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Witnessing Suburbia Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture

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Home Improvement

Christian Cultural Criticism and the Defense of "Traditional" Authority

On November 24, 1979, brothers Steve and Jim Peters hosted their first-ever record burning at the campgrounds of Zion Christian Life Center, their church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Describing the "burning celebration" a few years later, the brothers fondly recalled how cheers erupted as some four hundred youths "began to heap their once-prized rock albums onto the fire, nearly choking it with sheer weight." In that single evening, participants burned an estimated $15,000 worth of records, tapes, books, and other items associated with teen culture (in compliance with fire codes, vinyl was smashed, not burned). Steve Peters explained to the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the event was intended not to "censor" rock groups but rather to break youth culture's hold on young people. As he put it, "These records encourage kids to rebel against their home and their parents, and we want that to stop." The event provided young believers with the opportunity to "[align] their lifestyles with their Christian commitments." The brothers continued to hold the events regularly for the next several years, and by 1984 they claimed to have destroyed over $10 million worth of secular records and tapes. Critics compared the event to Nazi book burnings, but the brothers claimed that the burnings were patterned after an episode in the New Testament in which converts burned their idols to show the sincerity of their Christian belief. Given that the event functioned as a radical disavowal—a cultural exorcism of sorts—it might also have summoned memories of the student antiwar protests and draft card burnings of the 1960s. In this case, however, the brothers encouraged teenagers to burn items as a means of reestablishing, rather than severing, their ties to religious and parental authority.

Public bonfires like those hosted by the Peters brothers had long been part of the Christian anti-rock movement's symbolic repertoire, but by the 1980s some evangelical educators specifically avoided avowedly "Christian" denunciations of youth culture. Although alarmed by the influence of popular culture on young people, these devout educators advised readers that activists who identified themselves as parents would be taken more seriously than those who were identifiably Christians. Al Menconi, who staged a record burning at a Christian school in Southern California in the 1970s, had come to believe that Christian threats of hellfire frequently backfired: patently Christian pickets and record burnings simply served to make an artist "more acceptable in the eyes of the rock audience." Menconi recommended that a Christian who wanted to protest concerts or rock stars approach the responsible parties as "a moral, concerned parent—but not as a Christian."

The disparity between a church-sponsored record burning for youth and a family-centered moral critique reveals the self-conscious "modernization" project undertaken by some conservative Christians in the late twentieth century. In both instances, music provided an entry point to debates about cultural reform. Both strategies demonstrate how conservative Christians linked youth culture and social problems and how they aggressively sought to reestablish "youth" as a category of innocence in need of adult protection during the late-twentieth-century culture wars. In both formulations of the reform agenda, culture, rather than socioeconomic structure, was the catalyst for change. In the 1960s, youth culture, particularly rock music, became linked to "countercultural" practices—with attendant links to the New Left and to African American vernacular culture—practices that valued leisure, consumption, and personal freedom at the expense of "traditional" authority structures and beliefs that encouraged obedience, order, and industriousness. Conservatives like the Peters brothers and Al Menconi used the category of youth as a way of articulating a morality-based social criticism, but they disagreed over how best to protect young believers. The evangelical literature about youth culture produced between the 1970s and the 1990s included magazine articles, pamphlets, and an extensive array of full-length monographs—almost all of them written by believers who were white and male. The authors of this material identified entertainment forms as either enemies or allies. Some conservative Christians assailed youth culture as the vanguard of a broader assault on traditional authority structures, while others saw a battleground for cultural and moral reform. The latter group believed that its ability to control and critique youth culture reflected its success in reasserting adult dominion over home and society.

Evangelicals' cultural interventions reflected a critical shift in conservative religious affinities from Old Right to New Right as evangelicals developed "modern" middle-class suburban sensibilities and consumer habits. In both old and new mindsets, the family provided a critical building block of Christian society, and believers worried that a secular worldview encroached on familial authority. Proponents of both views feared that popular culture had replaced parents and church as the primary source of children's socialization. Strict fundamentalists avoided contamination of the Christian worldview by swearing off secular culture—at least in name. Conversely, suburbanized evangelicals like Menconi cautiously accepted television and music into the domestic circle but attempted to maintain careful adult guidance over message and interpretation. Moreover, these evangelicals optimistically believed they could maintain a proactive stand on culture.

