The Null Device
Music journalist Jon Savage, who has recently compiled a compilation of music from the gay underground of the 1960s and 70s, claims that today's popular music and pop culture is a lot less tolerant of difference and nontraditional sexual roles than it was in the bad old days:
A few years after Sylvester's triumph, explicitly gay music - Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Bronski Beat, the muscle-bound thud of high-energy dance music - was accepted into the British charts in a way that Joe Meek or the shadowy figures behind the Brothers Butch and Camp Records could never have anticipated. Twenty years on, Radio 1's breakfast show presenter is using the word "gay" as an insult.
"Lad culture has been a disaster for pop music," says Savage. "That definition of a heterosexual man - beer and football, Nick Hornby - is so restrictive. It's important that pop musicians play around with gender and sexual divergence. The fact that it's gone back to Oasis from the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger being very camp, is just pathetic, it's a complete failure. People are scared of nonconformity in music, so this album is a less-than-fragrant reminder of a time when pop music was less sanitised than it is now.Perhaps he has a point and the role of the rock star as a pansexual shaman of kink seems to have largely been displaced by that of a laddish alpha-male, with rock'n'roll's rebellious energy being focussed not so much at overthrowing repressive social strictures as enforcing them and gay-bashing those who transgress. (Witness the reactionary "rebellion" of "alternative" bands like Limp Bizkit, which has more politically in common with right-wing talk radio than any sort of progressive movement.) Where it exists, it is either used as a retro cliché (think Of Montreal's glam sleaze) or in a sanitised, cartoonish form (i.e., Mormon boy band The Killers' faux-transgressivism).
Then again, one could argue that rock'n'roll was always a regressive force; Susan Sontag, for example, equated it with "aggressive normality", and in his blog, Momus (of "Tender Pervert" fame) has asserted that rock music is inherently fascist. Could the 1970s glam nexus of rock music and gender-bending be more like oil and water, less a natural symbiosis than a chance collision brought on by external pressures (in that case, opposition to the strictures of "straight" society). With mainstream conformity eroded, in favour of a marketing-driven arms race of sexualisation, the brute berzerker force of rock has no external targets to be directed against, so it lashed out against the usual targets, and the rebels become bullies?
A biologist and a sociologist have put forward a new theory of brain development and mental disorders. Crespi and Badcock's theory posits a spectrum running between autism and related social dysfunctions on one side and schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder on the other, with the struggle between maternal and paternal genes in the womb determining where the child's neurology will fall on this axis:
Dr. Crespi and Dr. Badcock propose that an evolutionary tug of war between genes from the father’s sperm and the mother’s egg can, in effect, tip brain development in one of two ways. A strong bias toward the father pushes a developing brain along the autistic spectrum, toward a fascination with objects, patterns, mechanical systems, at the expense of social development. A bias toward the mother moves the growing brain along what the researchers call the psychotic spectrum, toward hypersensitivity to mood, their own and others’. This, according to the theory, increases a child’s risk of developing schizophrenia later on, as well as mood problems like bipolar disorder and depression.
It was Dr. Badcock who noticed that some problems associated with autism, like a failure to meet another’s gaze, are direct contrasts to those found in people with schizophrenia, who often believe they are being watched. Where children with autism appear blind to others’ thinking and intentions, people with schizophrenia see intention and meaning everywhere, in their delusions. The idea expands on the “extreme male brain” theory of autism proposed by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge.
“Think of the grandiosity in schizophrenia, how some people think that they are Jesus, or Napoleon, or omnipotent,” Dr. Crespi said, “and then contrast this with the underdeveloped sense of self in autism. Autistic kids often talk about themselves in the third person.”
The Independent talks to the kid who was the baby on the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind. He is Spencer Elden, now 17; his parents were paid $200 for the photo in 1991, though he has since had other record cover work, and has recently recreated the cover, this time wearing shorts.
Spencer, for his part, says the record helped bring about a typically choppy adolescence. He grew up with a platinum copy of Nevermind hanging on his bedroom wall and once confessed, in moments of hormonal frustration, to using the chat-up line "You want to see my penis again?" at teenage discos.
Last year, he was sent to a military boarding school to correct what his parents have described as a tendency to test authority. He's now hoping to either enrol at West Point Military Academy, or a local art school.