Rebels at Starbucks

Pat Ryan

"There is nothing sadder than a thirty year old man in short pants rebelling against his mommy and daddy" - hackneyed thriller author John Connelly on the musical stylings of Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst.

Last weekend we had a friend over, and to celebrate the New Year we were laid back in the recliners watching the Outlaws concert on the Country and Western cable channel. It doesn't get any better than watching Kid Rock, Hank Williams Junior, and Gretchen Wilson, millionaire rebels all, standing tall for the forgotten "authentic" American. There was a (very poorly executed) tribute to Lynrd Syknyrd. There were radically chopped Harley Davidsons strewn around the stage, giant Mudflap Girls hanging from the ceiling, and when Gretchen launched into her hit Redneck Woman, there wasn't a dry eye in the Ryan household.

The pressing concern for Ms. Wilson seemed to be that authentic American womanhood should eschew lingerie from Victoria's Secret in favor of the less expensive versions available at your local Wal-Mart. Point taken, and the crowd ate it up.

It's a half century gone by since the late Marlon Brando when asked by a townsperson in the movie The Wild Ones, what he was rebelling against, famously replied "What have you got?" Since then, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda have ridden into the pop culture zeitgeist as champions of pot smoking chopper riders, Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon stood tall against oppression by the same dope smoking hippie archetypes, Ronald Reagan scrapped the unions to save the working man and on and on, until finally order was brought to this chaotic rebellion by the cool heads on Madison Avenue.

The boys and girls in the advertising industry have felt the sting of prejudice as well when, for about five minutes in the '90s, they along with their fellows on Wall Street were vilified as "Yuppies". Now I can hear you out there wondering how many of these folks had close relatives hung from trees by vigilantes, were chained up to pickups and dragged to their deaths, or were beaten and hung to die on barbed wire fences for their differences with the ruling elite.

Your response is typical liberal quibbling, but you should still not be surprised to learn that you are the oppressor and were it not for modern day champions of the oppressed like Lars, Bill, Sean, Ann, and Michael, these folks would continue to be exploited by your vicious cabal. They will no longer tolerate you do-gooders with your intellectual nanny state ideas, your demands that science be taught in science class, your crazy theories that capital gains are somehow to be considered income and taxed accordingly. Those days are gone my friends, and there is to be no further questioning or regulation of the Free Market.

Even Bill Clinton got it. The correct way for progressives to win is to quit being progressives.

When we don our designer leathers and leave our $30,000 Harleys parked at the curb in front of the Starbucks on NE 23 swapping stories of derring do with our fellow mid level managers, we are all Rebels now, and we are all victims. We control all three branches of Gummint. The Democratic Leadership Council gets money by the same billionaires that fund the Cato Institute, and we can get the Chinese to make your leather and lace a lot cheaper than we can get your kids to do it.

Pointy headed intellectuals across the land have scratched their heads over how we've come to this point, but only two to my knowledge, have provided answers. From the left we have linguistics professor George Lakoff who's excellent book on "framing", Don't thing of an Elephant should be required reading for every progressive warrior. From the right we have the Machievellian Mr. Frank Luntz who wrote the 1994 masterpiece The Contract With America that helped to bring great moral warriors of the Right like Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich, and most recently our own George Bush to power.

Then we might want to use the tools provided to begin to take this nation and this state back from the cynics who currently exploit us all.

  • Mac Diva (unverified)

    I dunno. The motorcycle club at the Twenty-Third Ave. Starbucks doesn't strike me as political at all. I think they're mainly about showing off an emblem of style, with some macho posturing thrown in.

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    1. I know there was some trouble with Typepad posting this, but you've got a kind of beat poet thing going on here that really works. Possibly the ghost in the machine is your friend.

    2. I'm reading, simultaneously, both Don't Think of an Elephant and What's the Matter With Kansas, both of which are knocking my socks off.

    3. When I started blogging, I did it under the name "Emma Goldman," who famously said: "Give us work. If you do not give us work, then give us bread; if you do not give us work or bread, then we shall take your bread." The best rebels really rebelled. And I'm starting to get to the point where I'm going to advocate taking bread.

  • Aaron (unverified)


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    Thanks, Aaron, it's fixed. There's some new formatting "features" at TypePad - and they're more like "bugs". We're still getting used to the workarounds.

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    Aren't the motorcycle guys at NW 23rd Starbucks just a Harley's A.A. group? Hanging out for coffee instead of booze? That's at least the long-standing rumor on the street over there...

  • Aaron (unverified)

    Thank you Kari. I did not if it was something on your end or Pat was drinkin the moonshine again or both. Pat good post.

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    Just finished wassamtta too, and while Franks is entertaining, funny, and insightful, his solutions are very old and tired, and haven't worked very well so far. Progressives need to quit imagining that the target audience will fall into line upon hearing "reasoned arguments". Frank himself notes in passing that Americans tend to vote for the paradigm that protects who the think that they will become rather than who they are. So, like you, I'll add a heavy dose of the "framing" concept to my efforts. It has worked brilliantly for the reactionaries for over fifteen years now.

    As for the mystery rebels on 23rd, they are just one example of what I've witnessed while attending biker gatherings all over the US. Affluent corporate drones who long for the imagined camaraderie, loyalty, and outsider status of the Hollywood biker and cowboy.

    It is a noble fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless.

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    Well, Lakoff is a cognitive scientist, not a political one. Getting the diagnosis right is a great start.

  • Anthony (unverified)

    Pat wrote:

    "It is a noble fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless."

    What is the fantasy, that the "drones" can have access to the "imagined camaraderie, loyalty," etc., or that those qualities are imaginary?