At the precise moment that suburban evangelicals mobilized to protect parental prerogatives, other white suburbanites were organizing to protect "local" interests. As historian Lisa McGirr has shown, beginning in the 1950s, conservatives in Sunbelt suburbs such as Orange County, California, became involved in local political campaigns that challenged sex education, abortion, obscenity laws, and school busing and urged a return to "law and order." Historian Matthew Lassiter has argued that the grassroots partisanship of suburban voters mattered less than their "populist identifications" as "homeowners, taxpayers, and schoolparents." These identities merged with consumerism and evangelicalism to form what literary critic Lauren Berlant has called the "national sentimentality" of the Reagan era, defined by "a politics that abjures politics, made on behalf of a private life protected from the harsh realities of power." Berlant argues that groups such as the Parents' Music Resource Center sought to make parenting, rather than citizenship, the identity necessary to enter into public debates. Christian conservatives were at the forefront of this effort to create a "nation controlled by a local, public, community matrix of parental public spheres." As Berlant explains, conservative activists believed that parenting should be considered a "public profession" and maintained that the "core context of politics should be the sphere of private life." Identification with youth and family issues allowed conservatives to forge alliances with nonreligious organizations in public morality campaigns. The 1970s and 1980s—an era of taxpayer revolts, anti-busing protests, the rise of the New Right, campaigns against the Equal Rights Amendment, and demands for "law and order"—witnessed the origins of a parents' movement that aggressively sought to reclaim the category of youth from the movements of the 1960s and to restore "traditional" authority in both public and private spaces.

The era's "parents movement" intersected with what has become known as the culture wars. The political battles of the culture wars are well known, but many of these struggles also involved popular culture, especially since entertainment provided a ready example of the challenges posed to parental authority. Evangelical Christians provided both rhetorical and organizational groundwork in this cultural endeavor. Christian conservatives viewed themselves as guardians of "family values" and believed that the erosion of "law and order" had its roots in challenges to parental authority. They contrasted "family values," with that term's positive invocation of white, suburban, middle-class, patriarchal, and heterosexual authority, to the notion of rioting urban minorities, rebellious white youths associated with the student movement, "emancipated" women associated with the feminist movement, uncloseted homosexuals associated with the gay rights movement, and godless secularists intent on removing religious symbols from the public sphere. In the minds of Christian parents, the identity movements of the 1960s, in alliance with the consumer marketplace, had used youth culture to undermine traditional authority.

Evangelical activists viewed themselves as important historical agents in guiding America's destiny, but they did not view the nuclear family or youth as historically specific ways of organizing social relationships. On the contrary, conservative Christians found a biblical origin for both the form and authority structure of the family and tied this unit to the fate of the nation. Conservative Christians therefore identified with what British sociologist Errol Lawrence describes as the "common sense" construction of the family during the period. Within this ideology, the nuclear family was deemed "the crucial site for the reproduction of those correct social mores, attitudes and behaviours that are thought to be essential to maintaining a 'civilized' society" as well as the site where "'primary socialization' takes place and where 'culture' is reproduced." As Lawrence further explains, the family was "the site in which self-discipline and self-control are 'knocked into' children's heads and in which relations of authority and power are internalized." Within the logic of the culture wars, secular culture disrupted familial sovereignty as it encouraged disobedience and, at times, outright rebellion among young people. Because conservative Christians believed that youthful behavior provided insight into the state of American values, teenagers held important symbolic value for them. An article in the evangelical Christian magazine Moody Monthly named the American adolescent "one of the world's critical mission fields" because "adolescents are the future of our country and the future of our churches." In other words, the cultural and ideological category of youth signified a generational cohort as well as an imagination of America.

