Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The Birth of Mainstream from the Spirit of Protest

For reasons which will have to be addressed later I have been listening to the CDU (Christian Democratic Party of Germany) Song for the 09 election "Wir sind wir" ("We are us" or something).

Written and produced by Leslie Mandokie, has-been singer of "Dschingis Khan" scary (for those who do not dare to click the link: sounds like the arithmetic means of Rosenstolz, Xavier Naidoo and all music from recent German TV soaps, sorry, very German, this post!). The song reminded my of a question which had been on my mind when working on the stage music for Judith von Shimoda back in 2008. Which is the music of the Mitte ("middle of the road"; Mitte is a very common notion in the German political sphere), where everyone ought to be part of if they do not want to be cranks or even deviators. Which is the music of the market, to which laws everyone ought to submit oneself to if they do not want to be party poppers or even prohibit economic growth? In other words: which music is today, in the middle of Germany, used for propaganda purposes?

Preliminary note: in western democracies, as opposed e.g. to totalitarian regimes which used to reside in Germany, there is no such thing as a dedicated propaganda music as a genre anymore. If only the structures ceased to exist out of which such music tradition could emanate from. For instance, military music is completely marginalised. The political parties (as the CDU song reveals), unions and similiar organisations do not output specific music either.

Instead, it holds: "There's nothing more successful than success" (is there a saying like that in English?). A self-reinforcing mechanism is continuously normalising a mainstream which very slowly and carefully evolves with orientation towards chart success and recycling in tv series, soaps and ads. Composition and production closely follows what the markets have washed ashore. Medial exploitation on all channels massages the music into the mainstream brains with the result that it is commercially successful - and the cycle starts over again.

The pabulum this yields (yes, this metaphor is an allusion to McDonalds & Co.; it works the same) is not ideologically in the intention, but innocuously trimmed to maximal market success at minimal risk. Nonconformism is not verboten anymore, it simply gets lost in the information overload and the much higher marketing power of the mainstream productions. Everybody can do what he wants to do, or listen to. Noone will protest, but one can ignore, smile away, refuse to buy.

In the Judith production, the music was attributed to the protagonist who is outlawed because of her nonconformism. Therefore, the music was not about deconstructing mainstream but rebelling against the constant stream which, so to say, enforces consensual conformity. Do not accept to be brought into line! Non-consumption! Protest!

Yet which music would incorporate this protest? Surprising finding: this is not too easy! Practically every protest turned music is creepingly assimilated by mainstream in the course of the time. The sheer volume of the drums and the 68th's distorted guitars used to be a torch - today it feels at home in every VW Golf. What used to be "Independet" or "Gangsta", is today shrinked a Indie-Rock-Pop or Shiny-Suit-Rap, respectively, into the majors. In ads for sportswear, cars and mobile phone providers the breeze of savagery ultimately degenerates to an attitude.

In the Judith production the task was to give the protagonist a music where one could not imagine easily which product or which party could be advertised with it. Sounded like this:

Judith-Medley by fritzfeger

The CDU goes for the insignia of pseudo-youthfullness in order to reach as many as possible and to alienate as few as possible. The song features pseudo-tough drums, pseudo-protest distorted guitar, pseudo-cool vocal phrasing and pseudo-emotional belting voices. This is Schlager, this is
Kitsch. To pluck the lyrics into pieces has already been done by others, e.g. here, here and here (all in German).

It is highly interesting to compare the CDU song, concerning both the lyrics and the music, with this work of Rosenstolz:

One year ago I had noted: It need not be shown anymore that this kind of mainstream is bad, in the first place. This is commonly known, and everybody knows what it refers to: nothing. This is, nothing which can be deconstructed in the course of its destruction. I have changed my mind. Normalised music stimulates and reinforces normalised emotions. It wraps whitewashed cotton wool around our heads to make us feel good - and to put us into working order as customers and electors. It is important to understand why this music is so well-suited for the self-reassurance of the Mitte. This is also Marcel Reich-Ranicki's opinion:
[…] die Mehrheit des Volkes liest keine Literatur, jedenfalls keine, die sich ernst nehmen ließe. So konnte die herrliche Literatur der Weimarer Republik mit Thomas Mann an der Spitze politisch (gegen den Nationalsozialismus) nichts bewirken. Es gehört übrigens zu den Sünden der Literaturkritik, daß sie sich damals um die Trivialliteratur, beispielsweise die Romane der Hedwig Courths-Mahler, überhaupt nicht gekümmert hat. Man hätte zeigen müssen, wie das Zeug gemacht ist. […]
Just in case noone will read this critique it could be helpful to try to "make mainstream impossible from the inside", i.e. to create music with the surface aesthetics of mainstream with abysses. Well then.
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