About Me

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I am a performance artist and style icon, a wannabe and a mightneverbe. I am 28 and on the cusp of reality. I am currently fucking up masculinity and redefining music. i believe that the music video is the perfect cultural form.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

MGMT, Jesus, and the future

So who are we then?

Generation Next?

Generation X?

Generation Y?

Generation Why?

Millenialism turned the revivals and retrospection in our culture up to max, so we fetishised the cultural touchstones of the 60s and 70s, then the 80s and now the 90s and downgraded the now to a facile and forgettable moment. Just like the Elizabethans were obsessing over the ancients as the best there’s ever been, building fake Greek temples and writing about pagan gods to catch a whiff of their dusty greatness, so now we have a cultural industry obsessed with digging up the still warm corpses of 40 years ago, 30 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, last year, 6 month ago: now is devouring then faster and faster and spitting out boneless chunks that bear less and less resemblance to the original. Is this the real legacy of postmodernism? Culture has become a moebius strip of rehashes and recycling...So now we have nothing of lasting value, just pound shops stuffed with cheap imitations of things that never existed, and flash in the pan bands with nothing to say....????????

A friend of mine recently said MGMT would never become ‘classic’...that they have no lasting value, no permanence coz they have no charisma: They aren’t the White Stripes or Al Green. I had to agree but I couldn’t explain why this didn’t matter to me...
But I think it goes something like this. MGMT are the whole package: the post apocalyptic rave-grunge style, the yearning voice, the expansive psychedelic pop, the brash Lost-on-acid videos and the effervescent sunshine of the whole NY scene tanning their naked bodies...Fuck whether they will be remembered in our middle age, they are now’s idea of the future, and that’s enough for me. MGMT imagine a world when everything we know has been wiped away. A slacker Tabula Rasa: all that’s left is LSD and the druggiest of exercise, surfing. This sounds like a lame student skunk revelation, but then you experience the beauty that they are, and it is way way more than the sum of its parts.

They are grand narrators in the style of Hemingway..."All along the Western Front/ People line up to receive" They make big statements about the ‘kids’ and the ‘youth’ in baby voices and look like they’re from the invincible side of puberty...But is their Cult of Youth ironic? They imagine a future with no adults, just vague memories of obligations and responsibilities to faceless long dead parents. It looks great: the vid to Time To Pretend shows them as a workshy Eloi-style (see the classic 60s version film The Time Machine which predicted the hippies) race of beautiful neo-hippies wasting their immortality surfing and tripping. But the song’s got bite: all the rocknroll clich├ęs end in puke and divorce. It’s escapism that ends up as realism. The altered states of drugs emulate religious rituals: The transubstantiated body of Christ is replaced by acid tabs, and Andrew VanWyngarden is Jesus reimagined as a cat-riding doped-up surfer. This is heady stuff. But it’s also about that tricky subject: male beauty. Andrew VanWyngarden is soft and narcissistic, knowingly sexy. His Jesus is jailbait, he is Jim Morrison without the death wish. He is vain but not effeminate, a tricky thing to master.

The American avant gard neo-hippy scene: Animal Collective, Devendra Banhart, Chairlift, MGMT, Yeasayer, Amazing Baby, Geneva Jacuzzi, Bubonic Plague, Ariel Pink (I've got loads to say about these last 3 in my next blog...). They all criticise the present by imagining a future where everything we think of as culture now is in ruins. ‘I can’t sleep at night/When I think of the world we’re living in’ (2080- Yeasayer). All this reappropriation of global rhythms (see also afro-beat pseudos Vampire Weekend) has an implicit critique of western values: white middle class blokes in a self loathing quest for authenticity, that age old project which began in earnest with the ripping off of black blues by white baby boomers (yeah you elvis, rolling stones, beatles). On top of this we’ve got the whole revival of the environment issue: but this time the apathy has turned eco warriors into eco worriers, fretting in blogs sites and through knowing world music revivalist pop songs.