Perceptions of youth changed between the 1960s and the 1980s. Beginning in the late 1970s, youth came to be viewed as endangered, rather than dangerous. While the paradigmatic youth of the 1960s was a young hippie or student protester, that of the 1980s was a younger, innocent white child capable of devout belief but in need of parental guidance and protection. The transformation occurred through the efforts of organizations established to represent parental interests, including the well-known Parents' Music Resource Center (PMRC, 1985) as well as antidrug groups such as the Parents' Resource Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE, 1978), the National Federation of Parents for a Drug Free Youth (NFP, 1980), and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD, 1980). While white women usually headed these secular groups, several white male–headed evangelical Christian groups that invoked "family values"—including the American Family Association (AFA, 1976), Focus on the Family (FOF, 1977), and the Family Research Council (FRC, 1980)—also formed during this period. In addition, Anita Bryant, a former Miss America and Florida Citrus Commission spokeswoman, formed Save Our Children in 1977 as part of her successful effort to repeal a gay rights ordinance in Dade County, and Beverly LaHaye, the wife of Left Behind series author Tim LaHaye, established Concerned Women of America (CWA, 1979) to counterbalance organizations such as the National Organization of Women and causes such as the Equal Rights Amendment. Perhaps no program captured the spirit of these groups better than the Back in Control Center, an Orange County–based "family training center" aimed at helping parents establish rules "to de-punk and de-metal" their teenagers

Political posturing and popular culture helped heighten parental fears about targeted attacks on young people. As sociologist Barry Glassner has noted, public panics about juvenile crime, teenage suicides, drug addiction, ritual abuse, and kidnappings of children dominated congressional hearings and news cycles. Such concerns further shifted national attention toward issues dear to the suburban middle class and away from antipoverty and child welfare programs. In 1985 members of the Parents' Music Resource Center appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to discuss labeling for music recordings, particularly heavy metal music. President Reagan soon joined the fray when he noted:

I often think the real heroes of today are the parents, trying to raise their children in an environment that seems to have grown more and more hostile to family life. Music and the media flood their children's world with glorifications of drugs and violence and perversity—and there's nothing they can do about it, they're told, because of the First Amendment.... I don't believe that our Founding Fathers ever intended to create a nation where the rights of pornographers would take precedence over the rights of parents, and the violent and malevolent would be given free rein to prey on our children.

The speech created a decisive binary between the rights of parents and those of "pornographers." In 1986 the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography (also known as the Meese Commission), which included James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, described the impact of pornography on American culture, urged strict enforcement of federal obscenity laws, and endorsed protests, pickets, and boycotts of companies and stores that sold pornographic materials. The findings were announced just after Southland Corporation, the parent company of 7-Eleven stores, announced the beginning of a self-imposed ban on the adult magazines Playboy, Penthouse, and Forum. (Christian groups, claiming that children frequented the stores, had boycotted the stores for months.)

The media incited further public panic with breathless commentary about the ruinous consequences of an untamed contemporary culture. A few weeks after the PMRC hearings, U.S. News and World Report ran a cover story that asked "Do You Know What Your Children Are Listening To?" Echoing Reagan's earlier speech, the article answered with the warning, "Day and night, America's youth are enticed by electronic visions of a world so violent, sensual and narcotic that childhood itself appears to be under siege." In 1988 a Geraldo Rivera special about satanic cults became the highest-rated two-hour documentary to air on television. A similar pattern developed among conservative intellectuals. Picking up the PMRC's denunciation of "porn rock," conservative columnist George Will asked readers, "Would you want to live in a world in which no one, not even the young, blushed?" Like other conservatives, Will linked the content of music to the fate of the nation. One's taste in popular music—"porn rock" versus classical music or even classic rock—demonstrated one's propensity for "discretion" and "self-restraint," he argued. "An individual incapable of shame and embarrassment is probably incapable of the governance of the self. A public incapable of shame and embarrassment about public vulgarity is unsuited to self-government." The debate over popular music thus provided a means for demonstrating self-control, one of the fundamental tenets of the conservative revolution. Allan Bloom continued these criticisms in a chapter of his 1987 best seller, The Closing of the American Mind, when he lamented that rock music and television had "assaulted and overturned the privacy of the home," resulting in "nothing less than parents' loss of control over their children's moral education at a time when no one else is seriously concerned with it." Reflecting the era's shift away from economic amelioration for the poor, each account demonstrated a preoccupation with children's moral, rather than material, well-being.

