Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Anti-Obama Punk

I grew up listening to Rage Against the Machine's calls for "revolution" and "social justice." At 18, their raw, powerful music inspired me to think politically and to question the status quo. Within several years I had outgrown my self-righteous leftism, mostly because I had bothered to think for myself. But in a hopefully not-too-sentimental sort of way, I haven't forgotten where I came from.

The political rhetoric of Rage Against the Machine and the far left was particularly resonant during the Clinton 90's. It was easy for artists to call America the "Evil Empire" during the Bush years, but it was a bit more ballsy with a Democrat in the White House, a relatively peaceful world, and a fairly prosperous economy. "Evil Empire," the name of Rage's second album, was in no small part a reaction to Clinton policy, NAFTA in particular.

In 2000, at the height of their popularity, Rage released their third album, "The Battle of Los Angeles." With the election approaching, the first single, "Guerrilla Radio" contained the lines "more for Gore or the son of a drug lord [Bush], none of the above, fuck it, cut the cord." More famously, their video for "Testify" (directed by none other than Michael Moore) had a graphic of Al Gore and George Bush's face melding into one. The message couldn't be more clear. Both political parties were bought and paid by corporate interests- the problem was a system that existed for the benefit of the powerful and that ultimately ignored the people.

Back in 2000, the far left supported Ralph Nader, not Al Gore, and we were all encouraged to recognize that the differences between the major parties were superficial. It was all very punk, very anti-establishment, and it was the sort of grassroots movement that was bound to come to an end and come to an end it did with George Bush. Suddenly, the left had discovered that George Bush and the Republicans were so bad that the nation couldn't afford the Ralph Nader's of the world. And poor Nader, who's message, agree with it or not, never wavered. He went from grassroots hero to the man responsible for Bush-Hitler in some circles. I've mentioned it before, but things got worse in 2004 when the punk bands of America urged the youth to vote for John Kerry, as if voting for the douchebag from Massachusetts were a remotely punk thing to do.

And now we've been blessed with President-elect Barack Obama, a man whom those on the right are still desperate to label a socialist and whom those on the left are eager to pin all their hopes and dreams. And the punks and the anti-establishment types of the world have grown silent. To get back to Rage Against the Machine, the band was not long for this world after the 2000 election, breaking up less than a year later primarily because of infighting amongst band members. And it was probably a good thing, seeing as the Bush years had no shortage of artists ready and willing to speak truth to power.

Rage gets credit for attempting to speak truth to power back in the 90's, before it was uber-easy. What's been eating at me the past week is whether any on the left will attempt to speak truth to the power of the Obama administration. If the narrative is that the system itself is broken, the system itself corrupts, then how can a man who came to power through that system be an apostle of change and not a harbinger politics past? Where are the anti-Obama punks?

I've been listening to my old Rage CD's the past week because they seem relevant for the first time in years. "A bullet in your head" seems a more than apt way to describe the pro-Obama "change" zombies. I don't say any of this to be partisan, only to ask once again where are those artists who question the very nature of our political system. I certainly hope that the only remaining skeptics of the two-party system aren't just smug libertarians and Ron Paul nut bags. I can picture anti-Obama punk in my head, as the material is laid out oh-so-neatly before us. The question is, who's got the balls to go out and do it? Can anyone on the far left stand on principle and reject demagoguery? Like Rage Against the Machine, it could be something mighty special.


Blogger McMc said...

"And it was probably a good thing, seeing as the Bush years had no shortage of artists ready and willing to speak truth to power."

I find this interesting because I've felt that music in the Bush era has been completely apathetic to politics. The Dixie Chicks spoke out and got killed because they were country. Green Day had a very political CD but after that...who was there? Even in hip-hop, the mentality has been partying over any real message. The thing is...being anti-government/left/right was once a lot more mainstream. Rage was a popular band in a non-popular way, if that makes sense. Nowadays you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to devout a song, let alone an album to preaching what Rage once did. Some might say it's cowardly, but as music became more of a business it's pretty clear that record labels weren't willing to take that chance. Unless you are an established group/singer like Green Day or Madonna, you just can't get away with it.

3:11 AM  
Anonymous rose said...

As you pointed out, the Dixie chicks are country and are from Texas. You're right that you can't get away w/ it w/ that fan base.

You're refuting LL's point that the GW years had plenty of people willing to hate on him, by saying you can't get away w/ it? In pop and rock, you can't get away w/ supporting him. Kanye claimed bush hates black people and no one cared.

And there are countless bands that wrote anti-bush songs, not just green day and madonna. those crazy armenian freaks that wrote toxicity for example.

