If Money Is Such a Problem — Socialism, the Youth, and the Song Nobody’s Talking About

A spectre is looming over the hearts and minds of young Americans today. The oft-cited 2016 Harvard study is in, it says that 51 percent of kids ages 18–29 no longer support capitalism. Socialist organizations are seeing unprecedented new registration numbers and are becoming harder and harder for the political establishment to ignore. Pundits across the internet are scrambling to make sense of it.

Those on the right are quick to dismiss these sentiments, jumping to the normal millennial punching bags of ignorance, laziness, and everyone gets a trophy mentality. Some left-leaning writers, however, are willing to actually entertain that perhaps the first generation in modern history to be out-earned by their parents may have a legitimate gripe with capitalism. To them it’s clear that this shift stems from the instability, if not the utter failure of capitalism in the 2000s. After all, if you grew up in the 90s, your entire adult life has been in an economic recession. The American dream your parents told you about as a child turned out to be no more real than the things they told you about the tooth fairy, and even now as politicians claim the recession is over, GDP is up, unemployment is down, etc. we’re all still pretty broke. You’ve seen neoliberal policies of bettering people’s lives within the confines of capitalism do nothing but fail, as if by design, and you’re more than ready for something, anything, different.

There is certainly some merit to these arguments; millennials have definitely seen a lot more of the down sides of capitalism than the alleged upsides. Perhaps it’s even possible, as the dismissive right say, that some millennials don’t fully understand the things they preach. After all, Kapital is a big book, and it’s hard to find reading time between three unpaid internships. There are a number of unique factors that may have contributed to this political shift. One key factor that all of these hypotheses seem to miss, however, is the song “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” by Good Charlotte.

I was 9 years old when the album The Young and Hopeless debuted in 2002. The marketing for this album skewed oddly young, with lighter cuts such as “The Anthem” and “Girls and Boys” playing on Nickelodeon. The heavier themes of “Lifestyles” did not play on the children’s television network, but that didn’t stop kids from getting their hands on it. When the single was released in February of 2003, it reached number 20 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

For me and many like me, Good Charlotte and their pop punk contemporaries constituted the first taste of modern rock music any of us had experienced. Angsty, edgier than the classics our parents may or may not have shared with us, and yet with a distinct pop sensibility that sealed the deal among younger listeners. Most of the themes were innocuous: being yourself, not living up to parental expectations, the merits of hanging out with your friends, but “Lifestyles” had a little something extra for young listeners.

“You know when you were famous you could kill your wife and there’s no such thing as 25-to-Life, as long as you got the cash to pay to cover it.”

Where were you when you first experienced class consciousness? I was in my parents’ basement, downloading songs for 99 cents a pop like a good capitalist boy. These lyrics hit me like a ton of bricks.

“You know if you were caught and you were smoking crack, McDonalds wouldn’t even want to take you back, you could always just run for mayor of DC.”

This is the first time I remember hearing it articulated so explicitly. Rich people subject to an entirely different set of rules than the working class, literally getting away with murder. Transgressions that would keep normal folk from holding the lowest jobs of society, don’t bar them from even the highest.

It’s hardly uncommon for musicians to to put out anti-rich sentiments, but all too often protest songs fail to provide a solution to the evils they denounce. It’s much easier to throw up one’s hands and say “Somebody do something!” than to commit to actual solutions. Good Charlotte does not decree the problem unsolvable, however, they lay out a clear and simple solution.

“If money is such a problem, well they got mansions. I think we should rob them.”

Marx couldn’t have said it better.

In my youth I thought the lyrics comical. I once shared them with my grandma, thinking she’d laugh. I was promptly scolded for listening to garbage and nonsense. I realized there was something more going on here.

In her refusal to engage and immediate dismissal, it was clear my grandmother, like many before us, had never grappled these themes of class struggle. We 20-somethings, however, were introduced to this in our preteens. At the age where we began to really question this world left to us, here was a jam that not only urged us to question the disparities between rich and working class, but to take real, potentially violent measures to correct these societal ills. These ideas are completely alien to those who have seen prosperity for most of their lifetimes. To us it is second nature.

Today we are broke, underemployed and overworked, and keenly aware of injustices across the globe. We don’t think about Good Charlotte much anymore, and yet, “Lifestyles” seems to have planted a seed that’s grown within the most socialist generation in American history. As we move forward in trying to abolish class, and distribute wealth for a more equal and just society, let us also consider the messages we’re leaving in the songs we write for 12 year olds. They may be scary now, but if we’re cool about it, today’s tweens will be tomorrow’s comrades.