One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock … Five, six, seven o’clock, eight o’clock rock … Nine, ten, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock rock, We’re going to rock around the clock tonight.
If you’re like me, it’s hard to read that without setting it to music in your head. It makes you want to tap your toe. I envision two young people on the dance floor jitterbugging the night away. That’s how it impacts my mind, anyway.
But the impact of that song on popular culture is of much greater significance. Before Bill Haley’s 1955 classic blared inside theaters from coast to coast over the opening credits of The Blackboard Jungle, mainstream culture was utterly unfamiliar with that little thing called “rock ‘n’ roll.” But buoyed by that film’s popularity among teens, “Rock Around the Clock” became an instant international sensation.
The movie—some say the first-ever teen movie—is about a high school teacher who tries to educate a group of teenage thugs. Its rebellious thematic elements found fertile ground within a developing youth subculture. “The Blackboard Jungle and its popularization of rock and roll gave restless teens the means to express themselves in a manner that was not technically delinquent, but satisfyingly discomfiting,” wrote Tony Atherton in the Ottawa Citizen (March 19).
In certain sectors of American society, both Haley’s song and the movie were boycotted—even banned. In Britain, the movie sparked riots inside some theaters. If anything, though, the controversy fueled more widespread interest and popularity. (Until 1997, “Rock Around the Clock” had been the top-selling single of all time—with more than 25 million copies sold.)
In many ways, the youth revolution of the 1960s started in 1955 with that movie. It was the first time a movie ever had a rock and roll soundtrack. It was the first time a rock and roll song ever hit the top of the music charts. And 1955 was the first time youth counterculture set foot in mainstream culture—a place that had always been dominated by adult interests and tastes.
“Between the release of The Blackboard Jungle and the end of the decade,” Atherton wrote, “revenues for the U.S. recording industry almost tripled to $603 million, and rock and roll, which had barely existed as a genre before 1955, accounted for almost half the total.
“By 1959, teens controlled the music industry, had become the key audience for radio and had been targeted as the ideal consumer by the movie industry” (ibid., emphasis mine throughout).
The same thing happened in Hollywood. As Thomas Doherty wrote in his 2002 book, Teenagers and Teenpics, “Since the 1950s, moviemakers have been forced to narrow their focus and attract the one group with the requisite income, leisure and gregariousness to sustain a theatrical business. The courtship of the teenage audience began in earnest in 1955; by 1960, the romance was in full bloom. That shift in marketing strategy and production initiated a progressive ‘juvenilization’ of film content and the film audience that is today the operative reality of the American motion picture business.”
It all started so seemingly innocently in the mid-1950s—with undisciplined, restless youths, spoiled by prosperity. But it resulted in a disobedient and rebellious youth culture grabbing mainstream culture by the throat.
The Teen Influence
Way ahead of his time, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote, “Few people stop to realize to what extent the teenagers have taken over today. They pretty well dominate the world picture” (God Speaks Out on “The New Morality”). He wrote that in 1964—more than 40 years ago!
“Now look at the facts,” Mr. Armstrong continued. “Why do so many radio stations turn to a ‘rock and roll’ format today? Because the rating agencies will show that they have the highest ‘ratings’—that is, the largest listening audience. But who is listening? Nearly altogether just ‘kids’ in the lower or middle teens. But the rating agencies do not show the time-buyer who is listening—only how many! So Big Business, and local ‘little business,’ spend millions of dollars for radio time on the stations with the ‘highest ratings.’
“But then, they say that these youths pretty well dominate the nation’s consumer spending!”
Indeed, in 2003 American teens spent about $175 billion—an eye-popping figure that makes marketers and advertisers salivate. According to a September report from the Institute of Medicine, the food and beverage industries alone spend between $10 and $12 billion per year marketing to youth.
