All Shook Up
Updated: Jul 8
Watching the newly released movie, Elvis, last week, caused me to start thinking about the extreme cultural shift our country has gone through since the 1950’s. When Elvis Presley hit the scene in the mid-1950s, American culture looked a lot different, much more constrained, and there was a lot of push back against the type of music he was singing, and the way he performed on stage – swinging his hips and gyrating his body. A certain faction of society was in a complete moral panic of the societal change that Elvis’ type of music would bring. They feared that his music would denigrate our culture beyond repair, so they tried to prevent him from performing, and in some cases, they had him arrested while he was onstage.
The explosion of “rock ‘n’ roll” music in the 1950s, led, in part, to the counter-cultural revolutions of the 1960s. One of the most evocative mantras of the 1960s was “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll”. Rock ‘n’ roll music was tied to our changing attitudes toward sex and drugs which led to the sexual and cultural revolutions of the 1960s, and Elvis Presley was the “King of rock ‘n’ roll”. Most historians looking back on the 1960s, would say that those revolutions were good for our country because people were liberated from the restricting moralistic attitudes of pre-1960s. They view the people who spoke out against rock ‘n’ roll music and the breaking down of social mores as close-minded puritans imposing their moral fascism on the rest of the nation.
It goes without saying that the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement of the 1960s were positive advancements in America, but it’s fair to ask whether the other revolutions that greatly shifted our culture, most specifically the changing attitudes toward sex and drugs, brought on by rock ‘n’ roll music were good for our society, our culture, our world? The best way to answer that question is to look at the results of those revolutions. The sexual revolution of the 1960s which upended the Judeo-Christian prohibitions against pre-marital sex and promiscuity resulted in grave consequences for our country and our world? Over 35 million people died worldwide from AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s, and the AIDS virus is spread primarily through promiscuous and premarital sex which had become normalized through the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
Our changing sexual attitudes has also led to a dramatic increase of unwanted pregnancies. In the 1940s, 3.8% of babies born in America, we’re born out of wedlock, and that was prior to the invention of the pill and legalization of abortion. In 2020, over 40% of babies born in America were out of wedlock, and that’s not factoring in the 800,000 babies who were aborted that year. It’s hard not to connect the dots from the sexual revolution to this dramatic increase in unintended pregnancies and children being born into single-parent homes to an increase in poverty, crime, violence, drug use throughout our country to the legalization of abortion in the 1973 Roe v Wade to help combat the devastating consequences the sexual revolution. And the result of Roe v Wade has been the deaths of over 60 million babies in the 49 years that it was the law of the land.
The dramatic shift in our cultural values has also led to the breakdown of our families. The divorce rate in America jumped significantly from 22% in the late 1950’s to over 50% in the late 1970’s. The biggest increase in the divorce rate was between the 1960s and 1970s during the heart of the cultural revolutions. Many of those divorces were tied directly to our changing attitudes toward sex – with the rise of pre-marital sex, promiscuity, extra-marital affairs, the rise in pornography – as the sexual act shifted from an expression of love to simply a means of gratifying physical pleasure.
The progressive beliefs towards sexuality have led to the sexualization of pre-pubescent children in our schools. Children as young as 6 and 7 years old are being taught Radical Gender theory in our public school system, and as a result, the number of America’s young people identifying as transgender has almost doubled in recent years which suggests a cultural cause, not a biological one. Many of our youth have lost their identity through the shifting, scattered and confusing cultural norms, so they are putting on false identities to give themselves and their lives some semblance of meaning.
How Americans derive meaning from their life has dramatically changed over the last 50-60 years. There have been dramatic decreases in church attendance and in people who believe in God. People are now deriving their morality and sense of worth from other outlets, namely their political affiliation. People have become more passionate and divided on politics than ever before. Politics has become a new religion to many.
A record number of Americans are turning to drugs to fill their spiritual void as well. The normalization of drug use that came out of the 1960s spurred by rock ‘n’ roll music is one of the causes of the drug crisis we are facing today. Every year over 100,000 people in America die of drug overdoses, and that number is merely a fraction of the number of lives and families that are destroyed by drug addiction. And as an almost prophetic twist is that Elvis Presley, the “King of rock ‘n’ roll”, was felled by a drug overdose. The cultural barriers that he helped break down ushered in a previously forbidden lifestyle which ultimately took his life.
So, when the revolutionaries and the so-called intellectuals of the 1960s mockingly chanted the mantra of “sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll”, sticking a finger in the eye of the powerful, did they really understand what this shift in the culture was bringing to society? Did they realize the legacy of death that followed this cultural change? They did not have the foresight to look beyond the moment and see the consequences of what they were doing to our country. All they knew was that sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll felt good, so they must be good. They did not understand the culture of death that they were bringing us.
Maybe, just maybe, the people who warned against the evils of rock ‘n’ roll music knew something everyone else didn’t. Maybe, the close-minded, puritanical villains of the Elvis Presley story who deemed his music the “devil’s music”, were not really villains after all. Maybe their warnings about the cultural shift of the ‘50s and ‘60s, really was a clarion call to a country about the real dangers of changing to a much more permissive society. As we look at what the “sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll” culture has ushered in, we see the barren landscape of death, destruction, divorce, decay, desolation, detachment, that has followed, it is a safe assumption that the devil looks upon American society today with a big grin, approving of the direction our culture has been heading over the last 60 years.
This is in no way a call for government-imposed restrictions on artistic expression or certain personal behaviors, it is a call for self-imposed restrictions, knowing that our behavior has consequences. Nothing is free, especially freedom. This is a warning about the unforeseen consequences of what we bring into the culture and what we consume. We could argue that the individual must be strong enough navigate the dangers of a permissive society, but that is the purpose of social mores, to provide a structure to help people navigate those dangers. And it has been those social mores that have been broken down over that last 60 years which has had a devastating impact on our society.
Judd Garrett is a graduate from Princeton University, and a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He has been a contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.