Not for the first time were Americans debating the proper role of youth culture in children's lives. Over the course of the post–World War II era, teenagers, many of whom earned disposable income from part-time jobs while still enrolled in school, became such an important market for consumer products that advertisers began to attribute adult buying power to them. Teens' newly acquired (and newly identified) buying power accelerated the commodification of youth culture and raised questions about the merits and consequences of children's entry into the consumer marketplace at an earlier age. From time to time, parents worried about the challenges peer culture posed to their authority. Historian James Gilbert calls this concern an "episodic notion" and notes that fears about the impact of youth culture arose about movies in the 1930s and about comic books in the 1950s. While conservative Christians formed a core constituency of anti-rock movements, evangelicals frequently tapped into modern media techniques and trends in order to establish church-sponsored youth groups that would, in Elmer Gantry's words, "take the wreck out of recreation and make it re-creation." The convergence of styles was evident in Billy Graham's Youth for Christ stadium crusades in the 1940s. Years prior to the PMRC hearings, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) cited the impact of music on young people as the basis for their campaign in 1976 to persuade the music industry to remove "sexy songs" from the nation's airwaves. When set alongside the PMRC, the efforts of Operation PUSH reveal the bipartisan nature of parents' movements.

Conservative Christians disagreed about what constituted a "biblical" or "Christian" stance on rock music, yet they concurred that youth culture exerted tremendous influence over young people. Rather than examining the campaigns as efforts at either censorship or co-optation, this study explores Christian conservatives' shifting attitudes toward youth culture to provide insight into how religious conservatives attempted to reenter public conversations about culture at the end of the twentieth century. Many Christian conservatives did, in fact, abhor the content of popular culture. The anti-rock literature generated between the late-1960s and the 1980s featured writers with backgrounds ranging from the anti-communist Right to fundamentalist Christianity to secular youth culture itself. Although each group articulated a slightly different stand on youth culture, most agreed that rock music—whether it represented a communist, countercultural, or Satanic threat—posed a grave danger to the modern Christian church and home. Because rock exerted tremendous mental, spiritual, and physical power over young people, these anti-rock critics believed that youth culture had no role to play in Christians' lives.

Yet as rock music became more engrained in American culture, other Christian conservatives, especially parents, became convinced that the genre could not be spurned entirely. While still suspicious of a secular world that scoffed at their concerns, these Christian conservatives self-consciously honed modern media protest techniques. Rather than protest on the basis of faith alone, this group of Christians became part of the parents' movement to reform the moral content of American culture: the family-based focus of these media experts overlapped with the "secular" guides endorsed by groups such as the Parents Music Resource Center. In the wake of the student movement and counterculture of the 1960s, these believers thought they could redomesticate youth by first taming rock 'n' roll. Instead of characterizing youth as agents (knowing or not) in the destruction of American values, these critics suggested that "innocent" young people needed parental guidance and protection. Parents' multipronged endeavor required vigilance and activism inside and outside the home. First, with the help of media experts, they began to approach youth ministry as they would a mission in a foreign country: by learning the culture. Second, Christians attempted to offer an alternative to secular music through Christian rock, which they believed offered a similar sound and appeal but with a "positive" Christian message. Finally, having secured their authority in the home, parents took one final step: they engaged in consumer and political campaigns against secular rock music in an attempt to cleanse its content.

