Friday, 18 December 2009

Rage Against the pseudo-political consumerist protest?

So the drive to get Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name a Christmas number one spot seems to be polarising opinion among left-leaning people I know.

Some of the pro-Rage reaction seems to be quite superficial, and reminded me of last year, when many people were expressing their disgust that Alexandra Burke had got to number one with a cover of “Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah.” Too busy flashing their alternative credentials to realise that Buckley’s version itself was… a cover. Although it has become the “definitive” version for a generation brought up with The O.C., as one of those oh-my-God-it’s-so-deep sort of songs.

On the flip side of the coin are conspiracy theorists who point out that RATM’s record label are owned by Sony, who also own the rights to the X-Factor contestants’ music. What if the whole thing is a cynical ploy by Sony, they cry.

It isn’t. As ever, reality is much more depressing. A genuine revolt against the ridiculous private monopoly that Simon Cowell has over the Christmas number one turns out to be making money for the same corporation. It seems like another example of the capacity of capitalism to absorb dissent. Herbert Marcuse must be chuckling in his grave.

We are in the middle of the biggest recession since the 1930s, and our government is fighting a war that in can’t win for reasons no-one can understand. This very week, we are staring at the spectacle of the murderous inactivity of world leaders at the Copenhagen summit. Their refusal to do so much as the geo-political equivalent of switching to energy-saving lightbulbs has rightly infuriated the entire world.

And despite all this, the grandest counter-cultural gesture that anyone can come up with is… “Let’s go out and buy a seventeen year-old song.”

In Cambridge, Killing in the Name is the only Rage song you ever hear. In fact, scarcely a club night gets by without it. The spectacle of liquored-up private school kids waving their floppy hair, apparently without a hint of irony, to a song which forcefully denounces church, state and privilege, never ceases to amaze me.

As for me, I already have the song.

But I do fucking hate Simon Cowell…


  1. I think there has been a misrepresentation of the campaign as a political issue rather than a cultural issue with minor political implications. As can be expected, the campaign's sole aim was to keep the X-factor winner from the number one spot, in favour of another artist (perhaps deemed more talented, more substantial, less manufactured, or simply "a nice change from it always being X-factor winners"), not to advance an anti-capitalist message or to stick it to Sony BGM. Those who latched onto it as a campaign of great political significance, whether to praise or criticise it, are getting it all wrong. It has its political side, with money being donated to 'causes', the fact that Rage do happen to have a propagandist message of a certain type, etc... But at the end of the day it was intended as a cultural protest against the pop-fodder the music industry likes to feed us and the bland predictability of 21st century low art.

  2. Remember as well that RATM's chosen charity, Shelter, haven't exactly been champions of workers' rights in recent years. How could a supposedly radical-socialist band not be aware of this?