You may be aware that last week’s UK number one single was Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’. It was a pretty big deal, and it prevented what otherwise would have inevitably been the surefire ‘X’-mas number 1 from reaching that spot.
X, in this instance, standing for X-Factor.
The campaign was started on Facebook, which is an interesting story in itself, and you could possibly do a fascinating case study in online activism and social media around that very point. That’s not what this blog post is about, but it’s worth a mention.
There was a lot of noise made about the RATM campaign. Some people said it was wonderful, because it kicked against the corporate nonsense that the Christmas charts had turned into. Others said it was a shame, because it stole the rightful place at the top of the charts from a young lad who had earned it fair and square in plain view of the British public.
And another bunch of people said that the whole exercise, while well-meaning, and coming from the right anti-corporate perspective, was essentially flawed and pointless. After all, Rage Against The Machine is a Sony artist, just like young whatsisname who ‘won’ that TV contest. And so any protest centred around a chart battle between those two artists simply filled the coffers of the people who stood to gain had nobody done anything.
Personally, I disagree. With everyone.
How X-Factor works
X-Factor, if you’ve managed to miss it, is a revolutionary television concept. It’s a talent show, with all the usual Pop Idol trimmings: ritual humiliation of self-deluded wannabes, show-stopping vocal acrobatics, and the inevitable Cinderella story - but with a twist: the judges are completely partisan, and are playing the performers off against each other to score points against their fellow judges.
In other words, it’s a bit like the Coliseum, with the nobility placing bets on which slave was going to kill the other. Only the slaves are positively falling over themselves to get into the ring, fully aware that only one will be left standing.
And even then, the judges, not the contestants (and certainly not the audiences), are the winners on the day.
It’s the most popular show on television, and it’s complete poison. In fact, you could make a very good case that the whole thing is anti-music.
X-Factor is scheduled to coincide with the lead-up to Christmas, and each episode (and there are many, including specials and results shows) is more or less a one-hour advertisement for the single sales of the final product. There’s also a lot of money being made on text voting.
And while Sony Music are willing participants in this pop culture clusterfuck, they are not The Machine that the Facebook campaign wanted us to Rage Against. They might be A bad guy, but in this instance, they’re not THE bad guy.
The REAL Christmas Story
While I don’t take any particular joy from Sony Music reaping the benefits of the RATM Xmas No. 1 campaign, I do take a certain amount of pride in living in a country where more people took the time and a little bit of money to say “Fuck you - I won’t do what you tell me!” to the kind of exploitative, manipulative and frankly obscene cultural industrial project that idolises fame for its own sake - than went and bought into the delusion.
Because actually, I don’t have a problem if Sony Music make money selling Rage Against The Machine records.
Hell, we should positively encourage it. I wish they’d release more vital, political and aware music of any genre, rather than do what they’re currently doing: which is to no longer simply cater to a lowest common denominator, but actively participate in creating it.
The message here then is not anti-Sony. It’s anti-stupid. Anti-evil. Anti-mass-exploitation. We can do the anti-Sony thing any day of the week. This is far more important.
Just as a side note, it’s worth pointing out that Simon Cowell (who is essentially the mainstay and prime benefactor of the X-Factor machine) is not really part of the music industry. He’s more a part of the television industry. To undermine the success of the RATM Facebook campaign is to miss that very important point.
And now that we’ve collectively proved that we can say ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’ to THAT machine - we can rally, regroup and pick some more targets. Sony, if you like… but the list of potentials is pretty long, and I suspect they’re not the worst offenders.
In the meantime, I take my little bit of personal satisfaction hearing something so defiant and angry being played in the end of year chart shows on the likes of Heart FM - and I look forward to the band taking their place alongside Bing Crosby, Cliff Richard and the other Christmas perennials in shopping malls around the country from the middle of November in years to come.
So yeah. Merry Christmas all, and a happy New Year.