Usually, in advertising, the music industry, and television, people search for “the latest thing.” One of most powerful forces in American advertising today, however, originated in the 1960s and 70s: classic rock. In chapter three of Post-Postmodernism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Just-in-Time Capitalism (Stanford University Press, 2012), professor Jeffery T. Nealon tackles the persistence of classic rock in today’s marketplace.
Nealon cites baby boomers, who operate today on both the production and consumption sides of advertising, as the main reason we hear the music of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath (to name a few) in car commercials. As Nealon, on page 55, puts it:
Classic rock’s ubiquity is a sign of white suburban baby boomers stubbornly hanging on to the authenticity of their youth, in a series of spaces—the home-repair store, the orthodontist’s office, Cleveland’s classic rock station—that could hardly get any less authentic.
Rock music has long maintained an ethos of rebellion, of not following the crowd, of being yourself. What’s changed in the last twenty years is that companies now market their products to us in a buy-our-crap-not-theirs-and-be-yourself manner. Capitalism now has a use for the rebellion championed by classic rock over forty years ago. Today being yourself means buying Apple products, Coca-Cola drinks, Ford trucks, and Panasonic TVs. Spending equals rebelling and spending is the best way to define your authenticity.
But in keeping classic rock alive, baby boomers, according to Nealon, have had help from another generation: millennials.
Kids today devour music in a Top-40 fashion. Classic rock is just another genre among pop, electronica, and hip-hop. As with most music, though, today’s youth simply consume classic rock without considering its content. The race, class, and gender issues frequently invoked in the songs of the 60s and 70s elude the average middle-school student today. Anything with a good beat flies, and iPods hold thousands of songs, all of which may be played randomly, outside the context of the original albums to which they belong.
Together, the boomers and millennials have kept a seemingly ancient era of music vibrant, even while styles both older and newer than classic rock fell out of favor years ago. Nealon’s analysis finds changes in capitalism as the driving force at work here. As long as we can’t get no satisfaction, capitalism will continue urging us to try—and buy, buy, buy.