Songs of Self-Destruction
I think it’s safe to say that a sizable amount of North American culture flows into our hungry brains through the music industry.
Duh, music’s always been a vessel for culture. It’s always been near the top (if not at the top) of the list of human arts and endeavours. And thanks to the frighteningly keen observational skills of media moguls and like-minded musicians, pop music is expertly aimed and shot at eager consumers. For as far back as I can recall it’s seemed to me that what I was being sold, as a young white male, was self-destruction.
North America seems to be caught in perpetual apology. Apology to women, apology to races – apology deserved, because of oppressions that I needn’t mention to anyone with the wits to look behind them. There’s deep regret in the cultural mind that Utopia and Providence haven’t been built on this continent of manifest destiny. The simple fact is that the populace has failed, so far, to weed out pettiness. So, ever are people floating in an abyss of silent apology. Soon it becomes self-loathing, despair, and as it follows, self-destruction. North American pop culture is obsessed with self-destruction. It’s saturated with the belief that no matter what people do, their past shames will always make them evil and horrific creatures. And people have become bound by subservience to their own scolding stigma. There’s still rampant sexism and there’s still blatant racism, that can’t easily be denied, but there’s another danger, one that endorses the first two. As a mass, white men perceive themselves as corrupt because, time and time again, the media, our societal stigma engine, tells them they are. It leaves no room for change, because it leaves no hope for change.
I remember something a critic (one Amy Taubin) on the Reservoir Dogs special edition said that really struck me. “This is a movie about white guys. And it’s about white guys asserting the only privilege they feel they have left in society, which is the privilege to kill one another. This is about white on white violence…They don’t get killed by black guys. They don’t get killed by women. …It’s a kind of privilege. ‘This is our violence. We preserve this violence for ourselves.’ It’s an aspect of pop culture.” That, I think, nails it straight on.
In ever popular genres like hip-hop and gangsta-rap (flagships of the pop music industry), black music seems largely like an assertion of independence, the acquisition of wealth, and as a result of both, a coming into of decadent power and control. Decadence here is self-love, so much so that it becomes self-destruction – in this case, the self-destruction of the once victimized but now powerful. There’s an embrace in the music, a revelling in the belief that recovery from ugliness and corruption is impossible. Other genres, like hard rock, industrial, and the various shades of metal are predominantly white and make somewhat different claims. With the white genres, the theme is again largely of self-destruction when faced with what’s perceived as their own inherent corruption. It differs though when the addition of anger, self-loathing, and despair come into the picture. There’s an anguish of self rather than a love of self. They sing of violence amongst themselves, of hate amongst themselves, and as a result, they lose the integral human sight of the choice to change.
Of course, there are exceptions. There is metal that screams of hope and calls for a new awakening, and there is hip-hop that does the same. Such bands are rarely pop at all. By the top 40 charts, the populace, it seems, buys much more readily into the part of the culture industry that would keep them enslaved to the past they never lived. Since shame isn’t hereditary, our shame is that we make it so.