Christian attitudes toward popular music reveal the contradictions created by the category of youth. The language of popular music, which frequently embraced themes not often associated with the Christian life—sensory satisfaction, personal freedom, rebellion—offered a way for Christians to delineate the boundaries that separated their Bible-believing values from those of the "world." At the same time, many Christians believed they could help the nation re-establish "traditional" authority by exerting greater control over youth culture at home and in public. The sustained alarm over children and media, in turn, demonstrates a narrowed American political discourse concerned with moral, not material, home improvement.

"Dante's Inferno Is Coming to Your Hometown": Anti-Rock Critics

During much of the post-1945 period, popular music provided conservative Christians with a catchall explanation for everything that was geopolitically threatening, physically perilous, or spiritually sinister. Even as moderate evangelicals like Billy Graham hosted wildly successful revivals that openly appealed to young people with finely calibrated marketing campaigns and contemporary-style gospel music, conservatives sought to avoid the stain of contemporary music. Their fears intensified in the 1960s. Assertions about rock music differed as to its precise sins, but conservatives generally agreed that the genre was a pernicious force in American society. Held to be synonymous with the counterculture and the 1960s, rock 'n' roll was thought to have conspired with communist and satanic groups, encouraged miscegenation, altered sexual mores, and incited sustained social unrest. Beginning in the late 1960s, however, the critique of rock 'n' roll increasingly shifted away from its reputed association with world communism toward its influence on domestic institutions. Critics suggested that the music posed a special danger to the Christian church and Christian home. This rhetorical shift suggests that consumer affluence and parent-child generational dissidence had crept into the lives of conservative Christians. Critics argued that rock music seduced "good kids" from "good homes" into sinful behavior, undermining parental efforts to instill self-discipline and morality into children and creating a "generation gap" within the home.

Some anti-rock activists with connections to the anti-communist movement insisted that rock music held geopolitical significance: the genre was part of the larger domestic communist threat. Just as there could be no neutral ground in the global battle against communism, popular music was strictly divided between the "free" and "unfree." And, as in the Cold War, there were wars of liberation. For a brief time, one of the great lights of the anti-communist movement in the United States, Australian-born physician Fred Schwarz of the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade (CACC), embraced the most quintessentially communistic form of auditory expression: folk music. In 1961 Schwarz helped stir the anti-communist awakening in Los Angeles and Orange County with his School of Anti-Communism, which featured "student day" and "youth nite" with appearances by such performers as Ronald Reagan, Pat Boone, Roy Rogers, and Dale Evans. Despite the presence of pop and country music performers, the movement began maximizing its use of music as an anti-Bolshevik pedagogical aid only in 1964. In the organization's newsletter, Schwarz noted that "every great movement throughout history has expressed its inspiration in music" and lamented that anti-communists had underutilized the medium, especially in contrast to the Reds' deployment of singers such as Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger. In the mounting cultural arms race, Schwarz intended to fight fire with fire. He therefore hired Janet Greene, a television personality from Columbus, Ohio, to set his raging diatribes to music. Greene soon became known as the anti-communist movement's "anti–Joan Baez" for her arsenal of freedom-loving songs, including "Commie Lies," "Poor Left Winger," "Comrade's Lament," and "Fascist Threat" (the last a song set to a jarring calypso beat that might well have evoked concerns about voodoo from other religious conservatives). In the CACC newsletter item announcing her hiring, Greene noted the important role women and mothers could play in fighting domestic communism. The CACC emphatically agreed and suggested that Greene's program was "ideal for meetings of PTA's, Womens Clubs [sic]," "church groups," and "gatherings in the home." Through Greene's activism, the anti-communist message could extend into female-dominated civil organizations such as the school, church, and home.

