THE medium is the message, media theorist Marshall McLuhan proclaimed in the 1960s. The television era, McLuhan said, would create a ‘global village’ in which people from all over the world would unite as a common culture because they watched the same TV shows.
In the lockdown era, the prevalent medium is no longer television but the internet, specifically the ‘live stream’. This has created not so much a global village as a global prison – six billion people in effect under house arrest, entertaining ourselves to death, as Neil Postman might describe it, in front of webcams.
A remarkable shift in consciousness has taken place since Gil Scott-Heron said that the revolution would not be televised – that is to say, it would not conform to the prevalent media format. Many of today’s most ‘radical’ artists are submitting to the government’s rules that ban the potentially anarchic spectacle of live performances in front of audiences, and instead ‘streaming’ alone in their cells. In some cases, the messages they put out actively promote this imprisonment.
Meatraffle are a band from South London that I like and admire. I know the members and we share a live promoter. Meatraffle describe themselves as ‘class conscious’ and ‘Marxist-Leninist’, and I don’t have a problem with that. The frontman, Warren Mansfield, is a prolific social media user who makes it clear that he hates Boris Johnson and the Tories. Again, I don’t have a problem with that. I might dislike them even more than he does.
Recently Meatraffle released a T-shirt that exemplifies the contradiction at the heart of their anti-establishment posturing and the agenda that most of today’s ‘radical’ artists actually serve. ‘STAY HOME. SAVE THE NHS. LISTEN TO MEATRAFFLE,’ the slogan says, in a visual style that alludes to British state signage. The T-shirt became very popular, helped along by other scabrous artists such as the Sleaford Mods (again, I like their music a lot).
When Meatraffle unveiled their shirt, I asked a friend, another fan of both bands, if there was some subtle irony or subversion I had missed. No, we concluded. Bands we admire, who claim to despise the Tory government, are hawking merch that simply repeats Tory government propaganda. How did it come to this?
The consumer society, as Guy Debord observed, continues not despite but because of the rebels who claim to oppose it. The ‘spectacular society’ uses the artist’s desire to change or rise above society – to become famous, essentially – as symbols that subjugate us to this society by making it more entertaining and exciting.
Most artists haven’t gone as far as Meatraffle in releasing T-shirts explicitly promoting lockdowns as a way of elongating their 15 minutes of micro-fame while also banning their own tours. Although the live stream is the perfect medium for radical attention-seekers of all kinds to believe that they are, as Noel Gallagher said, starting a revolution from their bed, when in fact they are doing the opposite. They are, in essence, Boris Johnson’s lapdogs, or bitches.
Whether they like it or not, artists who live stream are conforming to the government’s agenda that only a fool could believe is really about protecting them, the NHS or saving lives.
The Great Reset and the Fourth Industrial Revolution are not ‘conspiracy theories’. The World Economic Forum openly admits that Covid is being used as an accelerator for its other socio-economic agendas, which aren’t exactly Marxist-Leninist, or class-conscious for that matter.
So no matter what the song, strumming and singing it into a webcam, often to a handful of people, is a performance of submission.
Of course I understand the imperative of every individual to make a living and venues to stay open. Lockdown has been a harsh form of deprivation for many performers, promoters, venues, and especially university lecturers. It is understandable why they keep going during lockdown if the only option is ‘live streaming,’ in the same way that it is understandable why a person keeps trying to breathe while being waterboarded.
However with its furlough schemes and bailout funds, lockdown has not been as cruel to artists as it has been to supermarket or NHS workers who have not been paid to stay at home working on their next album or T-shirt, but have worked even longer, more gruelling hours, wearing uncomfortable and dehumanising face masks.
In the topsy-turvy world we now inhabit, Left and Right, radicalism and conservatism, seem to have changed places. So the few performers who have protested against the state’s assault on civil liberties, which disproportionately affect the working class, such as Ian Brown, are branded ‘reactionaries’. Meanwhile artists who legitimise the lockdown regime by live streaming voluntarily – for it would be a very different story if their livelihood depended on it – still masquerade as rebels.
I am pessimistic about there being any effective resistance against such a totalising control system being erected by Silicon Valley companies, national governments and global institutions. I have social media accounts to promote my work and a mobile phone that tracks my movements. My life may soon become impossible unless I capitulate and acquire a ‘vaccine passport’.
In the end, everyone must navigate the world as best they can. Perhaps many artists who sing in favour of a less individualist society will experience ‘ego death’ unless they perform for anybody, or nobody, in front of a webcam for nothing, even if it contributes to the enslavement of themselves and the lower classes.