While Boomers were busy watching their retirement accounts...

One of the great disappointments of the Baby Boomers is that their Gen X children haven't taken the torch of rebellion to change the world as they once did.  I was reminded of this as I listened to Chad Dickerson's latest weekly guest speaker here on Friday, Mark Hosler of Negativland, leader of a San Francisco area band/performance art group. (UPDATE: Chad details the event here, including more background on Negativland.)

Negativland battles convention with complex challenges to the structures that enforce those conventions.  One example, they packaged a musical piece using an electronically altered cover of U2's "I Still Can't Find What I'm Looking For" mixed with an underground outtake of Kasey Casem cussing out a sound engineer.  The work was the subject of a major lawsuit and then a book on the story which became the greater art work than the original piece itself.  They challenged copyright law and the way the media laws cripple people's ability to speak freely and critically and to reuse art to create art.

In talking about the weight of the legal system Mark made an interesting comment about how media uses its power, "I'm a middle class, white, straight male from the Bay Area, and I was attacked in a very frightening way. I have a new understanding of oppression."

The Negativland team grew up Baby Boomer, but the messages they drive resound with the Gen X mentality profoundly.  Authority in 1969 was the US President and the conservative politics that supported racism and war.  Authority in the new century is the media business and the way it controls information flow to drive political agendas and horde wealth.

The challenges Baby Boomers made to the power structures of the day gave rise to the media business, an unofficial 4th branch of our political system.  The media's new position in society was firmly established when it overthrew Nixon, a President who ignored the voice of the people and believed the President was above the law.  His resignation was the successful outcome of several years of cultural reorganization.  The methods for change of the day were folk songs and concerts, investigative reporting and broadcast TV, student protests and long hair. The very power they fought for and ultimately attained then formed its own tools for repressing threats to its stability. The clincher was when one of their own took over the top spot, former B-movie actor Ronald Reagan.

Gen X has been developing technology that enables a new system to counter the strength of Baby Boomer media law and revenue streams that keep it healthy.  Today's tools of change are open source software and personal computers, blogs and the Internet, hiphop sampling and digital photography. Baby Boomers are fighting P2P culture with lawsuit bullets and paperwork water hoses.

Negativland's art reflects the trends Gen X has naturally adopted into its cultural paradigm.  It occurred to me while Mark was speaking that the torch of rebellion was passed successfully via ethernet and the message board rather than the megaphone and the sit-in.  Gen X was less inspired by John Lennon, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and Martin Luther King.  Instead, they've adopted breakthrough efforts of people like Bob Metcalfe, Tim Berners-Lee, Larry Lessig and Russell Simmons, unwitting leaders of a revolution, as calling cards for a new world order.  These pioneers enabled new leaders to drive today's cultural shifts such as Linus Torvalds, Shawn Fanning, Craig Newmark and De la Soul.

I can hear Baby Boomers dismissing the idea that there's a revolution happening at all. "Kids steal music because its easy and its fun.  They found a loophole in the legal system that just needs a patch. We know what a revolution looks like, and this ain't no revolution."

I wonder how many Boomers really went to Woodstock to hear some good music, do some drugs and hang out with their friends because it was fun, and how many went because they were rebelling against authority.  It doesn't matter, does it?  It was a movement whether you were just having fun or participating with a purpose. 

If information is power, then the power structures as we know them are being turned upside down as you read this.  Traditional TV and music businesses, publishing businesses, PR and marketing businesses are all propped up by fading revenue models, and yet more information is flowing more freely across wider geographies than ever before, without the overly produced packaging and closed distribution channels that the Boomers carefully constructed to solidify their power position.  Kasey Casem's recorded outrage and George Bush's recent on-camera "fuck you" make the Baby Boomer packaged media sheen feel more like a new type of Gilded Age, one with a thin layer of information control, a coating much thinner than Boomer's are comfortable admitting, if they're even aware it exists at all.

Baby Boomers mistakenly interpreted understatement for apathy while Gen Xer’s created a disruptive force right under their noses. Gen Xers quietly fought the power from their PCs in their bedrooms while Boomers were busy congratulating each other on TV for throwing a great party in the 60s and 70s.  Of course, despite all this upheaval in the works, Gen X is no closer to ending discrimination, inequality, poverty and war than the Baby Boomers were.  So none of this matters in the end, anyhow.

We'll know the circle is complete when Sergey Brin replaces Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sacramento on his way to leading the New Republicans to the White House.


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While Boomers were busy watching their retirement accounts...