Despite Schwarz's foray into popular music production, other conservatives continued to believe that Christians would be wise to avoid youth culture—even Christian incarnations of popular music—altogether. The connection to communism was simply too great. For these conservative Christians, separation, not engagement, was the solution to defusing rock's potency. The most prolific and impassioned opponent of rock music was David Noebel, a Tulsa-based conservative who began his career working for radio preacher Billy James Hargis's virulently anti-communist Christian Crusade. Shortly after the British rock invasion of the 1960s, Noebel began to insist that contemporary music—including folk as well as rock—was a key component in communism's "mind warfare" against American society. The opening salvo in his rhetorical war against popular music was a twenty-six-page diatribe against the recently arrived lads from Liverpool. Entitled Communism, Hypnotism, and the Beatles (1965), the manifesto was published a year before John Lennon described Jesus' disciples as "thick and ordinary" and declared, in an interview with the London Evening Standard, that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.

Noebel's pamphlet also attacked the recordings produced by Young People's Records and the Children's Record Guild. YPR and CRG taught children about folk music and folklore, as well as classical and modern composers, while employing progressive pedagogical theories of music instruction such as active participation and performance. The record companies' ties to left-leaning cultural figures of the 1930s folk scene and their leftist politics had led a HUAC witness in 1947, the Hearst newspaper New York Journal-American in 1949, and Red Channels (a 1950 publication of the FBI front group the American Business Consultants) to charge that they formed a communist cultural front. Nonetheless, the records were staples of classroom and children's collections and had secured seals of approval from Good Housekeeping and Parents' Magazine. Noebel, however, revived charges of communist links. Whereas earlier red-baiting charges had complained of some of the music's proletarian lyrical affinities, Noebel now attacked the music as well. He alleged that communism had "contrived an elaborate and scientific technique directed at rendering a generation of American youth useless through nerve-jamming, mental deterioration and retardation." Although mainstream media accounts openly mocked Noebel's efforts, his pamphlet nevertheless persuaded parents in Torrance, California, to form an advocacy group, Torrance Committee of Parents Concerned About Communist Records, to demand the removal of nursery records from classrooms. The group, which had ties to the John Birch Society, ultimately failed: while the school board initially voted to cancel the district's subscriptions and to consider removing the records from classrooms, district trustees eventually voted to keep the records in classrooms and, further, to continue purchasing records.

In subsequent works such as Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution (1966) and The Beatles: A Study in Drugs, Sex, and Revolution (1969), Noebel continued his crusade against the "hidden dangers of rock 'n' roll." According to Noebel, the genre undermined the emotional, psychological, spiritual, and moral strength of the nation's populace. He consistently linked rock 'n' roll with social unrest. In The Marxist Minstrels (1973) Noebel once again suggested that communists deliberately targeted young people, who were induced to commit "menticide," defined as a "lethal psychological process that produces a literal suicide of the mind." Although he claimed that "menticide" indicated an epidemic of youth self-destruction, Noebel also argued that the young people so manipulated would not just fade away: communists, having used rock music to destroy "youths' ability to relax, reflect, study and meditate," thereby prepared youths "for riot, civil disobedience and revolution."

Noebel reserved a special hatred for Bob Dylan and the Beatles, deeming them emblematic of a generation that embraced promiscuous attitudes toward drugs and sex while shamelessly ignoring religious and moral authority. He argued that Dylan's synthesis of rock and folk styles spelled the doom of the United States. "No nation can long endure," Noebel wrote, "with its younger generation singing itself into defeatism, pessimism, a peace-at-any-price mentality, disarmament, appeasement, surrender, fear of death, hatred toward the South, atheism, immorality, drugs, revolution and negation of patriotism." While Noebel associated Dylan and folk music with political causes such as the antiwar and civil rights movements, he associated the Beatles with drug experimentation and the sexual revolution, which together fed youths' desire for further rebellion. Noebel believed that the Beatles, though not necessarily communists themselves, were certainly serving the ends of communism in general and the New Left in particular. Communism's use of cultural intermediaries to destroy the United States underscored the seductive power of music: Noebel reminded readers that the Soviet Union, no doubt aware of rock's psychological powers, had wisely banned the genre in the early 1960s.

