Rolling Stone's Sad "5 Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For"

All of Twitter is a-buzzing
like a hummingbird’s wings about a new, incredibly stupid article
in Rolling Stone by Jesse A. Myerson.

Titled “Five
Economic Reforms Millennials Should be Fighting For
,” here’s
the list for those of you in hurry (the explanatory chatter
accompanying each entry doesn’t make them any more convincing).

1. Guaranteed Work for Everybody

2. Social Security for All

3. Take Back The Land

4. Make Everything Owned by Everybody

5. A Public Bank in Every State

The only thing missing is a light beer that really does taste
great and is less filling. Read
the whole piece here
 but as I noted,
t
he real drama with Myerson is happening on Twitter,
where’s he’s been mocked and supported relentlessly since the
article, which went live on January 3, was tweeted around by
National Review’s
Charles
Cooke
. Like a character in a bad Tom Petty song,
Myerson’s not backing down and is in fact reveling in the
attention,
tweeting things such
as:

“Drinking scotch. Blocking trolls. It’s a merry life.”

“What they don’t seem to understand is: I really am very nice
and don’t want gulags.”

“Poor me. Writing for Rolling Stone and getting hated on by
dunces. Man, I’ve really let myself go.”

“What they don’t seem to understand is: I really am very nice
and don’t want gulags.”

“If I have to answer for Soviet gulags, these market/capital
twits have to answer for climate collapse, the greatest genocide in
history.”

That last tweet gives you a sense of Myerson’s quality of
thought (the “#FULLCOMMUNISM” in his Twitter bio gives you a sense
of his political commitments). There’s even a
#StandWithJesse
hashtag, which seems to be equal parts attaboys and flames
(e.g. “
#StandWithJesse
is an ableist hashtag born out of able bodied privilege and
contempt for those who can’t stand!”).

But to me, this episode is not about an ahistorical and
already-been-tried-and-failed-countless-times policy agenda. It’s
about the long decline of Rolling Stone.

Rolling Stone was borne out of
Jann Wenner’s love of music in a time (late 1960s) when music was
simply more important in the nation’s cultural life. Youth music –
encompassing everything from nostalgic pop (think Mamas and Papas,
Sha Na Na) to alt-country (Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers), to
proto-punk (Stooges, MC5) – was never apolitical per se but even
the most tendentious protest songs were less about any specific
greivance and more about a generational shift.

The gap between Americans raised before World War II and after
was huge in a way that’s difficult to recall for those of us who
came of age after the ’60s. Greatest Generation parents who might
have grown up without on-demand indoor plumbing and survived the
Depression and fighting in Europe, the Pacific, North Africa, and
Korea came from a different planet than the one on which they
raised their kids. To their credit, they bequeathed to the baby
boomers a world that was still full of major problems but one that
was much richer and full of opportunites. And to their credit, the
boomers (of which I’m a very late example, having been born
in 1963) readily went about using new opportunities and freedoms
(expressive, sexual, educational, economic) to build the world they
wanted to live in.

In the late ’60s and a good chunk of the ’70s, youth-oriented
pop music was central to that project. Whatever you might think of
the Beatles’ music, their very existence – and their constant
self-recreations – made everything seem possible. They were far
from alone as pop music maguses, too.

Simply by talking with major pop figures, Rolling Stone could be
a vital and compelling magazine because it served as something like
a boomer conversation pit. Over time, however, music stopped
playing the same sort of vital role in generational conversations –
don’t get me wrong, it’s still a part of it all. But as the
mainstream in every area of life splintered and recombined into a
million different subspecies, no single form of cultural expression
matters so much to so many people anymore.

That’s a good thing for the culture and the country (and the
planet, really), but Rolling Stone has been looking for a
replacement core identity for decades now. The magazine that once
published New Journalism masterpieces about David Cassidy and
stardom, Patty Hearst’s rescuers, and “Charlie
Simpson’s Apocalypse
” had trouble figuring out how to deal with
a world in which pop and movie stars were less interesting than
ever (and more disciplined in terms of talking with the press) and
in which men and women of good faith might actually disagree over
complicated aesthetic and ideological matters. There has been a lot
of good writing and reporting over the years, but there’s no
question, I think, that the magazine is chasing trends and insights
rather than creating them.

A big part of the reason is this: Rather than represent a
wide-ranging set of viewpoints, Rolling Stone increasingly has
opted for a sort of standard Democratic liberalism, with a heavy
dose of guilt that comes from becoming rich and thus feeling
inauthentically committed to ’60s ideals of radical chic. When it
comes to things like drugs, the magazine is far more likely to
write uncritical, hysterical “new drug of choice” fables (such as
this
2003 gem
about meth as a “Plague in the Heartland”) than it is
to push back against the anti-drug animus that is every bit as much
a part of the Democratic Party ethos as it is of the Republican
one. The mag is more likely to publish mushy articles about
environmentalism and autism by
Robert Kennedy Jr
. than stage a debate that might shed actually
light on a given topic. For years now, its political coverage has
been dominated by writers such as Matt Taibbi, who operates as a
sort of cleaned-up version of his former eXile self. That is, he’s
a lefty’s lefty who drops enough f-bombs to add a cool quotient to
a magazine whose politics are, like a Capt. Beefheart record, safe
as milk. Someone like the self-consciously right-wing P.J.
O’Rourke, whose pieces from hellholes around the world were filled
with great reporting and anti-hippie jibes, need not apply. As
Brian Doherty has noted here, the magazine never seems to miss an
opportunity
to badger Bob Dylan
 into expressing total agreement
with some sort of liberal mainstream. Bob, don’t you think
Obama is the best? Bob, don’t you agree that global warming is the
worst thing around?

Is it really so hard for Rolling Stone to realize that Dylan –
the mag’s ultimate hero – is a far more interesting character
precisely because he’s heterodox (if not stark raving mad)? God,
the mag should have built an entire special issue around this
bizarre admission in Dylan’s memoir, Chronicles,
Vol. 1
:

There was no point in arguing with Dave [Van Ronk], not
intellectually anyway. I had a primitive way of looking at things
and I liked country fair politics. My favorite politician was
Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who reminded me of Tom Mix, and
there wasn’t any way to explain that to anybody.

Instead you get bullshit bits
about what’s on Barack Obama’s
iPod
 and a 2012 Douglas Brinkley Q&A with Obama

that takes butt-kissing
into a whole new dimension not yet
mappable by science. And a sad-sack story about “Five
Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For
” that even
Raul Castro would have been embarrassed to publish.

In a world in which pop culture – especially
youth-oriented pop culture – allows a thousand flowers to bloom in
a way that was unimaginable even 40 years ago, Rolling Stone can no
longer get by simply by talking with Patti Smith or John Lennon or
Bob Dylan for 25,000 words at a time. It might have reinvented
itself as a clubhouse where people who love music or movies or
whatever could get together to argue over politics, economics, and
policy. That could indeed be interesting, especially in a world
where large chunks of young Americans are going right, left, and

especially libertarian
. Just as there is no longer one dominant
mode of music, there is no longer one dominant mode of
politics.

But the people at the helm of Rolling Stone cannot
seemingly even acknowledge that anyone who might disagree with them
on, say, the effects of minimum wage laws on the poor, is worth a
second thought. All they can do, out of a sense of liberal guilt,
is publish radical calls to arm that they must know are ridiculous.
Sadly, a magazine that was once required reading for anyone who
wanted to know what the younger generation cared about is now a
pedantic, insecure, and ultimately ineffective tool of Democratic
Party groupthink.

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