In mid-October, Kanye West visited the White House. You know this already, and I’m very sorry for bringing it up. I only mention it because the country-rap-rock musician Kid Rock also visited that same day. This was mostly lost in the Kanye noise, but it’s actually way more important.
Kid Rock built his career on a public image of being a rebel, sans cause. (Is it more or less rebellious to have a cause? Is actively having no cause itself a cause? I wonder.) Yet this was the second time he visited the president, despite the fact that he has made his opinion regarding authority explicitly clear:
Hey, authority: pic.twitter.com/7chEAS0cGq— Kid Rock (@KidRock) April 12, 2016
After the singer posted the above tweet in 2016, it went viral almost immediately (it has, as of writing this, 8,753 retweets and 16,020 likes). Clickbait headlines approved. Kid Rock Just Can’t Take Authority And The Internet Had A Field Day, Uproxx jeered. ‘Hey, Authority’ Meme is the Only Good Thing Kid Rock Has Done In Years or Ever, The Daily Dot sneered. Kid Rock’s Feelings On Authority Are Crystal Clear, a staffer for The Interrobang banged out after some quick interrogation of the subject at hand.
Kid Rock’s “authority” tweet resonated because it’s completely ridiculous*. It’s excessively try-hard. Note the careful blurring of the name on the courtroom sign, apparently to avoid getting in trouble with authority. Note too the simultaneous cross-posting on Facebook and Twitter to increase the image’s reach, indicating that he is either adept at social media, or he has a social media manager. Since he claims he doesn’t “FaceTweet,” the latter is likely true. This makes Kid Rock an Authority, so he is essentially giving the finger to himself.
When I say that Kid Rock’s visit to the Trump White House was important, I’m only half-joking. I contend that attempting to understand Kid Rock’s complicated relationship with authority can actually help us understand modern conservatism as a whole, in all of its horrible, inconsistent glory.
Let’s rewind a bit first. Here’s how the “Hey, authority” photo came to exist in the world. After a show at The Tabernacle in Atlanta in October 2007, Kid Rock and his entourage visited a Waffle House a little after five in the morning. Once there, they got in a fight with another customer, who, Kid would later allege, mocked the singer and his friends by showing them his dick.
Watching the surveillance camera footage from the restaurant that was obtained by TMZ, it’s hard to determine what actually happened that night. A man in a bright green shirt (GS) appears to heckle Kid Rock from an adjacent booth. The singer gets up and walks over to him. GS gets up but is shoved back into the booth by one of Kid Rock’s muscleheads. A member of Kid Rock’s entourage then seems to make a sudden move across the table at GS, who swiftly retaliates with a punch. Kid Rock then lunges through his entourage, jumps up on the table, and starts wailing on GS. The entire time the lower half of the GS’s body is obscured by the booth, so it’s impossible to tell if/when his dick is presented to the singer.
The fight moved outside, where off-camera, according to police, GS punched out a window. Kid Rock, meanwhile, left with his entourage in his tour bus. They were pulled over a mile from the restaurant. The singer was arrested, and spent the next 12 hours in jail. He smiled for his mug shot.
In court, Kid Rock said that he was initially just trying to moon the man, in retaliation for the alleged indecent exposure, but he couldn’t lower his pants because the big steer head buckle he was wearing got stuck. “Maybe I got a little, a small moon,” the singer explained under oath, “but I couldn’t do what I wanted to do, which was give him a full moon.”
Kid Rock’s defense attorney during the case, Darryl B. Cohen, is also an actor. He’s made appearances in Losing Grace as well as commercials for brands including Hardee’s and Old Spice. “This gives him a unique perspective and an understanding of both sides of the camera,” his website, DarylCohen.TV, explains. Also on his website: a photo of him with Paula Deen.
Cohen did a good job for his client. Kid Rock was sentenced to only one year’s probation, a $1,000 fine, and was required to complete six hours of anger management counseling and 80 hours of community service. After the verdict, Kid Rock asked that his upcoming USO tour count towards his community service. He was denied.
Kid Rock hit back at the judge by posting on his personal website’s blog a message to his fans, titled “Getting Something Off My Chest.” Unfortunately, the post has been deleted, and his website heavily utilized Flash at the time, and the page did not archive properly. Fortunately, you can still see the message if you do the right-click thing to access the source code:
Rock’s fans were sympathetic to his plight. “I believe that you going to visit our troops is a huge service to the community,” wrote vegasdesertfox. “Our troops should be one of our #1 concerns as a Nation and I believe in what you do. “U just got a standing ovation here,” added someone named sherz. “My opinions of our judiaicial (sic) system as a whole are those of great disgust (usually),” wrote rockfan, “and this is a perfect example of that in itself!”
In calling out Judge Alvin T. Wong by name and noting the location of his court, Kid Rock all but doxxed the guy. His office was soon inundated with calls from a bunch of angry Kid Rock fans who knew how to Google stuff. During the ensuing controversy, TMZ confronted Kid Rock about the incident. “If he loves to practice law,” Kid Rock told the camera, “why doesn’t he go over and practice fuckin’ law in Iraq for a little while, if he’s so badass.”
Anyway, tl;dr, the “Hey, authority” photograph was likely taken shortly after Judge Wong’s USO decision, probably in December 2008. About seven years later, it was posted online and became a meme.
After I first saw the image and discovered its provence, I reached out to Judge Wong, to let him know that Kid Rock was undermining his authority:
Weirdly, I never heard back.
So Kid Rock hates authority, but also loves authority. He got riled up in a Waffle House, was arrested, doxxed a judge, but also loves the president and our beautiful troops. It’s not exactly a consistent political philosophy.
Looking at it from a slightly different angle, however, Kid Rock’s definition of “authority” doesn’t necessarily signify vast corporate or governmental power structures, but rather whatever happens to impede an individual — in this case, Kid Rock — from doing whatever the hell they want, at any given moment, without consequence. Back at the Waffle House, then, Kid Rock’s belt buckle could be considered an “authority” because it prevented him from baring his ass at a stranger.
Through this lens, not only do Kid Rock’s politics begin to make sense, but so too do the many conflicting concerns of contemporary conservatism. A political philosophy that screams against the expansion of our supposedly tyrannical government, but also champions a militarized police force’s unrestricted ability to carry out extrajudicial killings, for example, seems incoherent until one acknowledges that it’s an entire ideology built on selfishness. Well, that and racism. Lots of racism.
This viewpoint also allows one to reframe supporting a violent status quo as somehow a rebellious action. Maybe this explains why so many dorks keep calling conservatism the new punk, and why Kid Rock is so popular in Trump Country.
At least, I think? Maybe this is just applying way too much significance to a single dumbass shitpost. Or maybe, as Mr. Kid Rock would put it, it’s one of those questions that don’t have any answers.
*Probably also because it calls to mind this other popular video, first uploaded to YouTube in 2010 but shot in 2003, set to Kid Rock’s “American Badass,” appropriately titled “lol.”