The band Thursday released a statement. A manifesto perhaps. The topics they touch upon, I have found myself discussing/debating/arguing with friends and acquaintances many many times. It is worth our attention. -shane
There is a vacuum in the center of our music culture. Whatever the genre — metal, punk hardcore, dance, pop or rock — the trend remains the same: leave your beliefs at the door. Our 21st Century promise seems to be that of a society in the advanced stages of decadence and social apathy. Not only has our music been stripped of any message that it might have had, but it’s now packaged as being “beyond message” — irreproachable in its indifference.
In the recent past, bands as diverse as Fugazi, Megadeath, Pearl Jam and Ministry all had songs that raised questions about political corruption, social inequity, personal responsibility and artistic freedom. Today, we see artists more concerned with friend requests on MySpace or wanting to “shake it” than with the problems of our lives. This isn’t to say that there’s not a place for celebration, joy, silliness and fun in pop music. That would be a frightening vision in its own right. We just have to ask ourselves, if we’re not facing the big issues then who are we leaving them to? Politicians? Lobbyists? Maybe it’s time to quit f—ing around and wake up.
Where did it all go so wrong? Although there seems be be a cavernous gulf between the glory days of Dischord Records to the vapid careerism of today’s mall-centric punk and nu-hair-metal, the transformation took place in less than 25 five years. Were we all tired of being earnest? Was sincerity unflattering? Was a compassionate world merely a naive dream or is it something that we killed with in-fighting and ego-stroking?
It’s quite possible that the dialectic of our progressive music movement was responsible for its own demise. The conversations in ‘zines and at shows resembled the discourse of a University debate rather than the concerned talks at a town meeting. People were discussing the politics of language instead of volunteering at soup kitchens. Arguments over patriarchy and masculinity took precedence over starting women’s outreach centers. The intellectual one-upsmanship became a rhetorical nightmare; many young kids came to shows energized and ready to start making a change and left feeling drained and humiliated. In short, we liked to talk about the revolution more than we worked for it.
Our own philosophies have been used against us. Canadian ’70s media theorist Marshall McLuhan once famously contended: “At the empirical level of consciousness, the medium is the message, whereas at the intelligent and rational levels of consciousness, the content is the message.” As a counterculture, the underground punk movement simplified this message to “the medium is the message” or “the music is the message” and adopted it to mean that the message and music were one and the same and wholly indivisible. It seems obvious now that the shortened version isn’t the same. It’s missing an essential word: content.
Various groups, including The Nation of Ulysses and Refused made a study of the aesthetic of revolution, and so did many underground artists such as Sheperd Fairey and Banksy. These artists explored the links between advertising, propagandizing, evangelism and philosophy. As a subtle and complex exploration of art, commerce and humanity these artists were very successful. Unfortunately, this may have been an important turning point in our culture — the point at which the image replaced the message.
In the years since, we’ve been given bands that retain the sound and image of our counterculture but forget the politics and leave out the distasteful bits of reality. If Milemarker and Q and Not U put some dance into modern punk, it wasn’t so that they would be replicated sans-politics by third rate impostors being blasted in every Urban Outfitters or American Apparel. There has been a domino effect: Political punk gets more accessible, accessible punk gets less political, punk becomes completely apolitical and irrelevant. The tiger has been declawed and we’re all wasting time in our twenties pretending not to care about anything but ourselves.
Recently, the magazine Adbusters, published an article railing against “hipster culture,” saying, “We’ve reached a point in our civilization where counterculture has mutated into a self-obsessed aesthetic vacuum. So while hipsterdom is the end product of all prior countercultures, it’s been stripped of its subversion and originality.” While this may be true, we need to investigate how we got to this point. We have to face facts. We have let the “hipsters” down. By not presenting a counterculture movement worth caring about, we’ve railroaded them into a subculture of not caring. We need to reach out to our DJ friends and organize events that are socially conscious. We need to inject a sense of urgency into all our mediums of expression. It’s not like all hope is lost. Le Tigre has made feminism danceable. Verse put out, in the form of a record called Aggression, a political protest you can feel, not just think about. Darkest Hour and Lamb of God are continually blasting a message into the headphones of metal lovers around the world. And everywhere in the world, kids are starting bands in their basements and they are pissed off.
We have been attacked repeatedly as a generation and as a demographic. We have been derided because of our looks and attitude. At the end of the Adbusters article, the writer, Douglas Haddow, tellingly concludes, “I take a look at one of the girls wearing a bright pink keffiyah and carrying a Polaroid camera and think, ‘If only we carried rocks instead of cameras, we’d look like revolutionaries.’ But instead we ignore the weapons that lie at our feet –oblivious to our own impending demise.”
Pretty glum. He writes something so insidious here, it’s easy to miss: “…if only we’d carry rocks… we’d look like revolutionaries…” Maybe looking like revolutionaries isn’t enough anymore. We have to start thinking like revolutionaries. The only sane response to criticism is activism. Let’s get active.