The music writer Simon Reynolds has a new book out, Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and its legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-First Century. To coincide with it’s publication, he wrote an article in the Guardian with the headline, Is Politics the New Glam Rock? Funnily enough my fellow Free Association writers and I wrote our own article a few years back, proposing Ziggy Stardust as a potential model for the kind of political leader that could fit into a libertarian socialist politics. Despite starting from a similar move, thinking political leadership through the terms of Glam Rock, Reynolds’s conclusion couldn’t be more different. He holds Donald Trump up as his example of a politician in the Glam Rock style and that’s certainly not what we had in mind. Of course, pop culture is ambiguous and contradictory by nature, that goes doubly so for Glam, still it’s interesting that those ambiguities can be worked out in such different directions.
Fredric Jameson described one of the impasses of postmodern culture as the inability ‘to focus our own present, as though we have become incapable of achieving aesthetic representations of our own current experience.’ The past keeps coming back because the present cannot be remembered.
The culture of the present is haunted by the lost potential of possible futures that never came to be. Mark Fisher has a name for this tendency, in which contemporary culture bears the mournful traces of past futures; he calls it hauntology. If we are to escape our haunted present we must establish a new relationship with the future. But that will also require a new relationship with the past. We can’t simply dismiss as mistaken those people who lived their present motivated by ideas of a future that failed to appear. We can’t just say they lived mistaken lives. The future is not the present, even if some in the mid 1990s thought it was. All potential timelines keep flowing into the future and yet the future never fills up.
Pop culture has always fascinated us. Partly because popular music was the background to our lives growing up, but also because popular culture is an essential counterpoint to the (mostly) marginal political spaces we inhabit. And there’s a tension between the two. Sometimes they clash, sometimes they overlap, and sometimes – just sometimes – they pulsate together in the most incredible way, throwing new light on the past and revealing different visions of the future.
The following interview with Zizek Stardust, lead singer with the band F.A.L.C.O., is part of a wider project examining the role pop culture might play in establishing a technologically facilitated post-work society as the horizon for contemporary politics. So far we have also interviewed the pop artists Holly Herndon and Janelle Monáe but we publish this interview first as it speaks so directly to our interests.
image from Hans Eijkelboom’s People of the Twenty-First Century
The above quote is lifted from a brilliant talk by Brian Jones (no, not that one…), subsequently reprinted in Jacobin magazine. Demolishing the ‘common-sense’ view of race, he dates its invention as a category to the 17th century: “If human history were a two hundred page book, ‘race’ begins on the last line of the last sentence of the last page.” It’s a really useful perspective for wading through the fallout over Rachel Dolezal and Andrea Smith. And it’s probably a good tool for thinking through the various debates around identitarian politics. But I think its relevance is even wider. When Jones talks about Wednesday – something that is horribly real and at the same time utterly fictive – he could just as easily be talking about the way that money works.
I’ve been meaning to follow up on Keir’s post about the “explosion of sincerity” for weeks now, so here are some threads I’m trying to pull together…
In Déjà Vu and the End of History Virno talks about how we appear to be living through an era of hyper-historicity, trapped in a pattern of permanently recycling and reworking everything. On a superficial level we can point to the ceaseless cultural regurgitation that’s symptomatic of postmodernism: from Mad Max to TFI Friday to this bollocks, there’s no end to retromania (and if I tried harder, I could probably think of something that’s actually a re-make of a re-make). But Virno also makes reference to the Society of the Spectacle, the idea that we collect our own lives while they are passing: the present is duplicated as the spectacle of the present and we end up watching ourselves live. This has real consequences. As Virno puts it:
While not all the Free Association are currently members of Plan C it’s fair to say that involvement in that organisation has re-directed at least some of the energies that would otherwise have gone here. To illustrate that I thought I’d share a ‘position paper’ I wrote for Plan C which has just been published on their website: On Social Strikes and Directional Demands.
I was planning to post this along with the notes from our recent talk on comedy, but Keir beat me to it. Timing is everything, apparently…
It’s the third section of that talk – the one on the hyper-ironisation of contemporary culture – that’s been nagging away at me. In one sense it feels self-evidently true: the hollow laughter of the cynic has largely taken the place of meaningful political action. Bantz, trolling, 4chan, doing it for the lulz… And it’s not hard to understand why when the times we live in are beyond satire.
So last Saturday three communists walked into Duffy’s bar in Leicester and started talking about economic crisis, pop music and comedy. Let me give you a summary.
The talk was in three sections. The first set the scene of pervasive crisis. Arguing that in this context we should expect the rise of characters who seem to signify the spirit of the times and that people identify with politically. In the crisis of the 1930s these figures tended to be political leaders but in the 1960s and 70s, after the birth of pop culture, such figures were equally likely to be pop stars. In the current crisis this seems to have changed. By raising the examples of Russell Brand, Beppe Grillo and Dieudonné we suggest that figures of political identification (on both the Left and the Right) are now more likely to be comedians than pop stars.