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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lyrical Terrorists

It has been modish for a long time to idealise the rebel and social outcast. Tales throughout the ages have resounded with names of Jessie James, Dillinger and more recently, Che Guevara. This trend goes back at least as far as Robin Hood and will probably continue so long as armchair revolutionaries exist. Rebellion is, after all, a natural state in growing up.
Often the individuals admired are in reality deeply unpleasant, and sometimes homicidal. The real life Che Guavera, for instance, was a mass murderer and torturer, but as is common to these folk tales, these negative qualities are tamed or mostly overlooked completely. Many of the petty hoodlums of America's depression era (Dillinger, Babyface Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde etc) were folk heroes even in their own lifetimes. No doubt their exploits represented a kind of wish fulfillment among the poor and the desperate, a naive escapism made palateable by their more unseemly acts (such as murder and sadism violence) being either ignored or, in true Hollywood fashion, made to seem an inevitable retaliation to the brutal forces acting on them.
Dylan, in his classic 1966 album John Wesley Harding, imagined the eponymous hero as a Christlike figure who "was never known to hurt an honest man". The real Hardin (without the g Dylan unnecessarily added) killed, by his own account 44 people, making him one of the bloodiest men of the Old West. No doubt Dylan was using JWH as a metaphor for his own burgeoning vision of divinity rather than an accurate depiction of a Wild West Rebel, although I do sometimes wonder whether Dylan might not be parodying the whole "misunderstood outlaw" myth by casting a man so drenched in blood in quite so lamblike terms. But then, since Dylan takes himself very seriously, probably not.
Up until recently, it had always been an important part of this type of mythology to whitewash the rebel as much as possible and make him a reluctant fighter against an unjust establishment. Not a psychopath, you understand, but "one of us". But such is the decline in any sort of moral compass that this appears to be no longer the case. Charles Manson, a lunatic who, along with his "family" commited a series of gruesome murders at the end of the 60s which shocked the flower power generation, has proved to be such an inspirational character that at least two sucessful acts have named themselves in his honour. This is two more than Martin Luther King to my knowledge. But then, he's not such an inspiration to modern youth.
The acts in question are Marilyn Manson (real name: Brian Warner) and Kasabian, named for a member of Charlie's gang. Since Manson and his followers murdered several people including women, in cold blood and there can be no whitewashing of it (none is ever attempted), one can only imagine that sadistic murder emanating from mental illness has become a new kind of "Cool" to an age bored of such things as human dignity. Indeed, to such an age, which places trangressive behaviour high on its list of artistic endevour, a deranged sociopathic serial killer acquires the status as much as a deviant savant as a rebel. Manson is thus both iconic and iconoclastic simultaneously.
Of course, much of this is a shared fantasy by the adolescent audience who would like the guts to be able to shock their parents doing "a Manson" while at the same time indulging their wildest sexual and retribution urges, but some of this does rub off on certain individuals. Witness, for example, the epidemic of high school shootings. In time, and unless the present zeitgeist changes, much the same rebellious authority will be afforded some of these shooters whose exploits will be memorialised in band names like Virginia Tech Massacre or SturmGeist89.
Perhaps this honour has already been bestowed onthe September 11th hijackers. I can imagine their would be a great temptation for bands giving themselves names like ATTA or The Hamburg Cell, primarily for the trite shock value but no doubt justified at press interviews as a recognition of their daring anti-establishment attitude. Certainly one young Muslim girl here in London, Samina Malik, has been so inspired that she has taken to penning verses -alongside downloading terrorism manuals- under the Nom De Guerre Lyrical Terrorist, a name which she chose bacause it "sounded cool". Among her literary efforts are a poem called How to behead and a ditty about firing rocket launchers.
I wonder how long it will be before a band appears with the cool name "lyrical Terrorist"? Not long I fear. Our popular culture really is that debased.

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1 Comments:

At 6:16 AM, Blogger Rus Bowden said...

On Clattery MacHinery on Poetry, where this post of yours is linked, there is a call for poetic license, for freedom:

World Samina Malik Day December 6th

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