop culture, nor was it a musical form accepted by, even imported by, the US Armed Forces. Instead, it turned out to be both. It was most of all a great bundle of contradictions sustained in musical sound in ways that language often undid. Music condensed and intensified the mix of antiwar and prowar energies rather than communicating some kind of fixed ideology. There was nothing stable about it.

Instead of understanding rock music as a static ideological form, what if we thought of it as a medium—a cultural form through which American GIs could experience an interplay between competing sensibilities, attitudes, and actions. What the music did, then, was, in cultural studies and intellectual history terms, to spawn a public sphere, but a funny kind of one that was less a place of rational-critical debate than something more riven by emotional and affective investments and experiences (kudos to Lawrence Grossberg here, and Stuart Hall and the traditions of the Birmingham School). I noticed in my source materials most of all that in the last US war fought through conscription rock music activated the civic or civilian side of the hybrid American GI’s citizen-soldier identity. But it only catalyzed the politicized and ideological possibilities of this turn toward the civic. It did not enforce them (or prevent them).

Was that ideological in any compelling way? Yes and no. Few if any GIs beat their machine guns into ploughshares. Yet by the end of American involvement in Vietnam, there was massive dissent and sometimes outright mutiny and rebellion by GIs themselves against the war machine. How the music contributed to this situation remains correlative, not causal. Ideology was at work in GI experiences of countercultural rock music, but how it was at work in relation to attitudes and actions concerning US involvement in the war requires careful scrutiny. Unfortunately, we have to make a long sentence to describe this process accurately and truly: the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War took place through cultural understandings of the political role of citizenship as they were mediated in the aesthetic form of popular music, which itself arose within and circulated through shifting systems of American consumer and military power that increasingly embraced rebellion against top-down control as an effort to coopt and defang oppositional elements. A kind of “hip capitalism” flourished on the home front—a selling of countercultural difference within the total system of mass consumerism itself, an increased emphasis on associating goods, services, and commodities with transgression against capitalism to expand capitalism. In Vietnam, the US Armed Forces took this new logic of consumer rebellion and ran with it in a desperate effort to salvage troop morale among young GI draftees who were deeply alienated from a confusing and debilitating war of occupation. A kind of “hip militarism” resulted in which rock music arrived as much within as against or below the official state apparatus of the war effort. The Armed Forces sponsored rock bands and encouraged GIs to express themselves as individuals, hoping that by bringing energies of the commercialized counterculture to Southeast Asia, they could coopt rebellion in service of obedience to authority. Many troops nonetheless used the music to think more deeply about the troubling ethics and dismaying trauma of the Vietnam War. It is within this dizzying swirl of appropriation and counter-appropriation that rock music generated a public sphere for civic inquiry.

So ideology mattered here, but again, how it mattered is crucial. Rock music did not retain a consistent ideology, but its processes certainly were ideological in that they generated, I contend, a kind of democratic public sphere. The music was part of the larger systems of capitalism and militarism. To be sure, it drew its inspiration—and often outright stole—from resistant subcultural locations in American society, most obviously African-American culture, but more strikingly it was also made from the very material and cultural things of twentieth-century American consumer and military life—the technological pleasures of electricity, cars, and even (think of public address systems and radios) technologies that had been developed or used for military purposes. As such, rock was ideologically “complicit.” And yet, it also sparked individual and collective questionings of the system, and sometimes it even generated cultural and political opposition. Most of all, rock raised the difficult ideological questions that still haunt many cultural and political rebellions today: how do you oppose a larger system (shall we call it capitalism perhaps, maybe even liberalism?) that embraces opposition as an ideal? How do you rebel when rebellion sells?

The challenge here is not just one for the activist; it is also one for the historian. For these questions point to how we might not wield ideology as a magnifying glass or a turtle or a factory of interpretive production—or a battering ram for that matter. Instead, we might link ideology to the question of meaning-making when it comes to non-linguistic forms and ask what, exactly, the relationship is between ideology and meaning in these kinds of materials. We might move away from the gotcha! tradition of using ideology to unmask fixed truths and reveal the partiality behind seeming impartiality or the nonsense behind common sense or the structural power within more malleable cultural forms and instead grapple with the difference between ideology, thinly veiled, and meaning, thickly ranging.

To do so requires that we move away from the urge to overvalue the link between coherency and power. A guiding and typically unexamined warrant in much historical argumentation is that the more coherent worldview wins the day ideologically. Of course, why wouldn’t historians, trying to make coherent arguments about the past, overestimate coherency? But shifting to cultural forms such as music suggests that we undervalue incoherency. It is to raise the point that incoherency may have a power too, particularly when ideology comes alive and becomes contingent in forms that inspire meaning-making through aesthetic experiences. In those cases, perhaps, it may even be a more powerful historical force than the easily intelligible.

