The Soulless Conformity of the ‘Counterculture’

The best SNL skit this weekend had to be "History of Punk," in which we see the transgression that got the fictional Ian Rubbish (Fred Armisen) banished from the punk movement. He transgressed against his community's ideals and for his sins he was excommunicated. He dared express respect for Margaret Thatcher.

If you can't watch the clip, the joke is a simple one: We spent all week hearing about how Margaret Thatcher inspired an entire generation of terrible British music. Washed-up artists like Morrissey* took to the Internet to remind us all how very very much they hated her. It was a rather sickening display of conformity from a group that prides itself on being oh-so-individual-minded. What would happen if someone had dared to dissent?

This is why SNL's skewering of the community is so brilliant. For daring to sing "Hey, Margaret Thatcher / You're all right," Rubbish is the object of scorn. As one of his band mates puts it, this was a real problem: "At the time, no self-respecting punk band was singing pro-Thatcher songs." Sentiments like "Takin' it easy is what put this country in decline" are unwelcome because they disrupt the orthodoxy. He had to be kicked out of the band.

It's pitch-perfect parody. And an essential reminder that those who pride themselves on being "free-thinkers" are just as likely to be wrapped up in the prejudices of their in-group as anyone else.

*As an aside, can we all finally admit that The Smiths are rubbish? Or do we still have to pretend that their music was good?