Why the Elite Matter
The fact of the matter is that a lot of popular cultural movements and upheavals are/were not representative of the average person at the time of their inception. This is because, in the grand scheme of things, only a minority of humans ever truly mattered.
You had many songs during the sixties and seventies' that decried the Vietnam war, and the Nixon administration (especially within the rock genre). But it was all for naught: America stayed in Vietnam for nearly two decades, while Nixon managed to get elected twice. This had to do with what Nixon referred to as the “Silent Majority”, but it extends further than that.
The French revolution was, in reality, not a struggle between the rich monarchs and the poor peasants, as it is often depicted in media. The revolution was primarily catalyzed through frustration against fief-holders who collected high taxes and tolls to the dismay of many shop owners and artisans. It was this elite class of “peasants” — made up of professionals, clerks, and shop keepers — that propelled the Revolution into motion, and only then after, did the people at the bottom of the hierarchy actually join in. It was a schism between the elites, not a conflict between those with wealth and those without any. It makes sense, when you think about it: if revolutions could have been initiated by the lower classes at the bottom, then they would have happened far more often.
The Roaring Twenties were only truly roaring for the top five percent. For 95 percent of Americans, everything was the same as always unlike what a bad reading of Fitzgerald's the Great Gatsby would tell you (Which was actually criticizing the mentality of that period).
Rosa Parks was, in fact, not the first to try and defy segregation in busses. Nine months before Rosa Parks' incident, 15-year old Claudette Colvin did the very same thing when she refused to leave a segregated bus. Many African American women did the same exact thing that Rosa Park did. So why did only Rosa Parks become famous as an image of the movement? Because she was educated, came from a well-off family, and was decently attractive. This isn't my personal theory either. The official reasons listed by the NAACP as to why that they did not choose Claudette Colvin were that she was not fair-skinned, her hair looked weird, and that she got pregnant. The NAACP needed “good representation” and so they specifically made sure that it was Rosa who got popularized and not the other African American ladies. The sad thing is that it actually worked. Rosa's good looks and background did help the Civil Rights movement gain momentum among moderate whites.
So what is the point of all of this? Why is it that change tends to only occur once people up the hierarchy approve of it? Why is it that only a minority of people end up defining just about everything?
Questioning the status quo, and desiring to change it, always comes from those who have the most tools, both mentally and societally.. In order to even have the capacity to ponder about cultural issues, one must have the free time to do so. Not everyone has the same access to education, and resources to be able to correctly critique society. However, it is also a self-selecting process; Those who desire change will tend to have more creativity, and those with creativity will tend to have lived in households and nations where that creativity was fostered. This is why so many thinkers, poets, writers, and artists tended to come from the same well-off educated families and married each other. Furthermore, in order to be taken seriously by those in power, one must either appease them or have some sort of standing to them. The suffrage movement did not win because enough women were convinced of the idea: It was the opposite. Enough men, especially those in the federal government, had been convinced of the movement that it finally could proceed.