Banarama

No less troublesome in that regard are Helene Lssw's essay "White Noise," on neo-Nazi rock bands in Scandinavia, and Ahmed Buric's expose "Marriage Made in Hell," on "Balkan hate music" -- a factional, rock-based form that's popular in the former Yugoslavia. Are the pieces included as a sort of goading -- to say to the reader, "Would you ban hate rock, you squishy liberal?" Or are they included as "topics of concern" -- to show that while Fela Kuti got clapped into jail every time he sneezed, essentially for being an honorable man, scores of Scandinavian welfare-state skinheads and Balkan microjingoists must be allowed to celebrate their badness with impunity? The only thing that becomes clear is that there are more conflicting axes of oppression, empowerment, liberty, and restriction just in these cases than it is possible to account for. If you support the underdog, which is a pretty good rule of thumb in any case, essays like these will have you stalking the floor with your thumb in your mouth.

The crucial difference between "good" and "bad" expression, in the booklet as well as in life, seems to be a matter of good faith -- and, no less crucially, one of who controls the balance of power. In America, we're ruled by a loose and fractious oligarchy of business interests, locked in ceaseless competition for the patronage of the Chump Consumer who'll pay mad dollars for anything that'll hold his attention or feed his baser instincts more efficiently than the majority of the crap that clogs our airwaves, shopping districts, and cultural geography.

But elsewhere, specifically in the Third World but also (as Lssw's piece suggests) in such real, earthly paradises as modern Sweden, it's generally the State that controls who gets away with what, and on whose terms. Credit Smashed Hits for pointing out the difference, but it doesn't answer the pivotal question: Should we support the power of the State against the evil corporations (and nasty, sometimes fascistic rock bands), or should we support the free expression of the people, fighting against the evil State? Can we do both at once? Is it even possible to see capitalistic pop culture, including rock 'n' roll, as a means of free expression? Is Marilyn Manson on our side, fucking shit up for the other team, or is it the opposite way around?

Smashed Hits doesn't answer any of those questions, but at least it poses them. If you're an absolutist in any of these regards, you've got something to learn from the set. There must be principles, somewhere, that will allow us to distinguish between fraud and small-scale heroism (e.g., Marilyn Manson vs. Victor Jara), as well as between fraud and heroism on a grander, governmental scale (well-meaning Sweden vs. bloody Nigeria).

Let's ban Muzak, first off -- and use the silence to help think things over.

Index on Censorship: www.indexoncensorship.org.

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