Marketers target young people not only for what they spend directly, but also for what they influence adults to spend. It is estimated that American children goad their parents into spending around $200 billion per year. According to Marcel Danesi in Forever Young—the Teen-Aging of Modern Culture, “Virtually the entire media-entertainment industry today depends for its economic survival on capturing the ‘teen dollar.’ For this reason, it caters primarily to the adolescent market. There is a veritable synergy today between that industry and adolescent lifestyles—they influence each other in tandem.”
Mr. Armstrong asked, “Who determines what is ‘popular music’ today? The ‘teens.’ Even the radio stations who do not go to rock and roll, in the main, play what is called ‘popular’ music. …
“Adolescents determine dancing trends, motion-picture themes, radio formats, and even advertisements and most fields of entertainment!” (op. cit.).
Yes, indeed. Teenagers pretty much dominate Western culture.
Mr. Armstrong continued, “What many do not realize is that this teenage influence on the whole society is predominantly sexual influence. There is much more intense preoccupation with sex during these years than in later maturity.
“Therefore sex became the basic formula for motion pictures—along with crime, including murder” (ibid.).
Here again, this was written in 1964! Think about the last time you listened to a popular song from the late 1950s or early ’60s—or watched a tv program or movie from that era. If you’ve ever done that, violence and sex are probably not the terms you would use to describe such “old fashioned” entertainment. More like harmless or innocent—maybe even prudish. But that’s because you would be judging those “classics” by comparing them to the much more vulgar forms of modern entertainment.
By today’s standards, of course, television, movies and music from the early ’60s certainly seem harmless. But that is exactly the point—look at today’s “standards”! Mr. Armstrong, with the benefit of God’s guidance, could see the very beginning stages of a society-wide cultural revolution—spearheaded by teenagers—and where it was leading.
A good way to track society’s changing attitudes toward sexuality is to look at the changing dating habits of teenagers. Here is how the New York Times described the custom of dating in the early 1960s: “With marriage occurring at a younger and younger age, teenagers started dating earlier, too. It wasn’t uncommon for 13-year-olds to go steady” (May 30, 2004). The Times cited one 1961 study where “40 percent of fifth graders were already dating (for many, this meant holding hands and kissing).” Sounds pretty tame—again, when compared to today. But back then, these were monumental shifts in teenage morality.
Prior to World War ii, a young man’s popularity, in large part, was determined by how many different girls he dated. And in most cases, dating many different girls did not mean having sex with them.
After the war, however, the custom of dating widely began to change, in part because of media hype over the “man shortage” brought on by two world wars. Frightened at the prospect of ending up as old maids, girls were more urgent about finding one man and pairing off with him—even at young ages. By 1960, nearly half of all new brides were under 19. And many who weren’t married went to college for the sole purpose of finding a man. Of course, this led to a lot of mismatched couples, unhappy marriages, and, eventually, divorce.
Besides all that, pairing off earlier had a devastating effect on youth dating practices, as Mr. Armstrong explained in his book. Once older teens began “going steady,” it wasn’t long before younger ones started to pair off. Human nature wants to belong, he explained. In the case of dating, young people wanted to go along with what their peers were doing—even if it meant rebelling against adult authority.
A bigger problem with the going-steady custom, Mr. Armstrong wrote, is that it “brings familiarity, and familiarity breeds a certain contempt—in this instance, contempt for chastity, virtue and honor. … The very familiarity of steady dating makes it easier for the boy to make bolder advances in ‘necking,’ and then going on further into sexual intercourse. It makes it more difficult for the girl to say ‘no.’ It tends to lower bars of resistance, and increases the temptation to carry intimacies to the limit.
“The fruits of going steady are definitely not good!” (op. cit.).
Yet, as bad as those fruits were during the sexual revolution years of the 1950s and ’60s, young people could at least rely on some parental guidance when dating. In many cases, the boy had to call the girl’s home to set up a date. Maybe he borrowed Dad’s car, then drove to the girl’s house where he would meet her father. The father, if he had any sense, laid down the ground rules—she had to be home by a certain time, or else. At the very least, parents had a better idea of who their children associated with and who they were dating—even if the two teens were off fornicating in the back seat of a car.
