Herberts Shouldn’t Wear Tie-Dye


The term “Herbert” referred to a stiff, rule-keeping bureaucrat.

Tie-dye was the clothing of hippies; it was made with bleach and strings.

Being old enough to remember how things were “back in the day,” I’m always half insulted to see very fine establishment types – people whose livelihoods rest on uncritical obedience – trying to align themselves with nonconformists they would have hurried away from back in that day.

Obedience was not cool back in the ’60s and ’70s. In fact, it was derided. Here’s a Beatles lyric that was sung as a condemnation:

Once upon a time there was a boy named Ted. And if his mother said, “Ted, be good,” he would.

Notwithstanding that I have a strong preference for well-behaved children, I think you get my point.

So when I saw some footage from the very presitigious Kennedy Center Honors, celebrating bluesman Buddy Guy, I recoiled. Here’s a still from it:


Here’s what went through my mind:

How would these suits and gowns have treated Buddy when he was working days as a janitor at Louisiana State University back in the 1950s? Or when he was performing in a lot of very unpretty clubs on the West Side of Chicago in the late ’50s?

Where were these very successful Herberts in the 1960s, when he was playing any juke joint he could to make ends meet? How many would have shown up at his club on Chicago’s East 43rd Street in the 1970s?

And how many of these people, I wondered (and you may too), would have sympathy for poor bluesmen if virtue signaling wasn’t involved?

Now, for just one more example, here’s another group of Herberts, at the same august event, honoring Led Zeppelin:


I’d love to see this group confronted with the boys of Led Zeppelin in, say, 1973. That would be a spectacle.

Worse than the 1950s

The 1950s are remembered as a time of abject conformity, and in some ways that was true. But today is actually worse. And the reason for it is simple:

Today’s conformity, every bit as bad as the 1950s, drapes itself in the garments of past radicals.

The tie-dyed, pot-smoking radicals of the 1960s are no longer any threat to the Herberts of the world. Mainly, they’ve been tamed and brought into the machine. But they did revolutionize the music scene, and by doing so, they taught advertisers how to abuse a youth culture. Because of that, images of past rebels became (and remain) commercially important.

That’s why our modern Herberts turn out to honor people they might have jailed back in the day.

The proof of this is to be found in examining how these people have treated today’s radicals, people like Ross Ulbricht and Julian Assange. And the verdict is stark: They have mercilessly abused them.

But my point today is not condemnation, even if it is deserved. Rather, I’d simply like the Herberts to go back to things they’re good at.

Herberts are great at fitting in, presenting proper appearances, and keeping up with the Joneses. They should stick to their strengths and leave radicalism to people who know how to do it.

And so, here’s what I’d like to tell the Herberts:

If your mother never yelled at you for tie-dying clothes in her sink… if you weren’t asked to leave “proper occasions”… if you didn’t habitually look out for cops… you really shouldn’t make a show of celebrating radicals. It’s glaringly obvious you’re not like them. We may be polite about it, but we’re not fooled.

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6 thoughts on “Herberts Shouldn’t Wear Tie-Dye”

  1. To be sure, the establishment types are always in a hurry to honor the non-conformists of the past because they no longer threaten the establishment. In fact, most non-conformist positions are co-opted by the establishment and used in a manner similar to window dressing. They look nice to many and they present a nice picture but that’s all. There is no great cause that comes along with those drapes. They just look nice.

  2. My long-late mother once helped me make some tie dye t-shirts, and I don’t remember it requiring any bleach, although there is a newer apparel called stonewashed that does. I’ve never really understood what was accomplished by dying a perfectly good piece of denim and then beating and bleaching holes into it, but then, fashion (in all its perversities) has always eluded me:-) I hated the first Led Zeppelin album, but grew to appreciate much of what they did. Perhaps they are like a pair of old bluejeans, they get more comfortable with wear…

  3. “Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers” is a quote attributed to more than one writer.
    Reading this piece reminded me of an amusing incident at a 1998 British music awards ceremony. A year after the election of the Tony Blair-led Labour Party government, the left-anarchist band Chumbawamba (best known for their song ‘Tubthumping’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDkVQvhZx04 ) threw a bucket full of iced water over the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, saying in a statement afterwards: “If John Prescott has the nerve to turn up at events like the Brit Awards in a vain attempt to make Labour seem cool and trendy, then he deserves all we can throw at him.”
    Seems like they understood what the Herberts were about.

  4. Or the term I grew up using…Posers.
    Not surprisingly, you see almost zero emotion from these Herberts in the peaceful crowd. I hate to call them an “audience,” since I know they weren’t active listeners. Just sitting at attention, and maybe some polite applause at the end.
    I’ll wager if they were clapping during Buddy Guy’s musical performance, you’d see what posers they really were. They’d be clapping out of rhythm, and it would be so glaringly obvious.

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