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    One of the overarching myths of America is that of the rugged individual, who is self sufficient, always honorable, morally certain, and acts decisively. He is usually independent of and opposed to the corrupt, morally confused and effete mainstream. He often makes common cause with other similarly "pure" men to do the right thing, at great cost to himself and his comrades.

    This archetype was embodied early on by men like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, with the latter being one of our first national pop stars. When we began to expand our borders west of the Mississippi, this mythic pop hero status was played for all that it was worth in the tabloids and trash novels (called "penny dreadfuls") of the time. The outsider cowboy was a mythic hero by the end of the Civil War.

    The biker mythology started with ex WWII bomber crews, who still craved adrenaline rushes following the war. These guys were definitely alienated from the postwar society that they encountered on their return. Initially they stripped as many parts as they could from the heavy stock bikes of the day (hence the term "chopper") and took them out to the desert to race. The original crowd was called the "Hells Angels". In cue course a visionary and violent crowd from the San Fransisco Bay area took the club and the myth over. Hunter Thompson did a great little book on these guys in which he emphasized their riding, wrenching, and customizing skills, their fierce loyalty to each other and their contempt for the social norm. Bay area Beats and wannabes loved these mythic heroes and in due course they came to be lionized by the press and by Hollywood.

    By the early 1990s, you could just purchase this biker authenticity at the Harley Davidson dealer, or be a cowboy by having the hat, jeans, boots, and pickup. In either case you also got the rebel/victim status as part of the package.

  • Anthony (unverified)


    Thanks. I didn't know about the WWII bomber crews.

    I wonder whether some myths are being conflated here (as no doubt they are in folklore), and it might be good to separate them. I dare say the rugged individual probably has several different incarnations, only some of which are really outsiders. Some are ahead of the pack but lead it; others are lone wolfs. My feeling is the biker myth embodies some of the fascination with outlaws, some of the fascination with the young riders of the range.

    Societies always have their heroes, and that always give rise to imitation, often of a very superficial type. I agree whole-heartedly with the "man in short pants" criticism, but I don't think everyone who buys a Harley is necessarily doing that. Maybe all are indulging in a little biker kitsch, but I think there are many ways of doing that, not all of them contemptible. I would hope, anyway, that many did it at least somewhat consciously and with some realism about how far they were from the ideal.

    Some people haven't participated in genuine biker culture -- and no doubt there could be heated argument about exactly what that is, and even whether it exists anymore. Nevertheless, lots of people love bikes. I have a couple of buddies who could be labeled "yuppies" but there's no doubt they love to ride. So did Malcolm Forbes, for example, who no doubt also hankered for some of the cameraderie of the pack. What's wrong with that?

    Anyway, I'm all for fighting against living in fantasy, which our advertising culture no doubt encourages, but I'm don't see any of what you describe as fitting into a grand theory of the sinister appropriation of rebel energies for the purposes of political control.

    I think it might be worthwhile to critique some of the "rebels" to see what they really had to offer after all. And in a nod to Jeff's comment: the Emma Goldmans of the world are one thing, the Hells Angels quite another. Also, kitsch may be perverse, but convention is not. People thirst for convention, and they always create norms -- including bikers. And who's to say many a biker (or cowboy, outlaw or whatever) hasn't looked at the other side and longed for the benefits it offered.

    Thus I think some of what might be called "domesticated" versions of outsider life are a healthy, or at least harmless, effort to get a little of the best of both worlds, even if, as you suggest, that effort is ultimately quixotic.

  • tony (unverified)

    im sick of people putting down limp bizkit and its singer fred durst. sure he may not be the most anger managed person but every one has there problems and i dont see u people saying anything bad about Jimmi Hendrix he killed himself doing drugs and fred durst doesnt even smoke and dont say that kirt cobain O.Ded to cause he didnt and u people want to talk shit about all these people well dont unless u actually no who there are cause all actualy descent people and wow sometimes they swear in there songs take korns "FAGET" that song he swears alot but u think he would if people would stop criticising him and do u think he wouldve tatooed the word "H I V" on himself so that people would stop saying he the desease so whether u talkin about fred durst or even brittney spears dont unless u know exactly who and why they are

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    I think that in modern culture, and especially in modern US culture, we all invent our personas to some degree whether consciously or otherwise. I know that I've chosen and refined my own mask with more or less care over the years.

    What I object to is those who do so with little or no insight to the fact that it is occuring. A failure to scrutize both one's self and one's adopted hero/role models, cheapens the culture and the government.

    Here's an excerpt from an interview of Darrell Waltrip by Wolf Bltizer, that shows (to me) the danger of identity over substance:

    BLITZER: From the race track now to politics. Why are you getting involved? Why are you getting involved in this campaign?

    DARRELL WALTRIP, FMR. NASCAR DRIVER: Well, I've always been involved. I campaigned for 41, President Bush, and I've known the family a long time. And I am a strong believer in President Bush, the person.

    I believe that, you know, you've got to be a good, honest person, you've got to have integrity and all those good things in order to be a president. And George W., our president, current president, meets all that criteria. He's a man's man. When he shakes your hand, he looks you in the eye and you know that you can believe him and you know you can trust him.

    I'm not a huge issue guy. I know the issues, I know what they are, I know what the American people want to hear. But I also know that you've got to have a good person that's compassionate and caring and wants the best for everybody to be in the White House to get any of those issues resolved. And I love the president.


    This thiinking, or lack thereof, scares the crap out of me.

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    I'll assume that you're not for real, but if you are:

    Hendrixs was a musician, Cobain and even Korn contibute to the cultural discussion.

    <h2>Fred's about frat boys and beer bongs, and Brittney........Oh, never mind.</h2>

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