And in cases where fornication led to premarital pregnancy, there was still enough societal pressure on the young man to at least marry the girl and help rear the child.
Not that any of that is acceptable—God’s law forbids premarital sex. But look at how much worse it is today. The divorce epidemic started splitting apart about half of all new marriages by the early 1980s. This meant that in many cases, Dad was not around to meet the daughter’s new boyfriend. The flight of mothers out of the home and into the workforce also widened the gap that separated young people from parental guidance.
Along the way, advancements in technology and affluence contributed to the dissolution of dating customs and trends. If entertainment media were responsible for educating youths in the new immorality during the ’50s and ’60s, the automobile provided the means by which they could go off and practice what had been preached. What began as a family luxury quickly turned into a necessity—not for adults only, but also for youth culture. Dating activities centered around the use of a vehicle. Cars provided steady couples with plenty of alone time—away from parents. All too often, it led to sex.
By the mid-1980s, many young people no longer needed Dad’s keys to go out on dates—they had their own cars. Around that time, another movement was underway that would push youth culture to new lows in sexual behavior: the Information Age.
Before that time, the steady stream of sexually charged cultural content flowed into homes primarily through over-the-air radio and television signals. But with the advent of vcrs, cable television, movie channels and pay-per-view, the same steady stream turned into a raging river during the 1980s. This upsurge in competition within the entertainment industry left television and radio producers scrambling to hold on to their niche audience. They turned to teens with a vengeance, Atherton said in his article, with programs like Beverly Hills 90210.
“One network, nbc, has been frank and unapologetic about its need to compete with the more explicit world of cable tv,” Gloria Goodale wrote in the Christian Science Monitor. “It recently decided to be the only big broadcast network to air ads for hard liquor” (Feb. 1, 2002).
By the end of the 1990s, the raging river became a destructive tidal wave, thanks to satellite and digital technology—and especially the Internet. The basic formula remained the same—predominantly sexual. It’s just a lot more shocking and explicit.
Goodale stated in her 2002 article, “Pornographic images, erotic paraphernalia, and raunchy sexual talk are reaching a near-saturation point in the daily lives of Americans, through television, movies, magazines and the Internet, say a growing chorus of expert voices. And the target market is an increasingly younger audience” (ibid.). Surprise! Surprise! Young people are the primary target!
Goodale points to three factors that have brought pornography into mainstream culture: 1) the absence of prosecutions against obscenity distributors; 2) the expansion of entertainment media into the world of cable, dvds, etc.; and 3) the rise of the Internet.
It used to be, if you were looking for porn, you had to enter a dingy theater in the seedy part of town or the back room of a video store. The thought of someone seeing you pay for such smut, even if only a cashier at a store, must have discouraged the masses from even thinking about such activities. Added to that, you had to be old enough to get into strip clubs and x-rated theaters.
But now that pornography is ubiquitously available to everyone, the target audience is consuming it in record numbers. Approximately 11 million American children ages 12 to 17 visit porn sites every week, making children the largest group of porn consumers on the Internet. The average age for first-time viewers has now dropped to 8 years old (Fox News, June 30, 2004).
Meanwhile, the message coming from the more “wholesome” forms of entertainment in pop culture is that porn addiction is harmless fun. It’s the good guys on television and in the movies who now enjoy porn—not the rapists or pedophiles. And does porn consumption present any problems for wives or girlfriends in the land of make believe? Not at all! It’s normal—guys being guys. A 1990s sitcom even had one episode where its entire cast became addicted to porn—guys and girls. In 2002, nbc selected Playboy models—porn stars, actually—to compete in one of its reality shows. “We’re just having fun,” said the president of nbc Entertainment, Jeff Zucker.
