I admit it. I did not see the alleged obscene gesture thrust on America by an “artist” during the halftime performance at the Super Bowl. But enough has been said and written about it to surmise what took place. I was watching, generally, but apparently missed the most controversial moment. Silly me, finding conversation with the friends gathered in my home to be of more significance than a program headed by Madonna. What was I thinking?
What I did catch on the tv between conversations revealed what seemed another instance of how what I can only describe as anger music seeping into the mainstream of American pop culture–of which the Super Bowl itself has been morphed into the iconic symbol. Not sure how that happened; give me a game and a good band–marching variety, please–to fill the time between halves, which by the way should be twelve minutes. But I digress. That’s what sextagenarians do with increasing proficiency.
Anger music was first manifested in hard rock or acid rock, when screaming into microphones overtook actual singing. The rhythm and the drive of the guitars, wailing with dissonance, the insanely raised volume levels have coupled with the protest and culture of rap, together finding their way more and more into what is now mainstream fare in contemporary music. The black, the leather, the draconian make-up, the edginess of it all cannot help but convey one simple, underlying message: anger. One might be forgiven for thinking that much of it is simply an act that has proven commercially successful; to an extent, I suppose that’s true. But the fact is that it is successful for a reason. It gives expression to what a consuming public is feeling, and it’s not isolated among the young. There’s a lot of anger to go around these days.
The gesture mentioned is but another manifestation; in fact, it has become itself the quintessential expression of anger along with its verbal form, the so-called “f-bomb.” That was once, not so very long ago, a word never spoken by men in the presence of women or the young; now it is not only routinely said among them, but by them. People are angry. They may not know why, though most can come up with a few surface items they believe to be responsible; but they are mad at the world, at life, at people, at God.
What is the woman who “flipped the bird” angry about? I don’t pretend to know. Maybe she was simply expressing an “I’ll show her” attitude toward Madonna and her emphatic announcement to the network audience that there would be no wardrobe malfunctions or other bits of provocative material in the show to bring (angry?) responses from the broad viewing public. Maybe she is angry with that American public itself for whatever reason. In general, however, the anger so frequently observed in our culture has to do with an inability to believe that life will come anywhere close to meeting expectations. Those expectations can have many forms and many contributors to their shaping, not least of which is that same media glamorizing the impossible, offering everything that approximates it, and then selling us the musical means to express the frustrations over not meeting it.
The search for meaning is certainly not new. What might be new is the ever-expanding plethora of ways to distract us from thinking deeply about it, deeply enough to ask into the wisdom of the ages. When we do not look there, and into their source, we will continue to be frustrated and angry. Perhaps we owe it to the younger generation for pointing out the many holes in our veneer of satisfaction. Now if only we can point them and ourselves to the Truth.
I’m sounding out some ideas here; I’d like very much to hear some of yours as well as responses to what’s offered here.