August 24, 2012

Paul Ryan vs. Rage Against The Machine

i got you babe

Here's a prediction:  This will be the least attended Presidential election in history.  Over 50% of the voting age population will not even bother to find out who won, let alone vote.  Unless you have money on it when you wake up the next morning at 6am the first sound you hear will be a clock radio playing the counterculture anthem "...then put your little hand in mine..." and you will want to kill yourself.  Or marry Andie McDowell, which is only slightly worse.  "She was great in Sex, Lies, And Videotape."  No she wasn't.  Ativan is not method acting.

Paul Ryan says he likes Rage Against The Machine, which everyone thinks is ironic since  Ryan is "the very machine they are raging against."  Get it?    You're going to read that statement a lot.

I'm not political at all, not only am I not going to vote in the coming election I'm going to hide in the bushes outside my local polling station in a full Raiders uniform and clothesline the highly dangerous people who are only there to vote for Jesus.   But while I don't know much about Paul Ryan and even less about Rage Against The Machine, I do know a media set up when I see one.

Ok, so we know Ryan is an idiot for not knowing he's not supposed to like Rage Against The Machine, but did it occur to anyone to ask how we know Ryan likes them, why we know this utterly useless and meaningless and distractionary and prejudicial piece of miscellany?  "It was on Ryan's facebook page."  Come on, pants on fire, don't act like you even knew he had a  facebook page, next your going to tell me you've read the Constitution "several times."  You learned it the same way we all did: someone told you it was in a profile about him in The New York Times, and that someone was the only group to have read that profile: other media.

The structure of political reporting is 100% identical to the structure of celebrity reporting: the double act.  Straight man delivers the softball pitch:

Yet even if he is viewed as politically pure by the modern-day standards of his party's base, he is not without contradictions. The nation's first Generation X vice-presidential candidate, he is an avowed proponent of free markets whose family has interests in oil leases. But he counts Rage Against the Machine, which sings about the greed of oil companies and whose Web site praises the anti-corporate Occupy Wall Street movement, among his favorite bands.

and the rest of the media hit the punchline. Over and over and over, five nights a week.  "He's the very machine they're raging against!"  We get it, Rockbrain.  Was funny once.


The real irony of this story is that the clueless one is Rage Against The Machine, not Paul Ryan.  This isn't a partisan statement, it is simply a fact.

Ryan's main sin is not paying attention to the lyrics, believing he can listen to music without caring about the band's message.

The thing is, Ryan and the rest of the Gen-X coven were taught not to pay attention to lyrics, not just by the mumblings of Nirvana and the distracting Cleveland accent of Rammstein, but by our chief connection to all pop culture in America: commercials.

The title says "Songs Ruined By Commercials" but imagine those ads playing in a different country: their only connection to the songs is those ads. (1)

You may counter that these songs were already meaningless pop songs, but this happens all the time:

This is an ad of nearly genius creativity if your metric is brand identification, brand enhancement.  It almost convinces you that "Dude, the media has conditioned us to think the world is a bad place, but most of the time, humans beings are awesome" and the only thing that will stop you from falling into that spiral of propaganda is if you say out loud that the person trying to convince you of that fact is Coca Cola.   Did you feel a little bit of global community?   Well, I've been pretty much everywhere, and no.  Play the video with the sound off and don't look at the words-- a kind of voiceover, right?-- and what you see is a world with crumbling infrastructure, appallingly terrible safety standards, what I assume are drunk drivers, and lots and lots of people not working.  There's a guy defacing public property at 0:59, but it's all good.

You know what else I see that deserves mention, by which I mean is completely obfuscated by the ad?  There are cameras everywhere

Ryan listened to the Rage Against The Machine in the precise way it was produced to be heard: as soundtrack to your own movie, stripped of its intended meaning.  It is not an accident that it found it's way as an actual soundtrack to an actual movie.

I'm sure Rage is earnest in their core belief system, I do not dispute this, I do not claim they are sell outs at all, but you can't argue that you're part of the counterculture if you've been #8 on TRL in between Destiny's Child and Lou Vega's Mambo No. 5.  You aren't the counterculture, you are the culture. 

check out the militant poetry, yo.  Brought to you by MTV

In this respect Paul Ryan didn't misunderstand Rage's message, he simply heard the music exactly as he and everyone else were directed to hear it.  If the song that changed your life is played on a radio station that begins with a K or whose symbol is a bee, you are a bah bah black sheep.  "This is good," FM program directors said to you in 1999.  "Eat it."

I don't begrudge anyone making a fortune from their art, but if you allow the system to make you rich from your art, well, there's a trade off.