In books about rock music that David Noebel published until well into the 1980s, he continued to link the growth of rock to internal subversion by communists. He was joined by the Movement to Restore Decency (MOTOREDE), the anti–sex education wing of the anti-communist John Birch Society. During the late 1960s, MOTOREDE dabbled in cultural criticism through anti-counterculture pamphlets such as The De-Generation Gap and The Pied Pipers: Pot, Rock, and Revolution. While MOTOREDE focused on drugs and opposition to sex education in schools, other conservatives focused on the degenerative effect of counterculture fashion on the national body. In a pamphlet entitled Skimpy Skirts and Hippie Hair, Dr. Hugh F. Pyle, pastor of the Central Baptist Church in Panama City, Florida, proclaimed, "Schools are being disrupted, homes divided, churches confused, and society itself embroiled over the issue of 'hair'!" More interested in endearing himself to parents than to children, Pyle dismissed the religious counterculture's portrayal of Jesus as a "skid-row welfare case who looked like a shiftless hippie," and he demanded that youths "[shift] your bubble gum, [turn] down your transistor, and [push] your locks back out of your eyes" long enough to consider the detrimental impact of long hair on American society. Long hair among young men was part of a "planned, calculated trend" of "Commie Goals" that would "break down the manliness of American men" and develop a "'unisex' population of weaklings." External communism was the ultimate cause of degradation, but conservative hostility increasingly focused on countercultural youth.

Critics who could divine geopolitical threats from trends in music, dress, and hair styles were a vanishing breed by the early 1970s. Anti-rock critics continued to use aspects of anti-communists' arguments, but the dearth of additional voices that linked rock music with the Soviet threat reflected a larger trend in rhetorical strategies among conservatives. As historian David Bennett has explained, Protestant fundamentalists may have warned about the threat of domestic collectivism and Soviet expansion abroad after the 1970s, but they seldom issued accusations of internal communism. Concerned about the changes brought about by the 1960s, conservative Christians instead attacked intellectual elites, the federal government, and countercultural youths for seizing power at the expense of "traditional" morality and authority structures such as the family and church.

During the 1970s, many conservative Christians focused on political issues such as educational curriculum and school prayer that held symbolic importance for reproducing values in young people. Criticism of youth culture, given its (somewhat contradictory) associations with the entertainment industry, the New Left, and African American vernacular culture, offered conservatives a way to express their displeasure with the cultural and religious changes wrought by both the counterculture and the Great Society, which conservatives believed encouraged personal freedom and centralized government at the expense of traditional authority structures and beliefs. For example, in 1970 evangelist Bob Larson, a self-described former rock musician, surveyed the national landscape and assessed the consequences of the sustained popularity of rock 'n' roll since the 1950s. Americans had recently witnessed some of the decade's most violent expressions of individual and collective anger: riots in Detroit and Newark, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the Democratic national convention in Chicago, and campus antiwar protests. Larson found a common link among these events. "Rock music," he declared, "has ... taken over the role of the major influence upon youth. It has given them a national sense of identification." More than giving youths a sense of peer identity, however, music had also "replaced the traditional institution [sic] of society such as the church, school, and family unit." Rock had, he suggested, "unified the voice of the teenage bloc and given solidarity to their rebellion."

While rock music provided a source of peer identity for a rebellious generation, it also provided an alarming index of the state of American morality. According to Bob Larson, "music is an expression and indicator of the values of the society or portion of that society which has produced it. Observe this barometer in a particular era and it is possible to discern the minds of men during that era. Rock music seems to express the shifting values of our society and the hectic, confused speed of the times." In an attempt to "discern the minds" of the generation that produced rock music during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Christian anti-rock critics evaluated not just music but also its consequences and the trends with which it was associated.

The suggestion that rock music reflected American values represented an important shift in conservative Christians' thinking about the genre: whereas Noebel had suggested that a foreign enemy targeted the young, the following generation of fundamentalist separatists asserted that the young—or at least those youth associated with the counterculture or identity movements—were the enemy. In the estimation of fundamentalist critics, the rock music of the 1960s was a promiscuous genre associated with a wide range of radical social causes and immoral cultural phenomena. Frank Garlock, a music pr