Rock n roll is the soundtrack of the 60s. The revolution fueled by free spirited musicians breaking free of their past, of the stodgy old 50s, and standing up for a new world of peace and solidarity. Bob Dylan. The Doors. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. “I can’t get no satisfaction”. A generation of young whites turning against their parents to support the new world of racial equality.
That, at any rate, is one way to look at it. The way that has been reified in our cultural consciousness.
Another way to look at it – which doesn’t displace the first way, but is its less glamorous, more psychologically inevitable side – is in terms of the excesses of rock n roll: the parties, the drugs, the wanton womanizing, the getting rich. The trashing of the hotels. It is surely a strange way to help create an equal society by throwing millions upon millions of dollars down the drain into parties, fancy rock n roll planes, into repairing whole hotel floors destroyed by white youth acting out in the name of equality. What was all that about?
It was an example of “minoritization”: the affirming of oneself as a minority, so that one can live one’s life as one wants free of the stigma of supporting oppression.
It was not simply white people supporting blacks, and with the focus mainly on blacks, so that blacks can attain equality. It was the white youth discovering themselves as a minority, as an oppressed group, held back and controlled by “the system”. It was working class, young males (doubly a minority!), who just happen to be white (but which doesn’t matter because they are minorities) discovering their liberation, their path out of oppression. So it’s fine if they waste millions of dollars on drugs and alcohol, and partying – while millions of people are starving or are going to prison out of civil disobedience – or if they buy fancy mansions or castles (as in the case of the Beatles or Rolling Stones or Elvis), and live like royalty, because they are themselves minorities really – part of the change of the status quo, of the people from the bottom getting to the top.
The point isn’t that Jim Morrison or John Lennon or Bob Dylan (all musicians I love) aren’t minorities, and that rock and roll was simply a way for white people to keep control of the society by coopting the revolution. That really they were part of the oppressors, who fooled themselves or others into thinking they are part of the oppressed. No, this isn’t it. The situation is more interesting and subtle.
What the rise of rock n roll shows is the explosion in the concept of a minority – of the myriad ways in which one could be a minority. One can be white, and male, and heterosexual, and yet still take on the mantle of being a minority – say, if you come from a working class background, or if you are young and feel oppressed by tradition. Or if you simply identify with a new medium such as rock n roll itself, as opposed to the traditional mediums of classical music or Broadway. One doesn’t have to a black or a woman or gay to be a minority. One just has to identify with an identity which is, in some important way, not the status quo, and which is therefore not represented as much in the public domain of “the cultured and the elite.”