The Fundamental Things

In the latest Ricochet podcast, Mark Steyn drops by to talk with Mona Charen and Jay Nordlinger. After discussing assorted demographic, political, and fiscal apocalypses, the three wind up the segment on the state of pop culture.


Steyn mentions Nat King Cole calling up the main Capitol Records office in L.A. in the early 1960s, after helping that record label put millions of dollars into its coffers during the previous decade, only to hang up in disgust, when the receptionist answered the phone by saying, “Capitol Records — home of the Beatles!”

In retrospect, the best of the Beatles’ music has held up reasonably well, and the Beatles’ ambitions set a pretty challenging benchmark for the best of the pop musicians that followed in their wake, an era which lasted from about 1964 to, I guess, the early 1990s.

Well, other than a time out for some serious Nostalgia for the Mud during the Woodstock era.

But what happens next? After mentioning sad-looking New Hampshire kids listening to rap music while wearing baggy jeans dangling around their kneecaps, Steyn remarks on the current state of that particular genre of popular music:

Steyn: There is an absence of human feeling in these songs.  It’s not just that they’re explicit. When you talk to social conservatives, they get upset because there are all these bad words in there. It’s beyond that, actually: it’s not just that there’s this word, or that word, but it’s the absence of human feeling.

Nordlinger: Of melody, of harmony, of the fundamental elements of music, except for rhythm.

Steyn: Well, you say, “fundamental.” The “fundamental things apply, as time goes by,” as Dooley Wilson sang in Casablanca. I used to think that in the end, everybody aspired to the condition of romantic love, as expressed in “As Time Goes By,” or “The Way You Look Tonight,” or “The Very Thought of You.” And I’m a bit more concerned these days that in fact, the fundamental things are not going to apply, as time goes by. And 14, 15, 16 year old girls, when they’re listening to Kesha, and listening to – there’s a song I was listening to called “Sex Room” – “Sex Room.”

Nordlinger: I can only imagine.

Steyn: You can guess what it’s about. And actually, it’s very difficult! In New York, or California, it’s murder trying to get a zoning permit to put a sex room into your house these days. So it’s also a big government issue, too. It’s a regulation issue!

Charen: I’m sure they’ll be subsidized, soon.

Steyn: And was thinking, what is that like, when that’s the song you dance to, at your first [party]? And I’m not sure that the fundamental things will  apply as time goes by.


Perhaps the passage from Tom Wolfe’s Back to Blood I quoted last week explains the current state of pop culture reasonably well, when Dr. Norman Lewis, the book’s celebrity “sex therapist” and his assistant Magdalena ride in Lewis’s cigarette boat to Miami’s Columbus Day Regatta, whose polite-sounding Ralph Lauren-esque name belies the intense sex-and-drugs-and-the successor forms-of-rock & roll on display for all participants to see.

After witnessing a particularly lurid orgiastic moment, Magdalena decides she’s had enough and calls it a night:

“Norman, if you want me,” she said in a tense, clipped voice, “I’ll be in the boat, trying to get some sleep.”

“Sleep?” said Norman in the voice that said, “How can you even think of such a thing?” Nevertheless, he was at last focusing upon her. He spoke sternly. “Now, listen to me. Tonight is an obligatory all-nighter. All night is what this experience is all about! If you keep your eyes open, you will witness things you never thought possible. You will have a picture of mankind with all the rules removed. You will see Man’s behavior at the level of bonobos and baboons. And that’s where Man is headed! You will see the future out here in the middle of nowhere! You will have an extraordinary preview of the looming un-human, thoroughly animal, fate of Man! Believe me, treating porn addicts is not a narrow psychiatric specialty. It’s essential to any society’s bulwark against degeneracy and self-destruction. And to me, it’s not enough to gather data by listening to patients describe their lives. These people are weak and not very analytical. Otherwise they wouldn’t let these things happen to themselves. We have to see with our own eyes. And that’s why I’m willing to stay up all night—to get to know these wretched souls from the inside out.”

Jesu Cristo… this was the thickest wall of theory she had ever heard Norman concoct! An impenetrable fort!… and an inimitable pulling the rug out from under any critic.

She gave up. What use was it to argue with him? There was nothing to be done about it.


Well, what can be done about it? At Big Hollywood, Kurt Schlichter writes, “Ignore Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls’ at Your Own Peril, Conservatives” — it’s yet another cultural reset masquerading as a TV show brought to you by the Time-Warner-CNN-HBO media empire:

Completing the “rub the conservatives the wrong way” trifecta is the fact that the liberal press loves the show and fawns over Dunham with such slobbering devotion you’d think she was Obama himself. So, why should conservatives want any part of this?

Great question.

The answer, if the fact that the show can be pretty amusing isn’t reason enough for you, is that conservatives need to be a part of big cultural events if they want to be a part of culture at large. But that begs the questions of why we conservatives would even want to be part of the culture at large. It’s a cesspool. And there’s an answer for that too – so we can participate in changing it.

Look, if you were as surprised as I was that Mitt Romney lost in November, then you were likely also making the mistake of staying within your comfort zone, within a world purely of the friendly media. It’s comfortable within the conservative media – it speaks to us and it doesn’t insult us. It’s nice. It’s also, like every other human endeavor, subject to developing into a closed loop echo chamber. We all need to figuratively follow the example of Breitbart News’ Ben Shapiro and figuratively face down the figurative Piers Morgans in our lives and figuratively kick their butts.

You can watch nothing but ABC Family (assuming that’s still a thing – is it still a thing?) and you may never again see anything that will offend or annoy or bother you. But by not participating, you miss the larger discussions that pop cultural events outside your safety sphere spawn. You cede the culture to the liberals, and we’ve seen how that’s played out.


And then what happens? Well, look to England, the nation that brought you both the Beatles and Jimmy Saville, for a glimpse of our own pathetic future. It won’t be pretty.


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