What would Americans have thought, even during the tumultuous 1960s era, about a Victoria’s Secret fashion show—so explicit, editors had to blur the nudity—playing in prime time on one of the big three networks?
Another question: Now that we’ve reached “near-saturation point” in porn culture, what impact is it having on our young people—on their attitudes and views about dating, love, sex, marriage and family?
Again, look at the change in dating habits. According to one 2001 study, dating has all but disappeared from popular culture. In its place is a “hook up” culture that allows young people to still have sex, but without any relationship strings attached. Why date many different personality types in preparation for your marriage and family career when you can instead have your pornographic fantasy come true?
According to the study, 40 percent of college women admitted to hooking up with a young man for casual sex. Ten percent have done it more than six times. Some 91 percent said hook-ups occurred “very often” or “fairly often” at their school. As Ben Shapiro wrote in his new book, Porn Generation, “With sex readily available at every turn, it’s no wonder only 38 percent of college guys are in a serious relationship.”
And of course, as Mr. Armstrong told us, if it’s a popular custom among 18-and-19-year-olds in college, it doesn’t take long for it to filter down to the younger ones. According to the New York Times, “Recent studies show that it’s not uncommon for high school students to have sex with someone they aren’t dating. … A 2001 survey … found that of the 55 percent of local 11th graders who engaged in intercourse, 60 percent said they’d had sex with a partner who was no more than a friend. That number would perhaps be higher if the study asked about oral sex. While the teen intercourse rate has declined—from 54 percent in 1991 to 47 percent in 2003—this may be partly because teenagers have simply replaced intercourse with oral sex. To a generation raised on mtv, aids, Britney Spears, Internet porn, Monica Lewinsky and Sex and the City, oral sex is definitely not sex, and hooking up is definitely not a big deal” (op. cit.).
The article referred to several popular websites among teens where you can submit a photograph of yourself, have it rated, and then possibly hook up with another youngster in your area. No-strings-attached sex with a complete stranger. Only in a porn culture.
In December 2002, researchers for Pediatrics magazine published their findings of a survey among teens that asked this simple question: Where are kids having sex? Out of over a thousand boys surveyed from six different public schools, 91 percent of those who had had intercourse said the most recent time was in a home setting—either their own home, their partner’s home or a friend’s home—and usually after school.
Divorce, working moms, modern technology, “adult” entertainment—what dramatic changes these trends have had on teen culture. Who needs a steady girlfriend, or even an automobile for that matter, when you can arrange for sex with a stranger over the Internet and have it in the comfort of your parents’ own home?
We’ve come a long way since “Rock Around the Clock.”
Perhaps more shocking than our free fall into the depths of sexual depravity is that many of our most influential leaders either seem unconcerned about the direction we are headed or, even worse, find reasons to be encouraged by it. One former U.S. president, commenting on the 1990s decline in teen pregnancies, said in 2000, “Teens in every state, across ethnic and racial groups, are making more responsible life decisions. As a nation, we can be proud of these encouraging trends.”
But God is assuredly not encouraged by these trends. Yes, the teen birth rate has gone down, but not because teens are abstaining from sex. At least two thirds of high school seniors have experimented with some form of sexual activity, according to a 2002 Planned Parenthood study. The teen birth rate is down because young people are wiser in the ways of using contraceptives and in performing sex acts where pregnancy is less likely. And even if the worldly “wisdom” of using “protection” has reduced the teen birth rate, it has not slowed the rate of out-of-wedlock births. One out of every three children born in the United States is illegitimate. That is not encouraging.
Contraceptives have also done nothing to stop the out-of-control spread of sexually transmitted diseases—especially among teenagers. In fact, the widespread availability of birth control has only made matters worse, as Mary Eberstadt proves in her book Home-Alone America: “The very contraceptives that have made the teenage birth rate go down have also made casual sex easier than ever, thus making the std rate simultaneously rocket up.” She points out that of the top 10 reported diseases in the United States, five of them are stds. And of the 18 million or so new cases of std infection reported each year, half come from young people between the ages of 15 and 24.
