The most ridiculous part of the Super Bowl’s halftime show—more ridiculous than Lady Gaga’s actual music or even her choreography, which is saying something—was the Tiffany and Co. ad in which she proclaimed her great creativity and nonconformity.
Because nothing says “anti-establishment” like a millionaire pop star shilling for Tiffany.
She says things like, “I am a rebel…. I always want to be challenging the status quo…. I’m too strange, I’m too different, I’m too out there, I’m too artistic. Oh, it’s pretentious to talk about, you know, how creative you are. I don’t feel that way at all.”
You know what? That does seem really pretentious, with an emphasis on the “pretense.” She’s a pop star performing music that appeals to a broad and undemanding audience, and none of that makes her “out there.” It makes her mainstream. Relentlessly, poundingly mainstream.
This is just a symptom of a much wider issue. So much of our popular culture depends on the loudly proclaimed pose of being “rebels,” of being outside the mainstream, of being “transgressive”—while repeating clichés that have become deadly boring through decades of repetition. It reminds me of a brilliant little bit in The Onion: “Purchase of Jeans Ushers Man into Exclusive, Ultra-Cool Subculture of Jeans-Wearing Americans.” They all want to be nonconformists just like everyone else.
Take the campaign to “Keep Portland Weird.” Here’s a tip: if a television show just finished mocking your artificial quirkiness for eight solid seasons, you’re not strange and new any more. Heck, the slogan isn’t even original. Before some Oregonians wanted to “Keep Portland Weird,” there were Texans who wanted to “Keep Austin Weird.” But how “weird” can you be when there are a dozen small cities—and countless trendy neighborhoods in other cities—that are just exactly like you?
I was on vacation recently at a resort area very far away from Brooklyn or Portland or Austin. Yet every 20-something waiter at every restaurant looked exactly the same. Hipster haircut? Check. Hipster Beard? Check. Hipster glasses? Check. Hipster skinny jeans? Check. Basically, they were all just copies of this guy.
Who I found in about five seconds by doing a Google image search for “hipster.”
This is part of the overall dilemma of the Left. It’s like how they now style themselves as “the Resistance,” but they’re the ones who built the Death Star of big government, central federal authority, and rule by executive order. The “counterculture” has become the establishment, and I don’t know if there’s ever been an establishment quite as established as this, enforcing 97% rates of conformity within its enclaves and threatening to shun anyone who is associated in any way with unapproved persons or ideas. Perhaps it’s precisely because they’re such a rigid, conformist establishment that they cling even harder to the myth that they are free-thinking rebels.
Do you want to be a rebel today? Sing opera, not repetitive, over-produced pop music. I can understand why Miss Germanotta doesn’t do this: it’s way harder and less profitable. She’s certainly free to give the masses what they want, instead. We’re just going to call her on it when she tries to style herself a nonconformist.
Or how about this? Study the great books of Western Civilization and get into Aristotle before he’s cool. Study science and mathematics—and by “study,” I don’t just mean liking the right Facebook pages, but actually studying it and understanding its methods. In today’s world, this would unfortunately count as strange and different.
Or here’s a big rebellious act. Gain even the slightest familiarity with free-market economics. You could start easy, with a little Bastiat—but damn, how “out there” would that be? Or if you really want to be a rebel, become an Objectivist—everybody hates us, even some of the Libertarians.
As for the hair, the beard, the glasses, the clothes—dress however you want. Like me, you might seem to all outward, superficial appearances to be a stuffy middle-aged “normal,” indistinguishable but for my copy of Atlas Shrugged—which, more than 50 years later, is still a way more rebellious thing to carry around than an old vinyl disc of Miles Davis.
So no, Lady Gaga, you’re not a rebel. No, Portland, you’re not weird. You are the status quo now, which I am afraid means that you have to answer for the the current state of the world. You won, and you control the big cultural institutions. You shaped this world, and it’s yours. If you don’t like it, leave the disruption of the status quo to us un-hip rebels.