The sign resonated instantly with a wide public, and the movie Oliver Stone made about the Doors in the early 90s made it even more visible. The sign functions (unlike other rock signs, like the “Cure Army” archetypes) through direct identification— middle-class white adolescents find themselves “being Morrison” or “doing Morrison” each time they rebel in a major or minor way. Morrison, to be sure, isn’t an especially positive role model— he died a silly, tragic death at a young age. But the Morrison phase does lead adolescent boys to certain places— to write poetry and lyrics, to think about how authority is structured and what its flaws are, and even to consider the nature of America, and what “freedom” means. Parents of children wearing Doors tee-shirts may or may not realize all these things are happening— and, to be sure, Morrison doesn’t have that galvanizing an effect on everyone. It’s also worth noting that the Morrison phase may or may not plant seeds that produce a harvest later. The Morrison phase can produce a variety of effects. It’s also intriguing that James Dean, for all his stock as a potent rebellion sign, has never provoked this much imitation. Morrison spoke amply for himself; James Dean spoke only insofar as he acted out parts.
In terms of what Morrison said, there are surprisingly few Doors songs that express direct, unmediated rebelliousness; that’s more the province of punk. It’s the myth of Morrison’s life, more than his music, which counts. Part of what can be learned during the Morrison phase is how the mythology of selfhood works; how you can create a persona for yourself (like the “Lizard King”) and follow it through. One of the interesting operative conjunctions is between Morrison and “jocks,” adolescent athletes. It would be extremely unlikely that a jock would join, for instance, the Cure Army. But the Morrison phase, which doesn’t preclude athletic virility, translates almost equally for jocks and artsy kids. Yet it isn’t particularly multicultural and it isn’t queer-consonant. And because its effects are so varied, it’s difficult to pronounce judgment on the Morrison phase. It’s elastic and, in some ways, amorphous, because some kids pay attention to the nuances and some don’t. If you do a nuanced Morrison phase, you can be led to Blake, Nietzsche, “Apocalypse Now,” Rimbaud, and even Fellini. Or you can just embrace the rebelliousness. Kids tend to get out of the Morrison phase what they bring to it. It’s an individualistic mode; it doesn’t really involve participation in groups. In fact, it encourages nonconformity to group norms. The irony is that Morrison only became famous through participation in a group; nor does his work outside the Doors merit much individual attention. The culture needs Morrison to be an atomized rebel, renegade poet, etc. It will be interesting to see how sturdy the Morrison archetype is; if he will lose potency as a cultural sign over long periods of time.