The media blackout on the subject of stds—particularly their rampant spread among teens—is inexcusable. Many teens have been led to believe that stds are just sores that can be treated with a cream. In fact, stds kill people by the thousands every year. And even if not deadly, others can cause life-long complications like infertility, difficulties with childbirth and birth defects.
That leading voices in society are not sounding the alarm about such deadly dangers is disgraceful. That others, while looking through rose-colored glasses, are “encouraged” by the direction youth culture is headed is the worst kind of ignorance. It also highlights the devastating effect a teenage-dominant culture has had on adulthood.
With about 35 million in America already, teenagers make up our fastest-growing demographic. In a godly society, we would be applauding and encouraged by that statistic. God has always intended for children to be a blessing to their parents—like “olive plants” around the table (Psalms 128:3)—and to society (Proverbs 20:29; 1 Timothy 4:12).
In these latter days, however, prophecy points to our youth as being a burden on society. Instead of helping to build it up, our own offspring are tearing it down. Isaiah 3:12 describes our children as being “oppressors”—a word that means to tax, harass and tyrannize.
This prophecy in Isaiah 3 is being fulfilled in two ways, primarily. One is in the more literal sense of youth oppressing society by their rebellious disregard for adult authority. Look at verse 5: “… the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable.” The pervasive attitude young people have toward their elders in Western society is one of rebellious disrespect. In the most extreme cases, it can become violent. Teens commit three times as many crimes as adults. Our prisons are filled with young people. This is not encouraging.
The other fulfillment of this prophecy is even deadlier than the most violent youth killer. It’s described in verse 4: “And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them.“ God isn’t talking about children with respect to age necessarily, but rather the way adults are ruling: like children! Read the first three verses of Isaiah 3 and you will see all the qualities of leadership that have vanished from our society: vision, prudence, judgment, wisdom, honor and eloquence. God said these kinds of qualities would be practically extinct today. And it’s because, in far too many cases, our leaders—whether in the home, within education, or business, or in government—have degenerated to a child’s level of understanding. Instead of preparing our children for the responsibilities of adulthood, we, as adults, are acting like children.
Time magazine recently reported on a new phenomenon among youths—about how long it is taking them to transition into adulthood (January 24). “They’re not kids anymore,” the subtitle to the article says, “but they’re not adults either.” So what are they? According to Time, they’re twixters—men and women (or boys and girls?) between the age of 18 and 25 who don’t want adult responsibility. Social scientists have noticed an increase in the number of young “adults” who still live with their parents and who have no clear goal or ambition in life. The number of 26-year-olds who live with their parents has nearly doubled since 1970 from 11 percent to 20.
A couple years ago, the American Psychiatric Association even went so far as to define the stage of adolescence as a period that extends from puberty to age 34—the time they believe most youths enter the independent stage of adulthood. What that means, as Tony Atherton brought out in his article, is that adolescence for today’s youth lasts about three times longer than it did in previous generations.
Granted, marrying at 18 is too young. But a 34-year-oldadolescent? Jesus Christ—the greatest teacher who ever lived—sacrificed His life for the world at age 33. What would He have thought about our immature, teen-dominated, sexually perverse, gross-out culture?
Even religion, the last place you would expect teens to dominate, is dumbing its message down to attract younger crowds. Here in Edmond, Okla. (where the Trumpet is headquartered), one evangelical minister surveyed the area and found potential church-goers fed up with how boring religious services had become. “So he designed Life Church to counter those preconceptions, with lively, multimedia-filled services in a setting that’s something between a rock concert and a coffee shop” (Business Week, May 23). According to the article, even as Protestant and Catholic denominations are seeing their congregants leave—especially young ones—evangelical megachurches are booming because they are adapting to “contemporary culture.” “Kids are often a prime target audience for megachurches. The main campus of [Craig] Groeschel’s Life Church in Edmond, Okla., includes a ‘Toon Town’ of 3d buildings, a 16-foot-high slide, and an animatronic police chief who recites rules. All the razzmatazz has helped Life Church quadruple its Sunday school attendance to more than 2,500 a week. ‘The kids are bringing their parents to church,’ says children’s pastor Scott Werner.”
