Much ink has been spilled on the fact that Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan is a relative whippersnapper—born in 1970, the Wisconsin representative is 42 years old. Depending on who you’re talking to, this makes him part of “generation x,” or “the 13th generation,” or “that demographic clump that lazy columnists try to simultaneously define by referencing Clerks and Nirvana, even though things like Collective Soul and Forrest Gump were also kind of important cultural touchstones in 1994.” Last night, he took these comparisons and, uh, sort of hobbled around the Tampa Bay Times Forum stage with them, zinging his 65-year-old cob nobbler of a running mate for not liking with-it music. Like… Led Zeppelin?
Leaving aside a) my feelings on the overall creepiness of Ryan’s agenda, particularly his willy-nilly attitude toward things like “facts” and “poor people” and “the rights of women,” b) his excruciating comic timing (what, he didn’t have time to squeeze in a couple of improv classes while packing for Tampa?), and c) the fact that he apparently trained his music player’s library to recognize “Led” as an article, the thing about this joke is that… well… AC/DC and Led Zeppelin aren’t exactly living on the bleeding edge. Led Zep’s Robert Plant is a year younger than Romney; AC/DC’s Angus Young is 57. And maybe this speaks to the sorts of hotels I patronize, but the elevator music in the hotels where I stay—when there’s music in them—tends more toward late-’90s chilltronica than it does Lawrence Welk. And I’ve definitely heard classic-rock chestnuts like “Rock & Roll” in at least one of them.
Now, you could argue that Ryan’s joke, right down to the tortured, “can you believe I’m speaking this truth?” delivery, was in fact subversive in an “alternative to what?” way, that by citing the hegemonic forces of classic rock as a sign that he was in fact hip Ryan was in reality being the ultimate representative of his generation, co-opting the gestures of rebellion for the sole purposes of holding up the status quo—which just so happens to be white and male. (Coincidences! Someone get that man a Fruitopia!) Tom Frank probably couldn’t have scripted it better, right down to the uproarious laughter Ryan’s self-satisfied “Zeppelin!” got.
Here’s the thing, though: Romney has said in interviews that he’s a fan of the Killers. Sure, this is probably the result of the Mormon connection, and I’m sure that some boutique hotel chain has “Mr. Brightside” on its elevators’ playlist, but Brandon Flowers is way younger than Robert Plant. (Not to mention that at least Romney’s listening to other American artists like Toby Keith and Garth Brooks alongside Hot Fuss. We built it, huh?) If you can’t expect a politician to even root his cheap jokes about the guy on his side in fact, what utterances of theirs can you believe?