So perhaps, in thinking ideologically about ideology, it might be useful to track and trace ideas through the twisted knots of the seemingly incomprehensible as well as the known and identifiable. And to consider carefully how ideologies might not be coherent kernels shielded by colorful, deflective shells, but rather elements that twine through forms themselves. From top to bottom, side to side, all around, ideology is not waiting to be uncovered; rather it suffuses.

When we do this, when we shift our investigations of ideology from the unmasking model and expand beyond the focus only on the written word and the power of its coherency, we can begin to address ideological factors more effectively by thinking of how they are in play with meaning more generally. We can look (and listen!) for qualities of affect, sensation, and the bodily as they are dispersed across modes of expression. We can start to see how ideologies are in rather than within, shot through instead of underneath. We can see how they are stitched across historical materials rather than concealed—or, to invoke a fancy-schmancy, jargonistic cultural studies term, how they are “imbricated.”

Most of all, we can start to see how the presence of ideological forces in the past requires recognizing ideological forces at work in the present. This, indeed, is one of the great qualities of historical thinking: it almost never strips away falsities from the past without also doing so in the now. This is the way that ideology is no trans-historical category of analysis but instead always a subcategory of history. We perceive it from a positionality in time, in history, but that is not debilitating; rather it gives us the ability to see our own moment interacting with the past, and the past reaching out into our own contemporaneity.

In the end, what cultural history has to offer is an awareness that ideology is at once embedded more deeply in everything around us and also more unfixed, uncertain, and unpredictable. Looking for the power accomplished by inconsistency, partial assertion, contradiction, murkiness, and the thick incoherence of multiplicity—ideology as meaning-making—may be just as crucial as identifying the essential secret ideological code word, buried within the encrypted messages of cultural or intellectual form. It may well be true that bourgeois hegemony, professional-managerial class dominance, white supremacy, patriarchy, neoliberalism, or whatever other form of all-too-true ideological force is present, but the presence in culture is just that: presence. Even when it has already happened in the past, it is still alive and mutating. To assert an ideological position from within this lengthy methodological inquiry, ideology is thus, ultimately, changeable.

12 Thoughts on this Post

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  1. Michael, this is really wonderful and generative. Small. pedantic point: I don’t think Rancière belongs, exactly, on the list… he is a pretty consistent critic of every use of ideology as depth psychology, so much so in fact that many question his Marxist bona fides. (This is why I like him so much).

    I wonder if we are on the verge of a new era of ideology study. Bruno Latour’s influence is only growing, and his notion that everything is an actant in a network (ideas, texts, material objects, the weather, etc) seems very congenial to the sort of research you propose. In whatever form ideology arrives, it is only one element, with a given weight and vector, in an ensemble of relations. Under those circumstances, a song or recording, situated in the tissue of the 1960s alongside (here comes a Latour litany) guns, mosquitoes, Algeria, surfboards, hurricanes, lipstick, etc.–would not be predicted to have so much efficacy as to induce the beating of arms into plougshares (though it might), but would also be understood as a stuff or thing with many more interesting relations or alliances than traditional ideology critique has allowed (one scholar who pioneered this kind of thing is a figure we both revere, the heterodox music scholar Robert Cantwell).

  2. Kurt —

    Thanks for the wonderful comments. Of course, yes, absolutely, Robert Cantwell’s work remains a major inspiration. I think that intellectual historians can learn more from the theoretical frameworks explored by folklorists in general.

    Ah, point taken on Rancière—much more interested in sensibility and common sense (and sensation) than ideology. Though his arguments about the way power operates by shaping what counts as “the sensible” do have the ghost of ideology haunting them, yes? An Althusserian ghost? After all, even though Rancière broke with his teacher Althusser in many ways over the very question of ideological readings of the masses, his work is so much in dialogue with that tradition of burrowing ever deeper into the unconscious and psychological to perceive where ideology actually lurks. Even when breaking with him, Rancière sort of feels his way back to ideology through the shadowy spaces of sense and sensibility? Maybe. I suppose it just depends how far we want to bend the term ideology until we fully break from it.

    But I do see what you are saying here, and it is exactly what makes Rancière’s work so invigorating as a better language for talking about power and aesthetics and affect and sensation.

    Rancière and Latour…have they interacted at all? I see what you mean about Latour’s underlying influence. I think that in some ways I’m also just building on Stuart Hall here too, with good old Raymond Williams lurking in there as well, and perhaps just the Gramscian tradition broadly conceived. “Articulations” and “conjunctures” and “structures of feeling” and “hegemonic blocs” and similar approaches to ideology. I think I’m less focused on identity as something stable ideologically in comparison to, say, the Birmingham School tradition. But Latour is, in his networked way, not that different from these cultural Marxist ways of conceptualizing ideology as something more fluid and dynamic and shifting, yes?