Jesus Christ is not encouraged by this trend. Neither is He encouraged by the same trend extant in education, business and government.
In 1 Corinthians 13:11, the Apostle Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Today, instead of putting away childish things and preparing our own children for adulthood, we are letting youth culture educate us.
“It’s the commercial media entertainment economy at work,” wrote Danesi in Forever Young. “Age is now considered a disease. Youth sells. There’s a big emphasis on having it all: good living, keeping your youth, having as much fun as you can. It’s empty because there is no wisdom behind it.” Worse still, he goes on to explain, “It’s a cultural disease. And now we’re into the final silly stages.”
A Different World
There are those who brush aside our cultural slide into gross immorality as being no different than previous generations. And in one sense, that’s true. Human nature, as revealed in the Bible, has always been hostile to God’s law. But as Mr. Armstrong brought out in his book, we live in a different world today. “Human nature, adapting to changing times, expresses itself very differently today,” he wrote (op. cit.). Writing in 1964, Mr. Armstrong was referring to society a generation before the Information Age—before the Internet—before porn went mainstream. What a different world this is today even compared to 1964.
The Apostle Paul described the days in which we live in 2 Timothy 3. “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come” (verse 1). These are dangerous times! But how can we be certain this passage is referring to our day—to our culture?
“For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (verses 2-4). Paul is describing human nature in all of its ugly colors! In these latter days, we are beginning to see just how rotten human nature is. In one sense, human nature has always been the same—but it gets worse if the environment around it degenerates.
“But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13). People deceive themselves by thinking there is no special danger right now—that the world has always been like this. It has always been bad—but it’s getting so much worse. And today, unlike eras of old, modern advances have made the possibility of human annihilation a stark reality. That, of itself, ought to wake us up!
Of greater concern is our upside-down society—our rapidly deteriorating marriage and family structure. “Few, indeed, realize the shocking facts of this accelerating downward plunge,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “It is rapidly becoming a greater threat to humanity than the hydrogen bomb!” (ibid.). Like every other statement we have used from Mr. Armstrong’s 1964 book, this one will be proven true as well.
Jesus assured us of that in Luke 17:26: “And as it was in the days of [Noah], so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.” Christ said these latter days would be comparable to the days before the Flood. Genesis 6:5 describes the pre-Flood society: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
God is not “encouraged” by our sexually-charged, teen-dominated culture. He’s disgusted with it like He was with the pre-Flood society—the way He was with Sodom and Gomorrah. Read 2 Peter 2:4-6 and see what pervasive sin ultimately led to in the case of those two societies.
It will happen again. God assures us of that in Bible prophecy. Mr. Armstrong wrote about it in his 1981 book, The Missing Dimension in Sex: “Since it is a basic truism that a solid family structure is the foundational bulwark of any stable and permanent society, this fact means only one thing—civilization as we know it is on the way down—and out—unless that great ‘Unseen Strong Hand from Someplace’ soon intervenes and saves today’s sick society.”
In fact, God will intervene to save humanity, but not until we teeter on the brink of total disaster.
If you are interested in the book we have quoted from throughout this article, God Speaks Out on “The New Morality,” we have good news. Seven years after Mr. Armstrong first published it in 1964, he felt the need to update and revise the text. When he did that in 1971, he also revised the book’s title, changing it to The Missing Dimension in Sex. Five years before Mr. Armstrong died, he updated the book one final time—in 1981—and that’s the same version we have been distributing for the past seven years.
If you don’t have a copy, please request one. It was inspired by that “Unseen Strong Hand”—it reveals the only safe passage out of our sin-sick youth culture.