I Miss the Radicals

I remember sitting in my dorm room at Michigan State University and talking BS with others over a 24-pack of Mickeys. We posed ridiculous possibilities and impossibilities. The world needs youth to do this. They are supposed to throw out dumb ideas, crazy ideas. They stand a peculiar juxtaposition of awareness of mortality and belief that death is far off. It’s a wonderful energy. 

I entertained existentialism to nihilism. Rock and Roll. Burn bright and burn fast. Start a commune. Reject reality. Create new universes unattached to the laws of nature. Rebel. Everything before me was stupid. It’s dangerous but exciting. 

Growing up, the radio was full of mass produced pop filler. It was thrilling to subvert it. I had to wait until midnight to listen to Clambake on WLAV in Grand Rapids in order to hear Husker Du or 1/2 Man 1/2 Biscuit. I had to go to record stores and search for radical voices.

Then there were those who acted on their fantasies. Dress different. Press the limits. Scream into a microphone. It was understood that they were ridiculous. Maybe pilgrims. Maybe morons. They populate the bohemian districts with the good food, good sounds, and good smells. They were likely wrong in all their directions. But we needed them to be.

Every generation had them. They were crazy but produced beautiful things. No one really believed in their realities, but they did cause one to think and enjoy. They were the edge, Kurzes ruling in the jungle. We needed them to go over. To see where it was.  But like Kurz, they all had to eventually die.

Today this radicalism has been institutionalized. People that weren’t quite radicals but instead their groupies got jobs in universities and sought to normalize rebellion. Then what?

They killed excitement. They killed radicalism and the fervor of thinking crazy thoughts. It’s all normalized. From current government employees to mass educated high school teachers. What’s really radical or rebellious anymore? 

Not to justify crazy ideas, behaviors, or teachings. But they press the audience, the public. Like Judas they kill our Christs so we may find meaning in our Christs. 

What now? Boring. A 62 year old Madonna still shows her wrinkled skin as if she is smashing some glass ceiling. Well there is no ceiling anymore. You can buy her at the mall. Who doesn’t talk about sex, identity, power in unconventional ways. It’s now so very conventional. In fact the boorish radical groupies have fought to normalize crazy.  How boring!

Sad. The danger when radicalism is institutionalized is that radicalism can’t handle disagreement or rebellion. Because it is just that! It becomes violent. Totalitarian. Probably because it usually doesn’t possess any foundation in reason, nature, or reality. Therefore it requires obedience instead of voluntary assent. 

Of course, as TS Eliot – the greatest poet next to Ezra Pound of the 20th century – enjoyed, it’s fun to both espouse traditional and logical ideas and also be countercultural, even avant-garde. Maybe one day Americans will visit conservative enclaves in their cities for some great food, music, and crazy ideas like 2+2 and symmetry.