    I think my main contribution here is to ask what might happen if we pursue other strategies of historical interpretation and narrative other than the “unmasking model” of revealing some essentialist element below a surface of deception. What other ways might we specify meaning and ideology at stake in the past without relying on the easy payoff of the unmasking approach?

    Glad you have joined me at our great big tea party with Rancière, Latour, Raymond Williams, and Gramsci, and others, all sipping together in the prison house of ideology! Hopefully, we can make a break for it!


  3. Perhaps the problem is that I haven’t read The Republic of Rock, but I don’t quite get the argument that “rock music generated a public sphere for civic inquiry” (emphasis added). I understand the point that the Army tried to co-opt rock for its own ends (boosting morale etc.), while for some soldiers it helped deepen or crystallize, if that’s the right word, their opposition to, or questioning of, the war they were fighting. But inasmuch as a debate (and, of course, a sometimes less-than-entirely decorous and peaceful debate) over the war was going on “at home,” and was being conducted in the pages of ‘highbrow’ journals as well as on the streets and other places, it seems to me that a “public sphere for civic inquiry,” at least about the Vietnam War, already existed. So: (a) I’m not sure that rock generated such a sphere, as it already existed, nor (b) do I really see how music alone, not matter how engaged some of its lyrics and sentiments were, could have generated a ‘democratic public sphere’ on its own, without the contribution of speech, in the form of both the written and spoken word, as well as the well-known role played by journalism, and esp. some of the TV coverage, in fueling the debate within the ‘public sphere’.

    • p.s. The more general remarks in the post about ideology and historical approaches to it are interesting, and I realize the rock music example is being used here to support the broader points. But I thought I would comment on the more specific issue.

  4. Louis —

    Well, clearly you need to buy The Republic of Rock! Many copies! Just kidding. These are, of course, great questions that you raise about the relationship between rock music, mass communications/media, and politics during the Vietnam War era, and put me in mind of Penny Lewis’s excellent book Hardhats, Hippies, and Hawks. I think what your comments point to is the question of how we understand what a public sphere is. Or, more accurately, how we understand multiple, overlapping public spheres that might possess different qualities. There is no one size fits all public sphere, as many scholars before me have proposed: rational-critical publics, phantom publics, great communities, class-based publics, counterpublics, “felt” publics (I always think of the material, but meaning the emotional!). My point in The Republic of Rock is that the music constituted its own peculiar kind of public sphere (or really a better term would be an atmosphere, taken from Bruno Latour’s notion of “atmospheres of democracy”).

    This public atmosphere could not do the sorts of things the public you map out could do—it could not express fully-fledged and developed opposition to the Vietnam War ideologically as one could do in an Op-Ed, a highbrow journal, or a protest march. But it could also go places—crassly commercial and commodified, also private and intimate and affective and sensorial—that a traditional rational-critical public sphere or political public sphere could not. It’s a different *kind* of public sphere than the one you so accurately described. And then the question becomes how did those two different kinds of public spheres intersect or overlap (or not).

    In being able to circulate in those ways, at once part of the American consumer and military apparatus yet also a kind of “ghost in the machine,” the music not only revises how we understand public spheres, it also asks us to reconsider conventional usages of “ideology” as a term as well. The problem becomes not one of fitting the psychedelic circular peg of 60s rock music into the square hole of ideology, but rather reshaping the square hole of ideology itself as a concept, based on the evidence and data of what rock music, as an example, did in the Vietnam context. In other words, how does the story of rock reshape our conceptualization of ideology (or the public sphere for that matter)? That’s the main point.


    • Michael —
      Thank you for this reply, which is helpful and clarifying (and thought-provoking also). Given the late hour here, I’ll have to leave it at that for now.

  5. If I had chosen to use the term “ideology” in any sustained way in my own book (about the great books idea), I would’ve had to think in the way that Michael did. Instead I merely nod towards this kind of theoretical complexity in asserting the on-the-ground complexities of deployment—i.e. I demonstrated how the great books idea could be, and was, appropriated by ideologues in the public sphere. As it is, the power of Michael’s framwork is shown when you substitute my historical topic in his framework:

    “The ideological struggles over the [great books idea] took place through cultural [and intellectual] understandings of the political role of citizenship as they were mediated in the aesthetic form of [great books sets and great books promotional material], which itself arose within and circulated through shifting systems of American consumer and [educational institutional] power that increasingly embraced rebellion against top-down control as an effort to coopt and defang oppositional elements.”

