From Woody Guthrie to Kendrick Lamar, protest songs find a way to tap the collective conscience and give it expression by challenging the multifaceted manifestations of The Establishment. And The Establishment doesn’t appreciate it one bit.
Take the much-talked about and maligned Super Bowl performance by Beyoncé, for instance. Establishment talking heads were appalled — appalled — by the imagery of Black Panther regalia denigrating their signature event. Did they comment on the militarism evidenced throughout? Of course not. The military- industrial complex has the most expensive weapons system in the history of mankind on the line and, being a cornerstone of the establishment, they used the Super Bowl as a cheerleading opportunity for themselves. Noticeably absent was what is by most measures a seriously — if not fatally — flawed piece of shit known as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But instead of taking the opportunity to point this out, the propaganda arm of The Establishment, aka the mainstream media, focused its outrage on Beyoncé.
The Establishment is well-versed in the art of suppressing ideas and opinions that threaten it. Some of its techniques are subtle; others, like the feigned Beyoncé outrage, are more in your face. The so-called “Citizen’s United” decision was of the latter variety. Basically a middle finger to the individual-as-citizen, the SCOTUS affirmed what Mitt Romney insisted on the campaign trail: corporations are people. Except when it comes to personal responsibility and jail time, apparently.
A somewhat subtler version of suppression could be the use of a song like Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” by Republicans on the campaign trail. Willfully ignorant of the song’s actual meaning, they attempt to co-opt it because of the jingoistic, American exceptionalism-sounding title — which is, ironically, precisely the irony Springsteen intended.
Got in a little hometown jam so they put a rifle in my hand Sent me off to a foreign land to go and kill the yellow man
One wonders if the next Tory running for prime minister in the U.K. will use The Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen”?
God save the Queen, and her fascist regime
One of the earliest antiestablishment dramas to be played out on the national stage was between John Lennon and President Richard “I’m not a crook” Nixon. Nixon was the first real figurehead of the establishment — once it became popularly known as “The Establishment” — and he played his role with gusto. He didn’t care for Lennon’s antiwar sensibilities in the least. Lennon, for his part and to his credit, didn’t give a shit about what people in The Establishment thought of him and he could see right through them. The Establishment really hates that, because it’s far easier to maintain power over people when they’re ignorant. John Lennon knew this and had a refined array of bullshit detectors. Coupled with the ability to sum it all up in a gorgeous three-minute pop song, this made him dangerous.
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
No heaven? And, even worse, no hell? If there’s no hell then how the hell will we threaten the people with eternal damnation if they don’t join our cause (Ted Cruz)? “Imagine” is subversive from start to finish — a classic protest song wrapped in a sweet candy coating. And for his efforts, Nixon kept an FBI file on him and thwarted his attempts to domicile stateside. No doubt Lennon had the last laugh, though, when Nixon was forced to resign in disgrace.
If there’s one thing The Establishment has learned over the years, it’s to start indoctrination young. Each generation presents a new threat. In the ’60s, it was those smelly, long-haired, free-loving, antiwar-protesting hippies — and black kids. In the ’70s it was mainly just the black kids; the white kids were too stoned to protest and their former hippy parents were still dazed from the ’60s. The ’80s saw the ultimate in establishment validation with the election of Ronald “welfare mothers” Reagan. Protest music reinvented itself in the form of punk rock bands like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, among many, many others. The alt-music scene was incredibly dynamic during the ’80s, as well, pushing back against the hair bands of the day, which were viewed as superficial and commercial (The Establishment).
Then came the ’90s. Nirvana’s Nevermind pretty much drove a stake through the heart of glam metal. They were like The Beatles in that there was a clear before/after line of demarcation. But Cobain’s lyrics also signaled something of a “fuck it” attitude toward rock music; it had become The Establishment in a way. The baton was passed, so to speak, to rap and hip hop. The new protest singers were black dudes riffing about life on the mean streets — the flipside of America’s “Shining City on the Hill.” They became the purveyors of antiestablishment, truth-to-power sentiment.
So what of this generation — the so-called “millennials?” The Establishment was ready. “Entitled hipsters” and other pejoratives began floating around, relegating an entire demographic to an afterthought by the globalists of The Establishment. But the bearded ones shouldn’t be underestimated. For one, they have an unprecedented access to information, which is by its very nature a challenge to The Establishment. They are also unfazed and underwhelmed by the bullshit swill generated in the media. They want authenticity. They want community. And the way they’re going about finding what they’re looking for is, at least for now, opaque to The Establishment.