Updated: Jun 23

Originally published in the Spectator Australia:

The biggest shifts in culture have always come out of subcultures or scenes that go mainstream.

It was mostly African American subcultures that produced a new genre of music in almost every decade of the 20th century. Each of these genres was birthed in America but soon went global. From blues to jazz, ragtime, soul, funk, hip hop, and rap along with every subgenre in between.

I was a weird teen that became fascinated by record labels such as Stax and Motown. These recording studios became cultural powerhouses that pumped out hit after hit despite (or more likely because of) being quite subversive places where the cultures mixed, and new genres were born. Arguably, soul and funk did more for the civil rights movement than street protests.

In one of the nicest rebukes against the charge of cultural appropriation, Professor Shayne Lee in this podcast with Thaddeus Russel says that it is not cultural appropriation for white kids to rap because this is the dominant culture in America.

Saying that these kids America should not engage in rap would be like calling children in Germany in the 1600s guilty of cultural appropriation for wanting to be like Bach.

America was and still is the cultural hegemon and one of its main exports is music. To want to imitate American culture from any decade in the 20th and 21st century is to be a student of popular culture – not a cultural appropriator.

If not for the influence that came from America’s most oppressed people at the time playing in underground venues the biggest bands in the world such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones would not exist. Even today, most songs use a 1-4-5 chord progression which is the signature blues harmony.

Even in my time there was a subculture whose music made it to mainstream (despite still being roundly mocked). I refer to the infamous Emos.

We who went in high school in the noughties may have not adopted the dress, but we still listened to Avril Lavine, Good Charlotte, and Blink 182 (and many many more).

When I attend a regional high school music student gathering, a lot of the female vocalists had chosen for their example piece Evanescence’s My Immortal. For this generation, she was kind of a musical heroine that – despite not dressing or acting like Emos themselves – the young ladies wanted to emulate.

It isn’t just music that tends to progress in scenes. In fact, the most influential movements are multi-medium.

The Bloomsbury Group weren’t, as asked by their Tate page, ‘Privileged bohemians who dabbled in the arts – or creatives who made an important contribution to the development of modern culture’ but both an eclectic and bourgeois (or boujee as the kids today would say) group that influenced everything from art, writing, and economics.

One of my favourite movements is the Vienna Succession which influenced art, architecture, interior deign and spurred many other movements such as the Glasgow Style and Art Nouveau.

There are many examples throughout history of groups or movements that start as a bunch of people that influence each other but end up influencing the whole culture and society at large.

Perhaps that is why modern culture is so bereft of novelty or edginess. There are no subcultures, only mass-produced on-demand culture from Spotify and Netflix.

The consumption of culture is no longer communal, and at least during the era of Covid, neither is its creation. The lack of human contact and lack of cultural developments can’t not be interrelated.

Even the eccentric lifestyles the bohemians of the past lived are in no way edgy today. Everything from ‘free love’ to ‘androgyny’ has been sterilised by or subsumed into the dominate culture with the rise of ‘ethical non-monogamy’ and ‘non-binary pronouns’.

Recently, the mainstream media have predicted a backlash against all this orthodox-unorthodoxy. They warn that being conservative is the new counterculture and that a wave of sex-negativity will soon envelope the culture.

Maybe it really will become Hip to be Square in the twenty-twenties.

Whatever the reason for the dearth, there is a definite need for some actually subversive and dangerous ideas and art to break into the mainstream. But for that to happen there needs to be real-life in-person-subcultures where people can meet, mingle, clash and create.

I am playing a small part with All Minus One to fill this void but there is a need for plenty more movements to make up for the last few years of physical and artistic sterility.

Originally appeared in The Spectator Australia:

I have been trying to avoid writing about Joe Rogan since everyone has a take on the old hippy rockers vs Joe Rogan affair.

Today I caved to my resolve, not to add to the noise, but because the last year and a half in my hometown in many ways highlights the division between the ‘old left’ and the ‘new left’ that finds its expression in the Joe Rogan controversy.

At the start of 2020, and for the first time in my life, I had my own flat in Melbourne. Up until this point, I had lived in shared houses. I had put some love into the decor and stocked the bar ready to invite friends.

Alas, instead of being a proper adult living alone in 2020, I ended up doing the most millennial thing of all and going back to my parent’s house during what was meant to be the six weeks I waited out the second lockdown in Melbourne. This turned into a full year and a half, and only now I have moved out again and back to Sydney.

My hometown is in the North Rivers of New South Wales where the infamous hippy towns of Byron (though it is more ‘bougie’ than Bronte these days), Mullumbimby, Nimbin, and the Channon reside. Being back in the area, I reconnected with friends from the hippy primary school I attended and spoke to older friends and acquaintances of my parents. What struck me is the extent to which the inner-city lefties might follow the fashionable causes, but many of the aging hippies and those living in the area do not.

From climate change and environmentalism to free speech to Australia’s Covid response – a conservative convert like me found more common ground with the old lefties around the area than I do on many of my Hinge dates in Sydney (and I even put my political persuasion in my bio to screen out anyone too Woke).