    This underestimates the great books idea as an educational method (e.g. through reading groups and via Adler’s *How to Read a Book*), and I do assert that a socio-cultural-political-intellectual-educational structure called “great books liberalism” came to dominate. But you get the point—i.e. that one has to be very careful with the debunking lens of ideology in relation to culture. – TL

    • And though I argue that “great books liberalism” was dominant for most of the twentieth century, the great books idea could easily be re-appropriated—and it clearly was by the likes of William F. Buckley, Allan Bloom, William Bennett, and others. The idea of rigorous reading, discussion, critique, and application in the public sphere are, at base, non-ideological. Those associated activities and skills don’t have to be attached to a party or a specific moral plan. …Sorry to hijack from Michael’s example. I just wanted to show how ideological diversity operated in another case. – TL

  6. Now, to be a bit more questioning—specifically of the following from the post:

    A guiding and typically unexamined warrant in much historical argumentation is that the more coherent worldview wins the day ideologically. Of course, why wouldn’t historians, trying to make coherent arguments about the past, overestimate coherency? But shifting to cultural forms such as music suggests that we undervalue incoherency. It is to raise the point that incoherency may have a power too, particularly when ideology comes alive and becomes contingent in forms that inspire meaning-making through aesthetic experiences. In those cases, perhaps, it may even be a more powerful historical force than the easily intelligible.

    What do you mean when you say “the more coherent worldview wins the day ideologically”? I think you mean ‘gets more attention and historical analysis’. Yes? Otherwise, do historians really “overestimate coherency”? I think historians are pretty aware of the power of disruption to coherent ideologies and movements.

    Do you mean, rather, that historians attend too much to coherency? If so, is it not true that more coherent worldviews attract more adherents? And doesn’t that translate into more power for that ideology? If so, I’m guessing that is why intellectual and cultural historians attend to historical coherency.

    Also, in art—whether music, sculpture, painting, etc.—hasn’t the precise point of many postmodern artistic movements been to disrupt power and old logics via disrupting perceived coherencies? If so, doesn’t that point make all of that postmodern art *very* coherent—once you see the message? – TL

    • Hi Tim —

      I mean that historians have often assigned causality to a more coherent and convincing worldview. As in, such and such side won in some kind of political or cultural struggle because they provided the most coherent ideological position. Coherency equals causality too often in these kinds of arguments when it seems to me, when we start to consider other modes of expression in terms of meaning and ideology, we start, rather, to see something of the power of incoherency, of contradiction as a powerful force rather than the unraveling of contradiction into some kind of order.

  7. When you walk the streets you’ll have no cares
    If you walk the lines and not the squares
    As you go through life make this your goal
    Watch the donut, not the hole.

    – Burl Ives

    The question: “How do you rebel when rebellion sells?”

    The response: Maybe what sells isn’t (real) rebellion. Maybe what sells has the appearance of rebellion but not the substance. So how do we tell the difference? Where does the “real thing” exist? (Hint: it’s not at a Coca Cola distributorship or a Fruitopia truck) Or maybe you rebel against selling rebellion. (The “how” comes after this decision is made, and can take a multitude of shapes and forms.)

    Ken Kesey offers us some advice on the matter: “What may or may not be an act of revolution is only known at the center of the man doing the act. And this is where the revolution must be, at the seat of the act’s impetus, so that finally every action, every thought and prayer springs from this committed center.”

    The difference then lies in a person’s heart or soul.

    And it is up to us to make our own decisions about how we will conduct ourselves and consider others. To do this we must hone our ability to look into people’s hearts in order to separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak. In doing so, we must not be put off by appearance or what others think. We also must remember that you can sell the symbol but you can’t sell what it symbolizes.

    We do a great injustice to the true rebels when we lump them together with the poseurs, faux rebels, drugstore hippies, and parasites. There is a similar sense of injustice attached to using the term “hip capitalism” to disparage what happened during those years. Instead, blame should be placed squarely on the shoulders of those who are the responsible parties.

    The cultural renaissance that sprang up in America from 1964-67 – it was dead long before Woodstock and Altamont though some of it lingered on – was not monolithic and cannot be painted with a broad brush, as your question would have us do.

    As far as ideology in the music goes, it begins and ends with Jerry Garcia’s feelings about what it all meant: “It was music I loved. That’s what it meant; I mean it didn’t mean anything – it meant have a good time, it meant rock ‘n’ roll. Whatever – I like the music, that was the thing. It was the background music for the events of my life. My theme music. Them rock ‘n’ roll songs – that’s what was happening.”

    While some ideology or another may have been at play during the old leftist-leaning folky days of Broadside and Sing Out, all that ended when Bob Dylan took his axe and gave folk music 40 electrified whacks.

    What it all boils down to I guess is I’m not seeing the public sphere concept vis a vis the Acid Tests, dance concerts, and psychedelic music. And I feel no need to pound any pegs into any shape holes about anything. My father always told me never to force anything when working with tools or I’d wind up being sorry.


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