By STEVE AISHMAN
So I admit it: I listen to metal.
Not the derivative, inauthentic pop-rock that tries to co-opt metal’s brute force by copying its base-line.
I listen to the kind of metal can’t be downloaded to the most recent piece of iCrap where everything sounds “good”.
No, the metal I like has to be listened to on a crappy tape deck and if you’re not screaming while you’re listening to it, you’re doing it wrong.
I listen to metal because it’s what I grew up on. Metal was defining itself in the mid-80’s, just when I was. So for better or worse, it’s the music of my generation along with gangster rap, hip-hop and punk rock.
All of these genres are the music of my generation: Generation X.
As someone who grew up in the 80’s, the culture I relate to includes graffiti art, wheat-paste posters and break dancing on cardboard. However, like most people in Gen X, I never actually did much of any of these things. A few incidents with spray cans and an hour trying to do windmills did not help me get into the Rock Steady Crew. But just like reading Shakespeare, I don’t have to have actually lived through the incidents written about by people like Eazy-E or Ian MacKaye to be able to identify that what they wrote contained the core themes of my life.
It is only recently that the street culture I understand as my own has been seen in the art world, but I think it has become an uneasy mix. The new on-line channel New Art TV showed Banksy’s first opening in New York on December 2 with thousands of people lined up to see his street art. Maybe I should repeat that: in New York City, people lined up to go into a gallery to see street art. In Feb 2007, a Banksy graffiti piece sold at auction for £102,000. While the auction was going on, Banksy updated his website with an image of the auction saying, “I Can’t Believe You Morons Actually Buy This Shit.” Now, Banksy’s book “Wall and Piece” can be purchased everywhere.
I don’t know what to think of people buying their rebellion at the mall.
What I do know is this: Generation X is ascending.
And with its ascension, all of our culture that was considered non-culture even a few years ago is moving toward the center. All of our rebellion is becoming conformity. Every generation before us has gone through this phase and now it’s our turn.
I’m just not sure how to feel when Brad and Angelina pay $400,000 for a Banksy stencil depicting starving Africans watching westerners having a picnic. But, I think that perhaps Banksy’s great failing may be that he refuses to admit that he is now the power paradigm he thinks he is subverting. If Banksy is willing to go into stores and vandalize Paris Hilton CDs, is he willing to admit that regardless of where he started from, he is currently the Paris Hilton of the art world (setting trends, making couture, etc.) and then go vandalize his own book at Urban Outfitters?
Gen X needs to admit that the power paradigm has shifted. When Gen X was popularized by Douglas Coupland in 1987, my parent’s generation told me that everyone in the US who was about my age had no identity and that we never would. I was doomed to failure from the start, not because life was hard, but because the baby boomers had made the world so easy for me that I would never have to choose an identity. I would just slack off and live in the suburbs forever.
However, since the turn of the millennium, a new effect has occurred. Gen X has gained control of the most of the institutions that alienated us in the 1980’s, when we were young. Over the past few years, no one seems to be writing about my generation as an alienated generation anymore. People my age have proven themselves to be one of the most entrepreneurial and tech-savy generations in history by founding and developing most of the companies involved in the Internet, biotech, environmental and energy industries to name a few.
It turns out the baby-boomers were very wrong about Generation X and we are in the middle of our inevitable ascension to power.
So what does it mean that my Generation now has power and wealth, but still relates to the rebellious culture of our youth?
I think it’s time for a new call to arms that acknowledges Gen X’s new-found power. One artist I’m looking forward to seeing more of is called the Machete. The Machete is on a campaign, much like Shepard Fairey’s Obey campaign, but with a refreshing self-awareness. Unlike Banksy, who continues to make work as if it is marginalized, the Machete acknowledges the power shift and shows work both on the street and in galleries. The Machete situates his campaign by asking if a group can be both in power and simultaneously fueled by rebellion. The Machete is sounding out a call to arms to everyone who listens to Danzig, or Public Enemy, on the way to work. These things are not contradictions, they are the inevitability of our generation.
So if you still have a rebellious, angry spirit, but know deep in your heart that there is no longer anything to rebel against, then join with the Machete because you are not alone.
All images are courtesy of the Village Voice and Google image search.