Psych 101 (Part 1: Popular Culture in a Loop of Diminishing Returns - a YouTube Journey Through Time)
While I am a TA geek and chronic chart twittler, I also have a deep interest in psychology. In the case of the markets and by extension planning for financial prosperity and/or survival, this is an essential tool among many that are required for the successful trader or investor's tool box.
Occasionally I exchange emails with the head of a specialty brokerage firm in New York City. I give him TA and fundamental thoughts and he gives me his thoughts on global markets, gold and the ever-present risk built into the system. He also lets me know the tone of the culture in this most important American City. It's getting darker, and in line with Robert Prechter's excellent work on Socionomics, it has predictive value in gauging the tenor of the economy and financial markets. In this regard what follows is a little YouTube facilitated trip through the culture, using popular music as our medium.
This article and in fact the 'Pych 101' theme were triggered after seeing this Fashion's Fresh Faces and a Sex Pistol in the Village Voice. A Sex Pistol?? Fashion? Never mind the Bollocks and never mind that Glen Matlock actually knew how to play his bass (unlike poor troubled Sid). What is he doing at a fashion show's after-party? Well, with the dark tone that is slowly but steadily becoming apparent in the culture, he belongs there; an old punk among a bunch of silly poseurs and hangers-on. Go ahead and click through the gallery at the above link, but I thought this guy was particularly funny:
The 1950's, widely acknowledged as a time of prosperity and relative peace, featured the King, Elvis. He was 'the King' for a reason. He turned convention in popular music on its ear as the kids went nuts and decent folk didn't know what to make of him.
But as Neil Young sang in 1977 "the king is dead but he's not forgotten... this is the story of Johnny Rotten". We'll get to Johnny shortly, but first a look at the time of social upheaval informed by an underlying naiveté and optimism that the counter culture could indeed change the world through peace, love, understanding and music.
But all good things come to an end and with the events at the Altamont Speedway, the 60's were symbolically over - although I would argue that some of the Rolling Stones' best music came directly after Altamont. But I can think of no better expression of what followed than Iggy and the Stooges. Peace, love and understanding was kaput and in its place rose angst and alienation, not to mention some pretty good rock music. If you are the sensitive type do not open this video as you might see or hear something offensive. An X will precede content that may be objectionable to more sensitive viewers. Here are the original Stooges, back in 2006 and still rockin' the house.
The culture's loss (of innocence) was rock music's gain as the likes of Iggy, Alice Cooper, The Velvet Underground and The New York Dolls dug a grave and rolled all the left over hippies into it while at the same time, the aforementioned Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and others dodged the hippies' fate and continued to make great music. But again, change is always in motion and rock music took on an increasingly aristocratic nature. Bands like Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Pink Floyd (a band I have always liked) took rock music in an increasingly theatrical direction. Here is ELP ("it's rock & roll!" ???) playing to an arena full of automatons.
The required corrective in the mid 70's to overly serious and grand art rock? The Ramones of course. With their cartoon-like songs set to buzz saw tempo, the Ramones were reviled by the rock dinosaurs but beloved by the scenesters at New York's legendary CBGB's. Here they are performing 'Pinhead'. Gabba gabba hey!
The Stooges, Lou Reed and Johnny Thunders had a hand in inventing punk rock. But it is the Ramones who gave it an identity; a rough, 'do it yourself and have fun' edge. But in England, something else was brewing in 1976, and it was more virulent. The Sex Pistols were taking London by storm in a King Lear meets the Situationist International blaze of mayhem, anarchy and well, youthful expression. Whereas America's pioneering punks were more disaffected (Iggy: "Well its 1969 okay | All across the USA | It's another year for me and you | Another year with nothing to do"), Ramones ("Now I wanna sniff some glue, now I wanna have something to do") what rose out of the back alleys of London was more political. Witness the Clash: "Big business it don't like you | It don't like the things you do | You got no money | So you got no power | They think you're useless | An' so you are". British punk had one thing in common with their mates in the US; the theme of economic stagnation, hardship and limited opportunity was very clearly present. Here's the Sex Pistols' 'Anarchy in the UK' and no, this ain't no after hours gig among a bunch of NYC poseurs.
To be clear, in my opinion Punk was a good thing. I thought so then and think so now. The message was a total flip off to authority but it was also reflective of youthful rebellion against a system that seemed stacked against the common man. A revolution if you will. One of music and culture. At this point I would like to mention a current revolution. It is the political revolution of Ron Paul's candidacy for President of the United States in 2008. It is a conservative revolution with people like Pat Buchanan and Bill Maher, seemingly polar opposites, standing behind Dr. Paul. The man speaks from the heart and from intellect, which in today's political sound bite climate draws the laughter of fellow candidates. As Vox Day wrote, "first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
But back on the theme of the popular culture; did you think the above Sex Pistols video was angry, offensive or threatening? Well, it wasn't. Not nearly so much as what is happening now in the culture. In an age where we are involved in a complicated war against terror and a war in Iraq that is tearing the US apart at the seams, anger and rage are at a low boil but the heat remains turned up on high. It doesn't help that Wall Street's dirty secrets are being hung out to dry on Main Street for all to see. This cauldron has the potential to boil over and in popular culture, it already has. Here are Metal band System of a Down and rapper Eminem. Note the red X's because it's not pretty (but SOAD's B.Y.O.B. rocks).
And then there is Eminem, a popular and successful rapper taking it down a notch. This is in the popular culture and is influential. It is also severe. I can't think of any other word to describe it.
We have come to a sad place in the USA. With an economy built on quick sand and a culture being torn apart from the inside out, we are on tentative ground at best. Much of the population focuses on Britney Spears' weight gain and a whole host of reality shows in the face of the real reality. At least that is what it seems the mainstream is doing. I will not bring this to a conclusion as I don't have one. In the future, I will occasionally dredge up thoughts on the culture's psyche and put them out here. You can form your own conclusions.