In class this morning our professor kindly gave us a respite from our discussions of criminological theory and instead had us watch the 2002 film Gangs of New York. It was, in itself, an exercise in theory building. The film itself touches on many topics which are pertinent to the modern world, such as immigration: While some interpretations focus on the elements of nativism in American society which were prevalent in the mid 1800s, resistant to increasing immigration from Ireland, other elements within the film show the tendency of American politicians to use gangs in order to exploit immigration in order to garner votes for their cause. Needless to say, the film provided a useful opportunity to debate both sides of the current state of American society.

And when I got home, I researched the film further—and that’s what provided me another opportunity to tie the film to current American society. Apparently, Gangs of New York’s star actress Cameron Diaz is now married to Good Charlotte band member Benji Madden; apparently she was introduced by her (now) sister-in-law Nicole Richie, who is married to another Good Charlotte member, Joel Madden. As someone who grew up in the late 1990s in the United States, I am very familiar with Good Charlotte—in fact, I listened to them.

Now, almost two decades later, these (former?) rockers show just how the culture industry (to borrow from Theodor Adorno) perpetuates itself in American society, despite its contradictory messages. It is a perfect example of Herbert Marcuse’s theory of “repressive tolerance”; that which is critical of capitalism is turned around to perpetuate capitalism.

Fans of Good Charlotte will remember them for their songs critical of America’s capitalist society. “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” (2002) had the lyrics “Lifestyles of the rich and the famous/They’re always complainin’/Always complainin’/If money is such a problem/Well, they got mansions/Think we should rob them” [Emphasis mine]. The band’s first major hit “The Little Things” (2001) opened with the following call to the marginalized:

Yeah, This song is dedicated (This is Good Charlotte)/To every kid who ever got picked last in gym class (You know what I’m saying, this is for you)/To every kid who never had a date to no school dance (Run to your mother)/To every one who’s ever been called a freak This is for you.

That these lyrics seem to be the antithesis of the lives that the band members of Good Charlotte now live—married to members of the Hollywood elite—should not be surprising. Yet, what is surprising is that most Youtube comments on the aforementioned songs are nostalgic for this music; even I must admit that this kind of music is missing on current American airwaves. Indeed, some might even go so far as to say that rock is dead—the kids have smartphones and social media to amuse themselves with, they no longer need this aspect of the culture industry. And here we also see that the culture industry, in the early 2000s, sent us messages against the proverbial “man”, only for those same messengers—who were artists—to become the proverbial “man”. This is how the culture industry tends to perpetuate our own continued subordination to the system.

 

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From Punk Rock . . . Image Courtesy of: https://www.odt.co.nz/entertainment/music/patient-wait-good-charlotte-fans

 

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. . . To Hollywood Elite. Image Courtesy of: http://www.instyle.co.uk/celebrity/madden-brothers-benji-joel-bond-missing-wives-cameron-diaz-nicole-richie

 

This should not be seen as a criticism of the marriages of these individuals, everyone is free to marry whomever they choose and indeed I wish nothing but happiness to both couples; rather this is a criticism of the culture industry itself. Purveyors of the culture industry send us political messages without actually believing it themselves; this is why—in the age of extreme capitalism—even art has become a tool of mass culture indoctrination. It sells us things in the name of “resistance” without actually carrying any substance. And this is very real problem. Not only has “art” been co-opted–and the “distance” between “artist” and “viewer” widened–but it has been co-opted in a bid to influence our very thought. Yet, this is a culture industry that a generation of Americans grew up on; it sent messages of victimhood (“to every kid that never had a date to no school dance) that tie into psychologist Jordan Peterson’s (astute) critique of men who have become “adrift, arrogant, hostile and vengeful” (among other things) in the modern era.

Another band from the late 1990s that I (still) enjoy is Blink-182, and I was surprised to learn that (co)-lead man Mark Hoppus had become a Chelsea fan since moving to London. For me, it was interesting that Mr. Hoppus would become . . . a Chelsea fan; after all, it is the team that embodies the trends of industrial football: foreign ownership, distance from local fan communities, etc . . . yet it is a team that also embodies the “success” and “greed” that extreme capitalist society encourages, so I suppose it is not surprising.

But it is also indicative of something larger. This is how the culture industry sustains itself. It sells us the messages we want to hear without actually following the meanings behind these messages. It is empty. For instance, as a football fan and with all due respect to Mr. Hoppus whose music I enjoy (and not that I would ever tell someone what team to support), it seems to me that it would make more sense for a “punk” rocker to support, say, West Ham United than Chelsea (even if the latter is his “hometown” team due to proximity). But such is the culture industry; it is—for all its “reality”—all too fake. That said, judging by a graffito I saw on a wall in Istanbul, it is clear that the influence of the culture industry (and Blink-182) is still alive and well in 2018. Given that the messages of popular culture are so prevalent in our societies, it is worthwhile that we parse out what these messages really mean so as to become more than mere passive receivers of “culture” itself. In this Brave New World, culture itself is more politicized than ever.

 

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Above is the Hashtag #Hayir, in Reference to Last Spring’s Referendum. Below it is a Love Note to Mr. Hoppus’s Band-Mate, Tom Delonge. Here, the Culture Industry Meets Politics on the Streets of Istanbul. Image Courtesy Of the Author.
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