Riding The Wave

I was thinking yesterday that people like Jordan Peterson were the new rock/pop icons for the 21st century. Everyone wants to hear them. And they’re singing new songs. And banning Alex Jones is like banning Elvis Presley (or, rather, inducting him into the US army and sending him to Germany, which is what actually happened). They’re dangerous.

There’s nothing really dangerous about Alex Jones or Michael Savage or Milo Yiannopoulos or Jordan Peterson or any of the rest of them. They’re just people who can talk a lot. And people are hungry to hear them because they’re saying something new, and people are tired of hearing the same same old thing repeatedly. It was the same with Elvis Presley and the Beatles: they were saying something new, and people wanted to hear them.

And they’re all products of new technology. Back in the 1950s it became possible to a) broadcast music on radio to millions of people, and b) sell them music on lumps of vinyl. It was already starting to happen in the 1930s. So Elvis Presley and the Beatles were the product of radio and the music press. They were the people who caught the new wave. For it had never been possible before, in the entirety of human civilisation, to make and sell music to millions of people. And the people who caught and rode the wave became rock stars.

Much the same thing had happened with the motion picture industry. That was another new technology. Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe were the creations of this new technology. It made them into stars.

Jordan Peterson is also a product of new technology: the technology of the internet. It’s become possible for more or less anyone anywhere in the world to see and hear someone talking anywhere else in the world. So we’re now seeing the emergence of global public intellectuals. They’re just people who can talk, much like musicians are people who can sing, and movie stars are people who can act. And they’re people who are saying new things. So people are as hungry to listen to them as they were hungry to listen to the Beatles or watch Marilyn Monroe. There’s a hunger out there for new ideas. There’s always a hunger for new ideas, new voices, new faces.

So we’re now seeing lots of people talking on stage, setting out ideas, explaining things to rapt audiences. It’s a new sort of rock concert. And, much like rock concerts, it features various different artists. So Jordan Peterson appears on stage with Douglas Murray and Mark Steyn and other intellectual luminaries, many of them – like Peterson – products of universities in which only 20 or 30 people used to be able to hear them talk.  Others, like Michael Savage and Alex Jones, are out of talk radio.

It’s technology that drives culture. The Reformation was driven by Gutenberg’s printing press. And the internet is a new sort of vastly amplified, high speed, printing press. And we’re still living in the early days of it.

A cultural institution like the BBC was the product of firstly broadcast radio technology, and then broadcast television technology. And it created its own stars, who were all the news presenters and sports commentators and soap opera actors who appeared on it. And it was an institution which could (and did) shape an entire nation. But the one-way megaphone broadcast media was really only one of the technological waves of the 20th century. It’s a wave that’s come and gone. The two-way or multi-way internet is the new technological wave.

And Donald Trump is a creation of the new wave of the internet. He’s another Elvis Presley, riding the latest technological new wave. And people are reacting to him just like they once reacted to Elvis Presley: with delight, or with shock and horror and dismay. Hillary Clinton – and all the other Democrat and Republican candidates – were relying on the old megaphone broadcast media – newspapers, TV – to get them elected. But Trump skipped all that, and used Twitter instead. He used the latest technology. And he appeared on Alex Jones and Michael Savage, who were also riding the wave of new technology. And now he does stadium concerts in which he’s the star of the show, just like Elvis Presley.

Technology also drives war. Alexander the Great was the product of the Macedonian phalanx, which for a while could defeat any army. And Julius Caesar was the product of the Roman legion, which was, for a while, another invincible army. Then came the long bow, knights in armour, cannons, tanks, jet fighters, and intercontinental ballistic missiles. WW1 and WW2 were the products of new waves of military technology. The next great war will probably be fought with drones the size of bees.

