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February 2010
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Sat, Sep. 29th, 2007 11:37 am
The pop dictators

Check these two videos -- Bryan Ferry's 1978 single Sign of the Times and Philip Jap's 1983 video for Save Us.

Both seem to be embracing or pastiching the iconography of demagoguery, framing themselves in an authoritarian symmetry that's part-Nazi, part Citizen Kane. Both videos feature eagles and a phalanx of models (a play on "fashion" as "fascism"). The artist becomes Moseley, Mussolini, Hitler as filmed by Leni Riefenstahl.

We see this meme in the Nietzschean strut of Queen's Freddie Mercury ("we are the champions of the world") or Bowie's comeback heil at Victoria Station in 1976. It's British glam rockers who embrace the fascist aesthetic most openly, and make explicit the link between fashion, rock music, mass media, crowd control and fascism. (This was also, of course, the subject of my first album, The Man on Your Street: Songs from the career of the Dictator Hall.)

Here's David Bowie talking to Kurt Vonnegut in September 1976:

VONNEGUT: You've often said that you believe very strongly in fascism. Yet you also claim you'll one day run for Prime Minister of England. More media manipulation?

BOWIE: Christ, everything is a media manipulation. I'd love to enter politics. I will one day. I'd adore to be Prime Minister. And, yes, I believe very strongly in fascism. The only way we can speed up the sort of liberalism that's hanging foul in the air at the moment is to speed up the progress of a right-wing, totally dictatorial tyranny and get it over as fast as possible. People have always responded with greater efficiency under a regimental leadership. A liberal wastes time saying, "Well, now, what ideas have you got?" Show them what to do, for God's sake. If you don't, nothing will get done. I can't stand people just hanging about. Television is the most successful fascist, needless to say. Rock stars are fascists, too. Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars.


BOWIE: Think about it. Look at some of his films and see how he moved. I think he was quite as good as Jagger. It's astounding. And, boy, when he hit that stage, he worked an audience. Good God! He was no politician. He was a media artist himself. He used politics and theatrics and created this thing that governed and controlled the show for those 12 years. The world will never see his like. He staged a country.

In April 2007 Bryan Ferry expressed similar sentiments to the German newspaper Welt Am Sonntag. "My God, the Nazis knew how to put themselves in the limelight and present themselves," he said. "Leni Riefenstahl's movies and Albert Speer's buildings and the mass parades and the flags -- just amazing. Really beautiful." Ferry told the paper that he calls his studio in west London his "Führerbunker".

So why did this 1930s fascist meme re-appear in the mid-to-late 70s? It was partly a reaction against the leftism of the 1960s counterculture -- what better way to shock a ragged, liberal hippy than to dress up as a Nazi? -- and it was also certainly a kind of cocaine-induced megalomania.

I think Adam Curtis gets it right in his excellent documentary series Century of the Self when he describes how the emphasis on self-actualization in the 60s and 70s reached a paradoxical tipping point.

Experiments with EST and other techniques had encouraged an "inner direction" so thoroughgoing that the "inner directed" reached the absolute core of themselves and found it empty. Endless changes and emptiness are big Bowie themes; strip away the last skin of the onion and there's nothing left but a frail, broken person ready to embrace religion, drugs, the occult, and a consumerist-spectacular version of fascism. Encouraged to locate their true selves, says Curtis, the hippies went so far into the self that they came out the other side, into the waiting arms of Thatcher and Reagan.

Here's the part of Century of the Self where Curtis shows us how "inner directives" (self-oriented creative people who seemed, in the 60s and early 70s, natural allies of the left) unexpectedly embraced right wing politicians as the 80s arrived. It was a message that had been apparent for some time in pop music, where the proposition "You can be whatever you want to be!" was answered -- surprisingly -- with "Okay, then I want to be Hitler!"

Who knew that individualistic libertarianism would lead to a celebration of authoritarian dictatorship, and celebration of the self to mass rallies? Perhaps George W. Bush stated it most clearly: "I'm all for a dictatorship, as long as I can be dictator."


Sat, Sep. 29th, 2007 06:53 pm (UTC)

Is the English language too ironic to sustain Hitlerian stylings?

Sun, Sep. 30th, 2007 12:02 am (UTC)

truly, may i say it?..truly we are witness in our lifetimes to genius.

ReplyThread Parent
Sun, Sep. 30th, 2007 09:58 am (UTC)

I like lapsang souchong, too. I suppose that sounds a bit tangential.

ReplyThread Parent
Sparkachu Maelworth
Mon, Oct. 1st, 2007 05:13 am (UTC)

I came across this article which reminded me of this entry.
"Fascist America in 10 Easy Steps."

It got me thinking a bit because when most Americans think about fascism, they immediately think about Hitler and not about what it really was. And today people don't realize how bad it's actually getting and how much it resembles fascism. The good thing about the American government is the fact that a President only has about 8 years in office and they get replaced afterwards. But it also has a negative side, which is "will the next President reverse the things the previous President has done or will they be worse or just as bad?"

And the American society doesn't have as much freedom as suggested/promoted. Yes, we have freedom of speech, but do we have as much as we're told we have? People are getting arrested and having their possessions taken away for speaking out against the war. Which resembles what happened during Hitler's reign, although not as harsh.


Mon, Oct. 1st, 2007 05:32 am (UTC)


Sparkachu Maelworth
Mon, Oct. 1st, 2007 05:56 am (UTC)
Re: sdffgjhsdgfsdh

I don't think I agree with your statement. Elaborate more on "sdfsdfsdfsdfsdf"; it wasn't clearly stated.

ReplyThread Parent
Sparkachu Maelworth
Mon, Oct. 1st, 2007 06:01 am (UTC)
Re: sdffgjhsdgfsdh

ReplyThread Parent
Mon, Oct. 1st, 2007 11:32 pm (UTC)

Walter Benjamin said that fascism is the 'aesthetization' of politics: giving the masses a clear direction for expession, and hence channelling that energy away from any real drive to change the power relations in society.

He goes on to say 'All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war. War and war only can set a goal for mass movements on the largest scale while respecting the traditional property system '.

and we see this played out time and time again, in societies like the USA which , whilst dressed up in the language of freedom and opportunity, share a remarkable number of characteristics of fascism, as 'mircroworlds' put it so well in another post in this thread.


Wed, Oct. 3rd, 2007 03:26 pm (UTC)

never noticed ahmadinejad's facial resemblance to bryan ferry until now. i will say 'triumph of the will' is terrifying and amazing to watch. the speakers definitely grab their audience and lead them into a frenzy of 'yes, yes.' which is every pop-star's dream right? complete worship? lyrics with ambiguous hope, so everyone can feed their own imagination into them? ain't that why robert smith sings always about "she" or "her" so we can fill in our own names, be ourselves in his music? it's a great formula for rallying the masses.