By PAuL-NEWELL REAVES
“Come sweet death, one last caress”—the MisfitsAlthusser, Louis; On Ideology the Misfits, Static Age Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotten Vegetables Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism
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This is a column about album lyrics as text, not a music history column. We will analyze album lyrics for meaning, examining with close readings album titles, song titles and close reading of lyrics. How do social, economic and political moments effect Youth Culture, and how are these interpreted through Youth Culture? We are looking, reading and listening for the microcosm of the album, and the broader macrocosm of Youth Culture in the 1970’s, 80’s and more recent decades.]
The Misfits’definition of Ideology is simple: television. “We are a static age…a T.V. Casualty.” This televised Ideology could be broadened to include: schooling systems, religious systems, medical/psychiatric systems, family systems and governmental systems.
Louis Althusser begins his writing on Ideology like this, “As Marx say, every child knows that a social formation which did not reproduce the conditions of production at the same time…” Break it down, now, Althusser:
In Althusser’s fully developed document, On Ideology, he simplifies, “Ideology, then, is for Marx an imaginary assemblage…the pale, empty and inverted reflection of real history.” Althusser implies that Marx underemphasizes the importance of Ideology in framing, indeed creating, real history. But what is real history? He explains, “The Communist Manifesto defines history as the history of class struggles…class societies.” In a Marxist and post-Marxist understanding, it is the exchange of goods, money and shifting of people across classes that marks real history.
Althusser finally does manage to spit out a workable definition of his Ideology: “Ideology is a representation of the Imaginary Relationship of individuals To the Real conditions of Their Existence.” See the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. So, the relationship is imaginary, but the representation of this relationship is called Ideology. This confusion implies one of two things, depending on one’s own level of cynicism. Either that this type of knowledge is reserved for the intellectual elites who can afford to have this gibberish explained to them first hand, or that most intellectuals of the 20th century had extremely lofty thoughts that they never got around to explaining very well—probably because they never learned to write very well.
Low culture sources such as punk music—and I’d argue all cultures of the 70’s, 80’s are low cultures—explain this Ideology much more simply. Danzig manages to express, without any highfalutin language, that we are programmed by overarching and underlying systems of power—such as those mentioned in my opening—so firmly entrenched in neo-Liberalism. Moreover, “we are a static age,”implies that not only are we completely controlled by these systems of power, but that in this age, they program us with nothing but static.
The Dead Kennedys attempt to alter this Ideology, seek to, perhaps, create a counterculture Ideology, perhaps voice a false Ideology, perhaps satirize a idiotic Ideology, and perhaps just have fun.
When Jello Biafra from Dead Kennedys sings, “let’s get dressed to kill the poor, tonight,”he is using the harshest of Juvenilian Satire. He is mocking, in brutal terms, the ethics and economic motivations of the pre-Reagan era. He cannot be taken seriously, but he does offer tongue in cheek solutions to the problems of disenfranchised youths. “I don’t turn on the water. I don’t turn on the heat…Let’s lynch the landlord, man.” Without the commodities taken for granted in neo-Liberalism, property owner’s demand for rent money can be overcome by anarchy. But note, it is not only conservatives under fire from Biafra. California Uber Alles compares the neo-hippy politics of Governor Jerry Brown to Nazi euthanasia.
The Misfits are cleverest on the track, Hollywood Babble On, encouraging Hollywood Ideologues to babble onward. The hidden tracks on the cd are all out-takes, implying that the radio station has faded, the station has gone off the air and now plays only static. But it also makes a much made point on punk albums. Studio music requires much more practice and numerous takes to get the album to sound right. This is not live punk music in a crowded basement.