With the recent release of BackWordz debut album and its success, it dawned on me that a part of libertarianism that was missing is just now beginning to bud into something. That something is taking our ideas and putting them into pop culture.
The ideals of libertarians have been stuck for decades in the academic realm because of the influences of economists, philosophers and historians. While this is great for defending those ideas with other intellectuals, it makes the literature and discourse explaining them and very dry and less accessible.
Frankly, it’s hard work to learn about free markets, non-aggression, and individualism because these are not widely expressed in popular media. This doesn’t mean principle must be sacrificed to spread the ideology, but it might be time for libertarians to leave the lecture hall in favor of the concert venue or movie theater.
What makes the ideologies of the major parties (and even the more left leaning third parties) so rampant, is that their views have had their own music, movies and other pop culture influences for even longer. The 1960’s saw the rise of music protesting the government and preaching the need for Civil Rights.
Country Joe Mcdonald wrote “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die-Rag” and Creedence Clearwater Revival released “Fortunate Son” in 1969, both in protest of the Vietnam War.
Art was more geared towards drug use and sexual experimentation. An article from History Now describes the culture as “youth counterculture,” it carved out new spaces for experimentation and alternative views about what constituted a good society. While a new left, made up of civil rights and anti-war activists, developed as the war in Vietnam dragged out and became increasingly bloody, confounding, and ultimately unpopular.
Patriotic songs like “Ballad of the Green Berets” by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler and Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” also did well as songs supporting the war. Vietnam was the first time that the nation’s music clearly reflected a division of political views in the country. The tradition of political music has expanded and continued since this era.
The lovers of liberty who would eventually become the Libertarian Party were just beginning to form in response to the war and the Nixon administration’s lifting of the gold standard, so supporters of the major parties had way more time than the would-be libertarians to focus on music and art to express their views.
Today, the major parties also have more high profile celebrities, from Leonardo DiCaprio giving a speech on the environment while accepting his Oscar, to Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming Governor of California. The biggest libertarian celebrities, outside of economists and philosophers, include Drew Carey, Vince Vaughn and Clint Eastwood, who are not necessarily current A-listers.
Conservatives and liberals also have popular TV shows that support their narratives. Duck Dynasty, and 19 Kids and Counting come to mind when one thinks of conservative shows, while the left has shows like Dear White People, and Modern Family. The closest thing to a libertarian TV show is the greatness (personal opinion) of Ron Swanson in Parks & Recreation.
Libertarianism is just beginning to make its own pop culture and it’s spearheaded by music groups like BackWordz, and Freenauts, as well as websites like Anarchyball.
Clothing that contains messages of individual and economic freedom are becoming easier to acquire thanks to sites like Libertarian Country, and Threads of Liberty, and sites like Etsy and Zazzle that allow independent producers to sell their products.
This is just the beginning.
In the future, there could be libertarian music festivals, film festivals, art galleries and clothing outlets. What I hope to see is libertarian ideas to begin seeping into more and more pop culture until the values of individualism and non-aggression have become mainstream and more easily able to be adopted.
* Luke Henderson is a composer, economics enthusiast and educator in St. Louis, MO and a contributor to The Libertarian Vindicator. He is a budding libertarian and joined the party in 2016.
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