By Steve Wolfgang
Footnote Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind. How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), pp. 75-77.
Allan Bloom, currently a professor at the University of Chicago, has had a distinguished academic career, teaching also at Yale, the universities of Paris, Tel Aviv, and Toronto. During the 1960’s he was a professor at Cornell, resigning in protest over the capitulation of that school’s administration to campus radicals.
His Closing of the American Mind became an unexpected bestseller, indeed, something of a cultural phenomenon, during 1987. While we do not endorse everything in the book, several pages are well worth reflecting upon.
This phenomenon [the addiction of youth to rock music – SWI is both astounding and indigestible, and is hardly noticed, routine and habitual. But it is of historic proportions that a society’s best young and their best energies should be so occupied. People of future civilizations will wonder at this and find it as incomprehensible as we do the caste system, witch burning, harems, cannibalism and gladiatorial combats. It may well be that a society’s greatest madness seems normal to itself. The child I described has parents who have sacrificed to provide him with a good life and who have a great stake in his future happiness. They cannot believe that the musical vocation will contribute very much to that happiness. But there is nothing they can do about it. The family spiritual void has left the field open to rock music, and they cannot possibly forbid their children to listen to it. It is everywhere; all children listen to it; forbidding it would simply cause them to lose their children’s affection and obedience. When they turn on the television, they will see President Reagan warmly grasping the daintily proffered gloved hand of Michael Jackson and praising him enthusiastically. Better to set the faculty of denial in motion – avoid noticing what the words say, assume the kid will get over it. If he has early sex, that won’t get in the way of his having stable relationships later. His drug use will certainly stop at pot. School is providing real values. . . .
TV, which compared to music plays a comparatively small role in the formation of young people’s character and taste, is a consensus monster – the Right monitors its content for sex, the Left for violence, and many other interested sects for many other things. But the music has hardly been touched, and what efforts have been made are both ineffectual and misguided about the nature and extent of the problem.
The result is nothing less than parents’ loss of control over their children’s moral education at a time when no one else is seriously concerned with it. This has been achieved by an alliance between the strange young males who have the gift of divining the mob’s emergent wishes – our versions of Thrasymachus, Socrates’ rhetorical adversary – and the record-company executives, the new robber barons, who mind gold out of rock. They discovered a few years back that children are one of the few groups in the country with considerable disposable income, in the form of allowances. Their parents spend all they have providing for the kids. Appealing to them over their parents’ heads, creating a world of delight for them, constitutes one of the richest markets in the postwar world. The rock business is perfect capitalism, supplying to demand and helping to create it. It has all the moral dignity of drug trafficking, but it was so totally new and unexpected that nobody thought to control it, and now it is too late. Progress may be made against cigarette smoking because our absence of standards of our relativism does not extend to matters of bodily health. In all other things the market determines the value. (Yoko Ono is among America’s small group of billionaires, along with oil and computer magnates, her late husband having produced and sold a commodity of worth comparable to theirs.) Rock is very big business, bigger than the movies, bigger than professional sports, bigger than television, and this accounts for much of the respectability of the music business. It is difficult to adjust our vision to the changes in the economy and to see what is really important. McDonald’s now has more employees than U.S. Steel, and likewise the purveyors of junk food for the soul have supplanted what still seem to be more basic callings.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 12, p. 366
June 16, 1988