We are fated to pretend in the great dressing up box that is culture now: everything is a Baudrillard style simulation of experience: we live through TV, reality replaced by reality TV, we live our lives according to movies (reality is American). Yada yada. Yet again we’re running back to nature with this world music/neo hippy scene: and technology doesn’t play a part in the future. Since the media was created, people used it to blame itself for all social ills. ‘Let me see you make a decision/Without your television’ (Depeche Mode- Stripped). Is TV to blame? Is it really an opiate of the masses, sapping our creativity and power and dictating our political voice? We wouldn’t be able to see MGMT’s gorgeous vids without it, and 'nu world music' itself would never have become flavour of the month. I think pop culture is great and TV is our great heirloom to the future...

Do we really care enough to save the planet? Or is it just a cheap way to blame the olds: ‘you’re melting the ice caps, that’s so unfair. I hate you’ or do we really care? Beatniks, Hippies, Crusties, Second wave feminists...is it just because these eco precursors are in fashion that we care? We wear the kaftan and we wear the politics? I have tried to live without hurting another living creature but it’s impossible and it just made me obsessive compulsive: I was living in perpetual guilt and apprehension. Jainist monks are the nearest you can get to guilt free life: they walk along, brushing the pavement before them, but even they cause insect genocide with their brush tips. Living for our children just makes us miserable: it’s the little people that are penalised and have to do all the work: collecting recycling, cutting down on waste. If the government penalised companies for the packaging they use and the way they use resources, we wouldn’t have to make up for their mistakes further down the line. But since the only incentive to make your bags biodegradable is to poach customers, it’s all got the wrong emphasis. This either sounds like a neo hippy polemic or some NIMBY resentment I guess, but I think there’s something in what I’m saying?

And you may ask yourself

Am I right...Am I wrong?

And you may say to yourself

My God what have I done?
(Talking Heads- Once in a lifetime).

The idea of waking up from modernity and thinking shit, how did this happen? (In 28 days later he regains consciousness and finds himself in a world orphaned by rage infected chimps: rage as the modern plague). Waking up naked and having to dress in a different reality, a different now. Moral panics (knife crime, aids, ASBOs, chavs, paedos, binge drinking, and terrorism) are created to distract us from the essential numbness of modern life. By making a few unrelated stabbings into a mindless plague of youth’s moral bankruptcy, the British press has made every London gang feel like they need to carry a knife and that’s the first thing to reach for in an argument. And so now a gang ain’t a gang unless their armed.

What have we done to the world?
Look what we’ve done
(Michael Jackson- Earth Song).

You're gonna laff but Earth Song is the best eco video ever. It is unique in combining the kitsch and the poignant: It makes me want to sob but keep watching unlike those miserable Oxfam ads which are too easy to turn off. It is so sickly that it becomes earnest. And anyway, we want a bit of sugar with our guilt please. Why is Jacko’s message any less credible than Yeasayer’s? They aren’t exactly living by example either. Sure they have the outward signs of hippiedom: long hair, ethnic clothes, pacifist demeanour. It’s an easy and a fashionable iconography to ape. It’s like the socialist anti-war protests of a few years ago: most people were there for the party not the Party. The hippy hangover has been long and shows no sign of abating: it has had a marmite effect on every decade since (early 70s love turned to late 70s punk hate, lasting until the second summer of love of 1987, until the 90s mod backlash of Britpop, more recently the naughties has seen two hippy revivals so far). All this post millennial angst has given me compassion fatigue, and I can’t be arsed any more. Global Warming? Like in J G Ballard’s The Drowned World, I’ll just follow the warmth.

Originality is dead...long live variations on a theme.


Moxy said...

Wow -- what a fab, insightful, beautifully written and elegantly phrased blog! Excellent! More! More! I'll come back and read it again and again!

cultistofvertigo said...

I could bitch about how MGMT are pretenders to the throne and Chairlift is actually worse than a one-hit wonder because all of their other songs are just fucking horrible, but what I really want to say is your line "Originality is dead, long live variations on a theme" sums up the way I'm beginning to describe hauntology to people now. Or, as you said it, the future.

Make no mistake though, Ariel Pink trounces all these posers. You've seen him, so I shouldn't need to tell you. In the words of my friend Luis, who I took to see him when he knew next to nothing about Ariel, "these guys are the real deal."