My father (and his father before him) worked in the cutting edge technology of the transatlantic telegraph. And I worked in the cutting edge technology of computing. These were both waves of technological innovation, much like motion pictures or broadcast television. And these waves come and go. And catching the wave really just depends on being in the right place at the ride time to start sliding down its leading slope as it comes rolling through, and get carried along by it. Elvis Presley was in the right place at the right time. So was Marilyn Monroe. And so was Donald Trump. And if you don’t catch one wave, there’ll soon be another one. And these days the waves come faster and faster.

And of course cigarettes are a technological innovation. They were really only perfected at the start of the 20th century. Pipes and cigars were earlier technological innovations. And e-cigarettes are the very latest technological innovation, of course, and already spawning multiple variants. And people responded with shock and horror to cigarettes just like they responded with shock and horror to Elvis Presley and Donald Trump. And they blamed all the evils in the world on them. And they set out to ban them, just like they set out to ban Elvis Presley and Donald Trump.

But the waves can’t be stopped. You either ride the waves or you get bowled over by them. And they never stop coming.

About Frank Davis

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7 Responses to Riding The Wave

  1. RdM says:


    It shows California-born surfer John Peck at Honolua Bay, executing what apparently was a common practice in the 1960s – lighting up a smoke, paddling out, and attempting to ride a wave without the flame extinguishing. He nearly gets a full cover-up, too. And the ciggie’s still lit.


    So I asked Bob what made him decide to start surfing again. He said it was a good place to figure out how to invent a waterproof cigarette.

  2. Peter Carter says:

    I don’t think the Jordan Petersons et al. are talking new ideas. They are popular because they are maintaining *old* ideas against an onslaught of change that is aimed at breaking the bonds of society.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Nice post Frank. Yes – all the academics talking now in full view of all. I think sometimes they get puffed up with their own ‘rightness’. Somebody’s going to crash and burn maybe?

  4. waltc says:

    Elvis and the Beatles were more a tv phenom than radio. They debuted to a wide audience on tne Ed Sullivan Show which, in the days of 3 national channels, everybody watched. (i’ve seen clips.) TV also launched such unstoppable franchises as Star Trek. But it seems as tho cigarette smoking is indeed a stoppable wave. Since the days of Elvis, the rate has declined by close to 75%, and the waves are constantly being damed (and damned) by increasing taxes and ever-widening bans, along with ever more credulity-stretching propaganda.

  5. Rhys says:

    It’s weird, isn’t it, that public intellectuals seem to be collecting groupies the way rock stars do. And not necessarily a good sign. I like Jordan Peterson on politics – a lot. Don’t care for the Jungian stuff. And my heart positively sank when he retweeted one of Stanton Glantz’s ‘sugar is poison’ articles.

    On a completely unrelated note, just got out of hospital, sciatica flared brutally again. Doing a bit of internet research, I stumbled across this site https://www.southerncross.co.nz/group/medical-library/sciatica-symptoms-pain-relief-treatment which tells me:

    Factors that increase the likelihood of developing sciatica include:
    Being overweight
    Jobs that involve twisting of the back or carrying heavy loads
    Sitting for long periods

    Is it good or bad that I wasn’t even surprised?

  6. Joe L. says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your sciatica flare-up. I hope you’re feeling better now.

    Is it good or bad that I wasn’t even surprised?

    I think it’s a good thing. It goes to show that Tobacco Control has “jumped the shark.” They have blamed every possible malady on smoking tobacco, and this would indicate that the hysteria has reached a climax. If the general public also shares your lack of response, it likely means we have come to the point where smoking is now seen listed so often as a purported cause of everything “bad” that people have stopped taking notice. The tide may be turning.

  7. waltc says:

    I heard a radio ad for a hospital this morning. How to prevent prostate cancer: balanced diet, exercise, drink in moderation, don’t smoke. And tho I don’t see how any of those things could prevent (or cause) prostate cancer, I now believe “don’t smoke” gets automatically tacked on to any list of instructions. (How to assemble a CB radio: …don’t smoke.)

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