That is why I am confused by the actions of the likes of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. They might have embraced the views of the modern elitist left, but I am willing to bet that their fans have not. A bunch of leftie millennials and Gen Zs may have just learned who they are, but it is the old lefties who actually listen to their music and their views have not necessarily had an update in the intervening years.

We have seen the same dynamic play out in Australia with the axing to Leunig who, for all intents and purposes, is an old hippie that holds the same views he has held since his days protesting the Vietnam war. It is just that the views of those that read The Age have changed dramatically.

Likewise, we have seen companies who once would have taken the side of those fighting vaccine mandates, like supplement company Blackmores, actually impose mandates above and beyond what is demanded by the law on their staff. Again, this seems like a move fit to anger the Boomer naturopaths who have been purveying their products for years for the sake of appeasing the vaccine virtue signallers.

As British reactionary feminist commentator Mary Harrington pointed out this week, that it used to be the left concerned with what went into their bodies and the corporate interests that promote new-fangled health and nutrition technologies such as vaccines to GMOs. But today the left is on the side of Big Pharma and Big Fake Meat who successfully mass-market highly processed meat alternatives to the extent of pushing vaccine mandates and advocating the phase-out of meat and animal products.

Again, the old hippies living in Northern New South Wales haven’t got the memo and flock to anti-vaccine mandate rallies and local farmers' markets (markets are one of the things the area is known for) alike.

Those that wish to silence Joe Rogan or Leunig or mandate the Covid vaccines have one thing in common – a mistrust of ordinary people to make decisions on what podcasts they listen to, cartoons they view, and medical decisions they make. Those that oppose all these moves – no matter their politics – trust people to make their own choices and take responsibility for their own lives. That is the true dividing line at the moment.

So, I’d like to shout out and join forces with the residents of Nimbin – some of which I know subscribe to the Speccie – to oppose those that would dictate to others how to live their lives.

Updated: Feb 11

It is so easy to get a rise out of people these days. The most obvious statement creates controversy.

Last night I was on social media - my first mistake - when the speech Adele made at the BRIT awards blew up. All she said was that she loved being a woman and that was enough to trigger a dispute as to whether her words were “TERFy”.

Whilst Twitter was debating whether Adele was a closet transphobe there was still heat on the Russia-Ukraine situation, protests everywhere such as the Canada-style truck convoys against coronavirus restrictions that have spread to other countries, natural disasters in Madagascar and Colombia, and controversial laws, like the Religious Discrimination Bill, are being passed by parliaments.

Just a few weeks ago the internet went berserk again, this time over Matt Walsh, a conservative commentator in America, going on Dr. Phil and asking some self-identified non-binary people to define what a woman is.

The gender debate is the most obvious example of how easy it is to create a stir by stating the obvious - or what was agreed upon fact a few years ago - but there are a whole host of issues like this that are “hot button” despite being completely non-controversial not so long ago.

All this airtime and headspace directed to debating things that ought not to need debating takes energy away from big problems, and more importantly, when viewed objectively it is incredibly dull.

When the idea that there are two sexes becomes controversial then it is clear that there is a dearth of dangerous ideas - and particularly on the right side of the aisle.

Mr. Walsh when talking about his appearance on Dr. Phil describes the ease of debating gender ideology and that it takes no intellectual prowess whatsoever. So much of the debates - particularly on the mainstream media - right now follow the same pattern of predictable talking points. Rarely is there anything new added.

The problem is that we live in a world of people which Fredrick Hayek described as second-hand peddlers of ideas.

Whether it is ideologies of the left being peddled (such as gender as a social construct, critical race theory, etc) or it’s equally predicable refute from the right (biological sex exists, judging people by the colour of their skin as CRT promotes used to be called racist, etc). Everyone is just falling into prescribed roles, very rarely does someone say something novel or interesting or actually edgy (and when they do - such as on Joe Rogan’s show they become a target).

At least those on the left have originators of ideas (no matter how low resolution they are) to lean on and find new things to parrot.

Conservative commentators often find themselves peddling the ideas of thinkers long dead - how very conservative! There is no reason why the thinkers are less valuable because they did their thinking in the past. But, unlike Marcuse, Gramsci, and Marx who have an army of academics that get paid to sit around and think about how their ideas apply to the present, Hayek (who I have already mentioned), Burke, and De Tocqueville don’t have quite the same force.

That is not to say there are not conservative intellectuals - they sit in think tanks (if they are lucky) or basements typing out their treatises between their working hours (such neo-reactionaries like Curtis Yarvin or anarchists like Michael Malice). But both of these groups lack prestige in a system that honours titles and tenure over pure intellect.

Sometimes one of the out-there bedroom philosophers breaks into the mainstream with a little help from sympathetic ears (such as when Yarvin went on Tucker) but more often rightwing pundits distance themselves from bedroom philosophers because that get enough blowback and controversy already, they don’t need to be actually interesting or dangerous to get it.

The problem is that stating the obvious will only take media outlets so far though at some point they are going to need to find some intellectuals that can provide fresh ideas (or at least updated ideas) to sell.