Every controversy seems absurd when you look at it with enough hindsight. Think of all the big social and political controversies going on right now. From mansplaining and safe spaces to all-female movie remakes to sexy Super Bowl Halftime shows, there’s no shortage of outrage and moral panics. In general, I try to avoid contributing, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t affected to some extent.
Even if the issues feel genuinely serious, it’s worth taking a step back and maintaining a certain perspective. What seems serious now won’t always end up being that serious in the grand scheme of things. Things like the Cuban Missile Crisis were serious. The impact of playing Dungeons and Dragons don’t even come close. For the most part, these controversies become obscure footnotes in the history of pop culture.
In the interest of preserving a balanced perspective, I find it helpful to think back to Elvis’ hips. For anyone under the age of 50, I’m sure that sounds strange, but make no mistake. At one point in time, Elvis’ hips were the most controversial thing in the world.
It’s hard to imagine now, given the accessibility of sexy music videos and internet porn, but there was a time when Elvis Presley shaking his hips on live TV was the most scandalous thing in the free world. People at the time deemed his dancing too sexual and obscene. There was serious, genuine concern that this was just too shocking and lurid for innocent eyes to see.
Granted, this took place in 1956. The world was a very different place in 1956. However, that’s not exactly an ancient time period. There are plenty of people alive today who were alive in 1956. They lived through that controversy. They might have even watched that fateful episode of the Ed Sullivan show where Elvis dared to shake his hips in too sexy a way. Now, compared to a standard Beyoncé video, it almost seems quaint.
Even if it sounds absurd now, take a moment to appreciate the context of this controversy. There was a time when people genuinely thought Elvis shaking his hips was too obscene. These same people genuinely thought such overt sexuality would do serious damage to society.
Now, look at everything we deem too obscene, controversial, or damaging today. How much of it will seem just as absurd as the sexiness of Elvis’ hips several decades from now? We may think that our standards have been fully refined, but history has shown time and again that this rarely holds. What is obscene today may be mundane tomorrow and obscene again a decade from now.
Controversies are fleeting, petty, and often build on a foundation of absurdity.
People are often irrational, following emotions over logic while claiming every emotion is perfectly logical.
Trends are unpredictable and fleeting. In 1956 it was Elvis’ hips. In 2003 it was Janet Jackson’s nipple. Who knows what it’ll be this year or in the years that follows?
With time and perspective, it rarely ends up being as serious as we thought. Even if it was, people and society adapt. That’s what we have to do, as a species. We might make fools of ourselves along the way, getting worked up over something that ended up being so petty and contrived. The best we can do is laugh and learn from it.
Think about that the next time someone complains about a halftime show or a music video. Remember Elvis’ hips and the perspective they offer. It’s every bit as powerful as his music.