26 May 2011

"Pump Up The Volume" vs. "What Is To Be Done?"

An edited transcription of a rant given by Doloras LaPicho live on transmissionFM, Auckland, New Zealand, 2011/05/24.

...yeah, so, my interview guest of last week was kind of impressed by the transmissionFM setup. "Real Pump Up The Volume" stuff, he said. Now he was not referring to the great acid house hit by MARRS, but to the 1990 movie starring Christian Slater as a high school kid with his own rabble-rousing pirate radio broadcast. I actually just watched that movie the other week, and in honour of it I am, myself, sitting her wearing nothing but a cock ring. And believe me, that's an interesting experience when you're a woman.

But that movie is really, really prescient in a way that only the great artists can be. Leonardo da Vinci designed a helicopter centuries before the technology existed to build one. Frank Zappa, in the 1980s, thought of selling music down the phone lines, long before the MP3 or broadband internet were invented. Similarly, in "Pump Up The Volume", what you see is: Dude gets on the air, rants, does interactive content, leaks embarrassing information that The Man don't want you to know about, foments a social uprising, gets thrown in the jail but not before everyone and their cousin are doing exactly what he did. So what you have there is a pop culture depiction of blogs, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, flash mobs, Anonymous, crowdsourcing, Wikileaks, and the recent revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, ages before social media made it possible.

Because it is all possible now! And legal! You don't need a shortwave transmitter and you don't need to dodge the cops - at least until the point when you actually HAVE fomented an entire revolution and the state has to shut down the whole Intarwebz to get you. And that's when they get in trouble, because then the really big guns are after them. I've been watching Anonymous as a social movement grow and develop, since the very early days of just taking down people's websites for shits and giggles, to attempting slightly bigger game in the Church of Scientology, to now actually attempting to wreck entire national governments who dare get in the way of the Freedom of the Intarwebz. Because that's Anon's entire political programme. It's not the same as mine, it's libertarian bordering on anarchistic in that it thinks that information is the key to the struggle, when, as I will go on about at length in our second "rant" section, as far as I'm concerned, it's PRODUCTION. But THEY ARE DOING STUFF. People like Julian Assange, no matter whether he might have also done something pretty horrible to a woman, have been doing that kind of stuff as well. Why aren't you doing stuff?

All the technology is there! Technology that pirate radio broadcasters 20 years ago would have shit their pants to get their hands on! When transmissionFM goes on the internet, THEN you will see whether what we are doing here has real memetic potential. But there's always a downside, isn't it? There is SO MUCH information out there these days that it becomes very, very difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff, which is why even the most anarchic online community needs moderation and Wikipedia needs a battalion of unemployed PhDs to keep the bullshit off the system. Getting the information out is no longer the problem - gatekeeping and editing is the problem. Will YOU be a gatekeeper and editor? Will you start your own "channel" which broadcasts NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH as far as you can see it? Because it's not enough to just do something, you have to do something that actively, as T. S. Eliot put it, "purifies the dialect of the tribe".

So the question remains just the same as it was in 1903 in Russia, ladies and gentlemen, comrades and friends. What Is To Be Done?

Back in the old days of political punk, there were two answers to that question, which you could call the anarchist answer and the communist answer. What does a political band, or a radical cultural initiative of any stribe, do when the forces of Big Money come a knockin' and making an offer? Because they will if you're doing it right and getting a response from The People, because YOUR PEOPLE will be ipso facto a "market" which Big Money hasn't managed to sell to yet.

The anarchists would say - tell them to get lost, do everything DIY, for the people, non-commerical, under the radar, subversive. One keeps one's independence that way. One also runs the risk of being trapped into an intellectually inbred little group, becoming the house music of a lifestyle choice rather than becoming a VIRUS which could infect the wider civilisation. Imagine if Neo and Morpheus and that just stayed in Zion all day and went to raves and let the machines alone. I don't think the machines would have had a problem. The other issue is that - sadly, in this $2.99 material world run by capitalism - if it doesn't make a living (in money or goods and services) it's dependent on the good will and energy of whatever you are doing to make a living. People burn out. People decide to sell out individually if they can't sell out together. If you're not commercial, you had better hope that your people are extremely generous, or extremely devoted. You wonder why all those hippies punks and anarchists are now making good money as "creatives", or are Green Party MPs or something even more pathetic. Because they COULD. Because they got a good offer.

Now the communist answer is, take the money! Dumbfuck capitalists want to give us big money and sell our records and our gigs full of communist agitprop, then more stupidity to them! The capitalist will sell you the rope to hang him with, as Michael Moore put it. Now that's a higher risk venture. You find yourself in the logic of The Machine that way. It's trying to change the system from within, which, as Unca Lenny could tell you, sentences you to 20 years of boredom if you're lucky. If you're unlucky, you begin to forget you were going in to drain the swamp and you end up making friends with the alligators. These people will be NICE to you if you play nice. Striking a pose and yelling slogans, yeah, they get that, it's a good "branding" exercise. The thing is that you can yell SMASH THE STATE and it doesn't change anything unless the people you're yelling it at actually decide that's a good idea.

The most vital thing to remember is that no-one but no-one ever changed anything, a damn thing, one iota, by making a consumer choice, by buying product X or not buying product Y or buying product Z instead. CONSUMPTION IS NOT A MORAL CHOICE. It is handing over dollars in return for goods and services and it is what the system is all about. You will remember a while ago that the British record buying public were sick and tired of some manufactured bullshit star from their Idol programme, I think it's called X-Factor, being Christmas #1. So they started a meme to get Rage Against The Machine's "Killing In The Name Of" to the top of the charts. Yeah, "fuck you, I won't do what you told me". The band full of actual communists. But guess what? RATM's record company was the same as the record company which made the X-Factor single. So Sony Music made BIG BIG MEGABUCKS EITHER WAY. And some people got to feel cool. But was the market model shaking in its boots? Was it bollocks.

And if IS THIS THE FUTURE? has a point or a purpose, it's to remind you of this. CONSUMPTION IS NOT REAL. It is neither good nor evil. It means absolutely nothing what you buy, or what you believe, or what you say, IT MATTERS WHAT YOU DO. When I'm performing with Vostok Lake or promoting the Electric Salon, it would be nice if people paid money because that means those ventures become sustainable in the material world of capitalism. But it will really only mean something every if people decide THEMSELVES to start an insane electropop band or host a weird performance night or an anarchic radio show. PRODUCTION IS REAL. Only what you do, and what you make, and what you bring into the world matters. Do it the communist way, or the anarchist way, or some other way - they're both choices with pluses and minuses, risks and potential rewards. Maybe you'll succeed, or maybe you will serve humanity for being the grisly warning of what could go wrong. Like Bono. But remember that only when we can do and make free of the Law of Value and the cash economy, only then will we be ready for the next great adventure in what it means to be human.