Click The Costume Rebellion
The basic idea is that the Meme of youth rebellion was planted in the Romanticist and decadent movements of the 19th Century. That meme has evolved and altered to fit historical trends, but the actual threat of the youth rebellion meme has been removed by the process of government and business cooption. It is now an embedded rite of passage for those in their teens and twenties and has been institutionalized. The real rebellion actually exists in the world of ideas where new memes are generated and ideas actually dangerous to the structure of Western society are implanted like viruses. William S. Burroughs is a good example of someone whose ideas will have much more postitive effect on changing the root memes of the West than a thousand instituitionally "rebellious" rock bands will ever have.
"It just began to really bother me one evening. I found myself standing around at a music show with the same people I had always seen, all dressed up in black or some kind of wacky costume for no real reason, listening to music that promulgated the ideas of "rebellion"; everyone sharing the identical kind of smug "cooler than thou" attitude, yet afterwards, everyone went back home to their identical cheap little flats with the same kind of art on the walls, the same kind of books on the shelves, the same kind of closets with the same kind of clothes and nothing had really happened at all. Perhaps a few had sexual experiences which devolved into the usual boredom. A few might have done drugs or taken some "daring" leaps into oblivion, but was anything really changed in such a fundamental way that their lives would never be the same? It seemed doubtful at best. No one was really prepared for revolution by this cultural event and no one felt inspired to storm the Bastille. There was no sense of anything really having changed at all...everything I already knew was simply reinforced and that reinforcement sinply fed into the same cultural landmarks that everyone shared and could feel comfortable with already. This weird ritualistic activity suddenly struck me as the very kind of safe, acceptable rebellion that any bureaucrat could feel tolerant of and even welcome as an expression of youthful energy and angst that hurt or threatened no one except the few individuals taking the plunge into HIV, drug addiction or suicide as a result. What used to seem like radical and dangerous activity suddenly looked like a really efficient form of safety valve for the forces of social control.
So, what kind of rebellion was this, anyway? Who decided that we should all dress up in funny clothes, get tattooed and storm the gates of the palace in a mock revolution that really serves the needs of the record, art, fashion and publishing industries, not to mention the vast coffee industry that has spawned mega-corporations around the idea that the beatniks had some fifty years ago? The vision of a tattoo shop on every corner has now begun to unnerve me. The uncomfortable idea began growing in my head that this was all orchestrated and designed in some psychology lab or think tank, decades ago. It made perfect sense. If you want to control a culture, then give then it a perfectly safe and useless form of rebellion that will act as a valve for the very real and darker desires that lay safely buried below. Have the children of the middle class meet up in a ritual tribalistic exercise of faux-revolution; dress them up in costumes borrowed from a bad 1950's movie with Marlon Brando and have them beat their heads against imaginary walls, for the higher purpose of selling records and supporting a non-existant set of values which threaten no one and become the basis for a tourist industry.
What disturbed me the most is that while I had spent decades out on the fringes, working in what I thought was the cutting edge of the most dangerous art, I was simply working on someone else's program of social control, converting the very real darkness and discomfort of an unknowable cosmos into a marketable item. It was at that point that I understood that the only way I could ever make any kind of peace with myself would be to understand what had happened and how this all came into existence. The people I knew who had struggled with making the most radical art had all either vanished into obscurity, gone mainstream or simply given up in the face of the impossibility of achieving any real change. What the hell had happened?
Paranoid visions of a vast machine, operating somewhere at the heart of the military-industrial complex, controlling everything from a central location were soon replaced by the sobering reality that the bureaucracies that might really be interested in the social control of cultural forces were just as happy to farm the work out to department stores or art galleries who could convert the whole idea of rebellion into very marketable commodity. This was nothing new. Artists back in the 60's, 70's and 80's had already been obsessed with making art that challenged the whole idea of marketing art and wound up actually making profits for galleries in a kind of perverse circle of capitalist ouroboros; the snake eating its' own tail, beloved of alchemists and jungians. It seemed that whatever might be "new" under the Sun was immediately swept up by the profit machine and turned into next weeks' fashionable trend. There were always trends, but no substance behind them. Young people espoused a thousand different forms of the same snotty attitude, always believing themselves to be the vanguard of rebellion, yet I couldn't recall any of them actually having an idea in their heads that someone else hadn't thought of or that they had made their own, at least. Thousands of empty costumes and as someone trenchantly put it, a "succession of haircuts" which were supposed to terrify the burgoisie into meekly surrendering but wound up actually reinforcing a youth industry already bloated with profits and simply annoying the rest of us.
I still had some hopes that there might be some kind of spiritual territory left untouched by all of this frenzy of marketing an imaginary rebellion. There might be some bit of personal territory that I might still be my own. What I began to realize is that what precious little might be still left outside the market forces was basically of no interest to anyone, precisely because it couldn't be reduced or correlated to anything of value in the "real" world. The little island that I found myself standing upon turned out to be part of a much larger tradition of spirituality that had always existed and which taught the futility of seeking any kind of identity as an individual. The very illusion of individuality became the center of my whole weird experience of culture during the last three decades. The more that the expression of "individuality" was pushed within the "fringe" culture, the more it became co-opted and subsumed by the marketplace, thus becoming essentially counter-productive of any change. The whole idea of change itself seemed like a Holy Grail...that if we could just change our little piece of culture, then the rest of the world might come around. The hopelessness of this futile path became more and more apparent to me as the years dragged on.
Finding some way out of this morass became a hope, a dream and I think an important part of realizing that the illusions of constantly struggling to maintain a certain kind of "rebellious" personality and individuality were actually what were dragging me towards the depths of depression and sterility. I felt a sort of existential suffocation and hopelessness that whatever I might do would be dragged into a machine and turned into a standard commodified product which wouldn't even make any sort of decent living for me, but would probably support someone else very handsomely in a great circuit of irony. The whole bohemian idea of living out on the edges and trying to create a new vision of life became absurdly romantic a long time ago, yet it has such force and power that I feel it tugging at me with deep emotions. Was there any way out that didn't involve simply becoming a cog in a soulless and depressing machine?"