Banning Lou Reed: The Cultural Revolution Eats Its Fathers

The whole comic incident lays bare certain truths about our own cultural moment, compared to the 1960s.

By Maggie Gallagher Published on May 23, 2017

Lou Reed was the minstrel boy to the wars of the sexual revolution. His haunting 1972 anthem urged young Americans to “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.” It celebrated the polymorphous perversity of Andy Warhol’s New York:

Holly came from Miami F.L.A.

Hitchhiked her way across the U.S.A.

Plucked her eyebrows on the way,

Shaved her legs and then he was a she.

She said, “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side.”

Lou Reed was transgressive, progressive, and prodigiously talented. And yet somehow over the weekend Reed became the poster child of “transphobic” intolerance? How?

It’s a strange story.

The Desperate, Heroic Struggle for “Sensitivity”

Meet Chelsea, Emily, Becca and Kayla. They’re the executive officers of the University of Guelph Central Student Association in Ontario, Canada. Guelph is one of Canada’s top five universities. Last Thursday, these young women held an event to distribute summer bus passes. One of them (they won’t say which one) prepared a playlist. It included Reed’s anthem.

Apparently a transgender student complained. The young executives posted a heartfelt apology on the CSA’s official Facebook page. They said that the song appeared because of “ignorance as the person making the list did not know or understand the lyrics.”

We now know the lyrics to this song are hurtful to our friends in the trans community and we’d like to unreservedly apologize for this error in judgement. We have committed as an organization to be more mindful in our music selection during any events we hold.

The next paragraph is both precious and appalling:

If there are students or members of the campus community who overheard the song in our playlist and were hurt by its inclusion and you’d like to talk with us about it and how we can do better, we welcome that. We also recognize you may not want to talk with us and we acknowledge that it is not your responsibility to educate us. Please know that we are taking the steps to educate ourselves further to ensure this error is avoided going forward.”

The post went viral, to vast ridicule. “I don’t know if Lou would be cracking up about this or crying because it’s just too stupid,” Reed’s producer Hal Willner told The Guardian

Chelsea, Emily, Becca, and Kayla took down the Facebook post, but you can see it archived here. What exactly is transphobic about urging a “walk on the wild side?” We learned a little more after one student pushed back against the charge on the Guelph CSA’s Facebook page. 

Here are the new moral rules outlined by the young executive officers of the CSA: “The song is understood to be transphobic because of the lyrics and the sentiments that they support in present day,” the group responded to the student. “The lyrics, ‘and then he was a she,’ devalues the experiences and identities of trans folks.” And thus “minimize the experiences of oppression.” They also said the song was problematic because it suggests that transgender people are “wild,” “unusual” or “unnatural.”

Virtually every human society has understood that disciplining sexuality in the service of children and marriage was a critical and necessary social task.

“While we acknowledge that the song was written with certain purpose and intention, we would also emphasize that media is not always consumed in the ways that it was intended,” they added primly.

The Revolutionaries Gave Way to Functionaries

The whole comic incident lays bare certain truths about our own cultural moment, compared to the 1960s.

The old SSRs (Sixties Sexual Revolutionaries) wanted to transgress norms. To break boundaries. To “liberate” behavior and trample on icons. Then to rip up the Bible-based sexual morality associated with the bourgeois life. The new SJWs want to build a new moral orthodoxy imposed uniformly on all. If anyone from the properly certified minority group has hurt feelings listening to “Walk on the Wild Side,” then nobody should have to hear it. The SJWs want to be the new bourgeois morality.

SSRs attacked Bible-based moral codes. But these sex codes also had deep roots in human nature across lines of culture and religion. They were multicultural in the best sense. Details varied. Virtually every human society has understood that disciplining sexuality in the service of children and marriage was a critical and necessary social task.

Is Sex Important? Does That Question Offend You?

These moral code makers might have overshot the mark from time to time. But certainly the Victorian moralists understood sex’s importance. They knew that something critical was at stake in regulating it.

You can’t take a walk on the wild side in a safe space.

The SJWs also understand that a socially shared morality is important. But the job they wanted social morality to do has radically changed.

Our emerging morality has two big ideas: First, our most important job as a society is now to create good gender-neutral workers who have equal access to good jobs. This is the social task that is critical and must be accomplished. Second, our identity as sexual beings is socially unimportant except to the extent it brings us personal happiness. Sex accomplishes no important social task. Therefore it follows as marriage once followed sexual love that everyone must support all our sexual identities. There is no objective standard a reasonable outsider can apply. Even the intent of the artist doesn’t really matter. The consumer might hear it differently.

The lack of any standard, paradoxically, makes the SJW moral code far more intrusive and punitive than Victorian morality. (Could Lou Reed have ever dreamt of that?) You can’t avoid breaking its rules, since they aren’t announced in advance. You only find out you’ve done wrong once someone complains. And from that, there is no appeal. Guilt is absolute and automatic. You have no choice but to grovel for mercy. The Guelph students clearly knew that. Hence their abject apology.

The old SSR codebreakers threw out the Biblical baby with the bathwater (often literally).

But at least they understood one great and obvious truth: You can’t take a walk on the wild side in a safe space.

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