Tom Morello may want to do a bit of soul searching: did his art really bring awareness to the public, or did it serve the system's function of keeping everyone in line, i.e. a safe way to let off steam so that the kind of changes he was earnestly demanding were negated?  This is the exact same question one must ask about the now safely defuncted OccupyWallSt, and even Obama himself.  You know why you don't hear about Ron Paul anymore?  Because you heard about him back when it was safe.  Now that you have two candidates who couldn't possibly be more similar-- not in "ideology", but in action-- you are given no third option.  Strike that, no second option.

Here's the rule, may as well learn it before it's your head in the scope: when you give yourself to the media to do with what they will, they will.  You can't go crying about it later, because by then you will have ceased to exist.

Instead of condemning Paul Ryan for not being cool enough to get it, Tom Morello might want to ask how it is possible that "the embodiment of the machine we are raging against" ended up liking him.  What was the precise mechanism that caused that to happen?  Do you think-- everyone take a moment-- that Paul Ryan liked it on his own free will?  That if we dropped those beats on some 10th century viking marauders, they'd be all in?

And why, when Tom Morello wants to rage against Paul Ryan, he does it through the subversive, iconoclastic, angry medium of.... Rolling Stone?  That'll get him.  Let me be clear: I don't blame Morello for writing in Rolling Stone, I blame him for not asking himself what kind of a man is he that attracts Rolling Stone. (2)

Paul Ryan and Tom Morello are 100% the exact same person.  I realize they and you may  think they are different, but they are more closely a product of their immediate environment and generation than any of their incidental differences.  If Morello and Ryan went back in time and sideways in geography to the November after the October Revolution, they would totally lock the door to their shared apartment.  "I don't know what the hell is going on outside," it doesn't matter which one would say to the other, "but I'm pretty sure I don't want any part of it."  The partisanship that everyone desperately clings to is a media construction serving the necessary function of letting you self-identify, in the absence of anything in your life more substantive.   In other words, Fox & Friends are doing you a favor.

Both Ryan and Morello have some influence on society, please observe what has become of them as individuals, it is quintessentially what defines post WWII America: if there is something legitimately dangerous to the system-- and Morello and Ryan both fit this description-- rather than send in the secret police, it absorbs them by hyperpopularity, edits them into TV soundbites, buries them in plain sight. Problem solved. Put on your special sunglasses:




The straightforward deconstruction: the ad presents not representational images but aspirational images, in this case it's not targeting the demo that likes Oberhofer, but shows you that you can be like the five people with the phones who, by virtue of their phones, stand apart from the masses.  Anyone can listen to a concert, these people are, in some way, part of that concert experience.  NB: they are the only people you remember from the ad, other than the band itself.  Those people let other people in on the big secret, e.g. Oberhofer is great.

But observe that when they decide to share the video of the concert, they share it with other people who are also at that very concert-- who then divert their attention away from the live performance so that they can gaze in wonder at the broadcast of the concert.  You may think this is an accident but it is one of the best representations of consumerist capitalism, i.e. branding, so pay attention: there is no expectation that people can enjoy, engage, or value something directly, especially art, religion, politics-- the expectation is that we need an intermediary, an "expert", someone who really understands these things.  T-Mobile is offering you the chance not to experience art more directly-- which they know is impossible and anyway not that important to anyone--  but to become that intermediary, to derive identity from that role.

2.  An interesting take on this is the British series Black Mirror, three separate stories of "our unease with the modern world."  Spoilers coming: In the second story, the youth are put on stationary bikes to create energy for the world, and are paid in, essentially, Facebook credits that serve also as money.  The only way out of this enslavement is to get on Hot Spot-- i.e. to become famous.  One young black man rises up against the system with the only violence he has available: he goes on Hot Spot and threatens to stab himself in the neck with a shard of glass unless he's allowed to rage against the machine.  But rather than gas the theatre or send in the snipers-- they give him his own weekly talk show where he is safely allowed to rage against the system, in between commercials.

However, the true import of that episode is only revealed when considered with the first episode, in which the Princess (e.g. of Wales) is kidnapped, with a single ransom demand: the Prime Minister must have sex with a pig, on live TV.  Is the Princess's life wirth it?  Should they negotiate with terrorists?  But all of this is cover for the real conflict: if he does it, he'll be disgraced, most certainly not re-elected.

He does it: it takes over an hour, some tranquilizers and some Viagra.  It is moving, because as he cries through the sex act, all of England is watching from pubs, cheering and jeering.  However, the final post-credits scene reveals the secondary consequence of the always-on, broadcast world: after a year, the Prime Minister is happily re-elected.  No one even remembers the pig incident.

Together, the two episodes suggest that not only does appearing on TV trivialize events, but it temporizes them.   When everything is recorded, nothing is remembered.