No, LL is right, there were plenty of people willing to hate on bush during his years. But the message has changed from anarchy and anti-capitalism to, I hate George Bush...the message has become a lot more shallow.

"but as music became more of a business it's pretty clear that record labels weren't willing to take that chance."

Music has been big business for a long, long time. This dynamic certainly hasn't changed at all since Rage's days.

"but things got worse in 2004 when the punk bands of America urged the youth to vote for John Kerry, as if voting for the douchebag from Massachusetts were a remotely punk thing to do." hahaah i'm still laughin at this line.

12:35 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...


There are plenty of punk bands outside the mainstream that nonetheless could probably count tends of thousands of fans throughout the country. Off the top of my head, the band Anti-Flag comes to mind, probably because they are more explicitly political than most.

Rage isn't exactly a punk band, but their music is certainly punk-influenced and they certainly have a punk ethos.

My larger point is that being Rage Against the Machine in the 90's actually took a bit of guts, a bit of real conviction, as opposed to the Bush years when hating on Bush and the war in Iraq was practically expected fare. I think it'd be even braver for those on the left to speak out againast Obama now. There is the fact that he raised more money than any candidate ever, there is the fact that there's this weird cult of personality around him, and there is the fact that we don't know what he's going to do as President. Yet even looking for criticism on-line from those sorts of sources, I haven't been able to find much of anything.

Maybe the biggest thing that still gets me is that if Al Gore and George Bush were literally one-in-the-same back in 2000, than how the hell is Barack Obama supposed to be our savior?

1:26 PM  
Blogger McMc said...

I feel like Rose proves my point. Kanye said what he did on live TV without anyone to stop him, but in his songs aren't about Bush. Sure there's probably a line in there somewhere but it's not like a song dedicated to taking shots at the establishment. And the fact that you can't even name the band who sang Toxicity or even the song or the album should say something too.

All of these entertainers/actors/musicians in Hollywood have opinions and have said anti-Bush things, but what I'm saying is it's not in song anymore and it's not in prevalent songs.

I'm not talking about what performers say on-stage in between songs or at awards shows or whatever. I'm talking about albums and songs. Back in the day you had popular groups that took stands, that protested via song. In the 70s it was about Vietnam, in the 80s you really just had a bunch of pop/hair bands. In the early 90s, you had groups like Rage, N.W.A and others that said f--- the establishment. Nowadays you just don't see popular artists do that sort of thing unless they are established. Any loser musician or actor can go on an awards show and say Bush sucks. Big whoop. It takes guts though to do it in song, because if that song isn't good or fails, that's your livelihood. Something tells me Rage would've created music like that regardless of popularity, I don't think you could say the same for today's lame excuse for punk/alt bands.

3:45 PM  
Anonymous rose said...

System of A Down, excuse me. Just cause I'm bad with names doesn't prove your point. They're one of the more famous bands of the last decade.

Not to mention you've got a friggin 100 musicians doing that vote for change bullshit.

LL was correct with his original point. This isn't about a lack of courage, or financial disincentives on the musicians part. It's about a lack of independant thought. Its become just a bandwagon, pile-on and hate George Bush movement among people who think they're Rage.

I think its the complete opposite of what you said MCMC about "being anti-government/left/right was once a lot more mainstream."... rather its become far MORE mainstream, but its now limited to simply hating George Bush, because well, everyone else does.

And that's where LL makes a good point...everything Rage stood against... Obama seemingly stands for just as much as Bush.

And again, you're trying to paint this as if there's some huge financial disincentive in going after Bush. Look who hosted the VMAs this year. I think that tells you all you need to know about pop culture.

4:26 PM  
Anonymous rose said...

Don't mean to pile on here, but really the part I disagree the most with is this idea you have "it's pretty clear that record labels weren't willing to take that chance. Unless you are an established group/singer like Green Day or Madonna, you just can't get away with it."

I mean, you really believe that? That the culture is such that theres a risk in going after Bush or the government? I think that's beyond absurd, no offense.

4:34 PM  
Blogger McMc said...

I don't disagree with the Lonely Lib, just with that one statement.

Again, I'm talking about SONGS, not just some concert babbling. Yes, it's more mainstream to hate on Bush but the point is they don't do it with their music, they do it with their independent voices where labels can't interfere.

Think about many songs were there in protest of the Vietnam War? Not only that, how many good songs by groups that remained relevant throughout the years? Now, how many songs are out there protesting Iraq? What Rage did took guts because what they did could've broken them just as easily as it made them.

Music is far less political then it once was, especially in the mainstream. Maybe the musicians aren't, but the music they produce sure as hell is.

2:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Album cover of a Vietnamese monk burning himself because of leftist regimes slated to run the country is evidence enough.....

7:38 PM  

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