Some of our pieces in The 1967 Game make obvious sense, like comparing Mitt Romney to his father George.
This one may make less obvious sense. Just remember we’re not talking about talent, but about political history, and the political impact of what its adherents call an art form.
Talk radio is right wing rock and roll.
Talk radio is actually older than rock was in 1967 (it was barely 12 then), but as any visitor to the Hall of Fame will tell you, rock music actually traces its lineage further back, as it was originally a fast Rhythm and Blues. And R&B dated from the 40s, 20 years from the date we’re talking about.
Modern talk radio also dates back 20 years, to the 1987 end of the Fairness Doctrine. Destroying the premise of broadcast regulation allowed right-wing screamers to take the bark off, to ignore community standards and wail away. You might think of Rush Limbaugh, then, as being the Chuck Berry or Little Richard (left) of this new art form.
Talk radio reacted to the Clintons much as rock music reacted to the Eisenhower years. It developed in reaction. If it had an Elvis Moment, it was obviously the Lewinsky Scandal. Just as with rock in the mid-50s, the Lewinsky matter pushed talk radio to the forefront, legitimized it, and turned its players into true national figures. Here is where a host of new stars emerged, like G. Gordon Liddy and Ollie North, each with their own song of white male suffering. The Day the Music Died was the day Clinton was acquitted.
The key to the rise of both talk radio and rock music was a defined audience, one with enormous loyalty and a feeling of oppression in their daily lives. White middle class men, many of them in jobs that required lots of driving (thus lonely), did for talk radio precisely what lonely teenagers in their bedrooms did for rock music. They defined it, they set its tastes, and they created their stars in their own image. They followed its message and took it to heart. (Oh, so that’s why Limbaugh is so ugly.)
In this decade, you might say, Roger Ailes has taken on the role
Barry Gordy played in rock history, as the great impresario. (Sean Hannity becomes Smokey Robinson. Does this
make Brit Hume into Diana Ross, and Neal Cavuto into whoever Jennifer
Hudson was playing in "Dreamgirls?") Like Gordy, Ailes took the music
of hate into a whole new direction, TV. Fox News isn’t really a news
organization at all. It is really a talk radio station.
The low costs of the format, and its high ratings with the target
market, forced Fox’ competitors to abandon news for talk, just as many radio stations were forced to turn into rock outlets during the 1960s.
When people complain about how cable news no longer covers news, what
they are really saying is that they’ve abandoned news gathering for
show. People who say this (and I’m one of them) thus feel like
parents of teenagers did in the 1960s. We don’t get it because we don’t
accept the vocabulary.
And the vocabulary of talk radio is just as strict as the 2:4 back beat of a rock
standard. Where the rock music of the 1960s talked about surfing and
sex and having a good time, the obsessions of its audience, so talk
radio came to be about hatred of the other, about phony arguments (even
phony facts), about validating the attitudes of the
increasingly-bigoted "base" everyone was competing for.
But just as LBJ was leading a generation down the rabbit hole of
Vietnam, so Bush led his generation of middle-aged crazies through the
rabbit hole of Iraq. Tax cuts are Bush’s Great Society. And it takes
increasing amounts of noise, stagecraft and nonsense to keep the
audience sated while all this dissonance is going on around them.
So is Glenn Beck actually the heir of Jim Morrison? Is Nancy Grace
the heiress of Grace Slick? Is Bill O’Reilly the new Mick Jagger? For
their time, with their audience, probably so. Not that I understand or
appreciate either act anymore than my parents understood the Doors or
the Jefferson Airplane or the Rolling Stones. Recently I decided to
try a new pizza place near my home, but turned on my heel as soon as I
saw the TV had Fox on. Turn down that jungle music!
And so as 1967 was the Summer of Love, so we now enter the Summer of
Hate. That’s what the Eliminationist Rhetoric is about. It’s acid rock,
it’s verbal LSD. Peace, love and dope have become war, torture,and
My point is that talk radio has also become just as destructive as rock was, to the players, to
the audience, to the general order. Think of Right Blogistan as all
those little rock clubs, where garage bands get their start. That’s why
righty bloggers can so easily get on TV while lefty bloggers can’t. A
lefty blogger on TV is like a jazz artist playing American Bandstand.
(Does this make Keith Olbermann into Miles Davis?)
Just remember, if you’re a conservative enjoying the analogy, that
the Summer of Love was the beginning of the end for the political
agenda of rock and roll. After Nixon’s election, it became anathema. As
the Dixie Chicks will tell you, it still is, 40 years later, even when
it’s making perfect sense and your kind is howling at the Moon.
The key is not that we’re all going to turn off talk radio. We didn’t turn off rock in 1969. Instead we’re going to reject those who adopt its pose. We will cease to take them or their politics seriously. We will grind them down, and grind them out of our public discussion. Talk radio, meanwhile, will atomize, as rock did, into a host of different forms and formats, all gradually removed entirely from politics, except when they all get together to support some "good cause" they think will rehabilitate them.
But somehow it never does.
But all that is for later.