Saturday, June 7, 2008

We Might Not Go Back At All

The following article excerpt is from the June 4. 2008 edition of Florida Today. To hear (and participate in, if you so choose) a live discussion about it, tune in today to Pop Culture America at at 3PM Eastern.

The writer is Michelle Spitzer.

-- As school bus engines revved up and little waving hands popped out the windows, Palm Bay Elementary Principal Victoria Barkwell led her staff in song Tuesday.

"School's out for summer," teachers and administrators crooned along as the Alice Cooper song "School's Out" played on a loudspeaker.

"It's a fun and exciting way to say good job to the kids for a great year," Barkwell said between high-fiving and hugging some of her 715 students as her staff formed a "party line" in the bus loop to say goodbye.

"We're here to wish them a happy summer."

Thank you, Michelle.

Back in 1972 when "School's Out" was first released, no band pushed the panic buttons of parental authority more than Alice Cooper (yes, back then, that was the name of the band, not the singer). Those who might not remember 36 years ago, imagine a combination of "Grand Theft Auto IV" and gangsta rap, the most controversial music married to the most controversial visuals of the day. That was Alice Cooper.

Alice's stage shows from the era are still the stuff of legend, not so much for the music, though it was a potent metallic agit-pop, but more for the onstage hijinks. Lead singer Vincent Furnier, later Alice himself, would gallavant around the arena with live snakes, spew blood, hang himself, and then in a flourish that David Copperfield would admire, he'd be decapitated by a guillotine live as a finale.

Parents were predictably horrified.

"School's Out" was the Coop's first big hit and it's not hard to see why. A thundering metal riff offset by a child's playground taunt, it plays to all the things that kids love and parents hate. And the lyrics ...

Well, in the lyrics, the school in question isn't just closing its doors for a three-month rejuvenation while youngsters cavort innocently in the sunshine. This school will not be reopening. It's out forever; it's been blown to pieces. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold must have dreamt fond dreams of just such a scenario.

And what is the reaction of the children's chorus as they join Alice on the bridge? Is it remorse over the loss of an institution of learning? Is it concern over the possible fate of those who might have been trapped within?


It's a great big thumbed-nose nyah-nyah. From straight outta the monkeybars: "No more pencils/No more books/No more teacher's dirty looks."

And yes, it caused all the hand-wringing and dire proclamations you could imagine back in its time.

But its time was 36 years ago.

And now, a generation has grown up with the song. The vast, vast majority have not been turned into slobbering anarchistic bomb-throwers by its violent, unapologetic words. In fact, a generation now placing principals in schools remembers the song fondly.

So "School's Out" has been thoroughly defanged. No longer a cartoonish call to arms for youth asserting itself against authority, it has become a "fun way of saying 'good job.'"

Whenever the inevitable demagoguery about this or that pop cultural artifact signaling the end of all that is good and just and true sounds loudly from some leather-lunged "pundit," remember that this is the way pop culture actually works. And remember that the generation now being corrupted by the latest video game or hip-hop atrocity will grow up and run the show not too long from now.

And they will remember all today's outrageous stuff fondly. And they will render it as toothless and adorable as Alice Cooper is today.

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