Published October 28, 2009
Last week I spoke at my old school, U.C. Berkeley. The city is as delightful as ever: A mix of fall leaves, bright sun and tramp feces.
But now, thinking back to my arrival there as a freshman 25 years ago, I realize the city had not only transformed me politically, but reinforced my growing cynicism concerning the nature of true rebellion.
I was a punk in high school and embraced left-wing dogma, for it impressed teachers and won me extra credit. As a teen, it also got me attention, relevance and a chance to get lucky with hippie chicks. That last desire was never achieved; I blame that on my retainer.
But when I got to Cal., I saw what true subversion was and it wasn't the "subversives" at Berkeley. See, rebellion means nothing when it's turned into a personal identity. Dipping yourself in tattoo ink and getting 10 nipple rings are not markers of rebellion, but markers of conformity. The engineering major with back acne was far more bad-ass than the coffee house commie.
Berkeley embraced "subversives" and they were often called "eccentrics," even if it was real mental illness. And I am pretty certain the folks they lauded for their nonconformity would die alone, with no one there to tell them how cool their suffering was.
So in 1983, I realized that a true rebel blends in, embraces discipline, hard work and clean pants. I cut my hair. I started tanning — it seemed the opposite of heroin chic. I also took up the banjo, just to keep it real.
If you're starting college now, I suggest you do the same.
And if you disagree with me, then you're probably racist.