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Nothing Happened

Nothing happened. The world didn’t end when we moved into the 21st Century, all the millennium tension went away, 2001 went from science fiction to historical artifact, and the majority of people looked around and saw that things were pretty much the same on this side of the line as they were on the other side. And that was that.

Today, I read an interview with Marilyn Manson where he explains his evocation of CABARET in his recent work as a reaction to present times, Thirties vaudeville as a haven from politics. Notably, however, Manson describes himself as broadly apolitical, which makes you wonder exactly who said haven was devised for. To me, it’s an interesting mess. CABARET’s paean to decadence only gains its enduring power from context — the knowledge that the Third Reich awaits it upstream, which lends it the authentic final doom of all true legends, Ragnarok and Robin Hood’s final arrow shot to mark his grave. Wearing the clothes of the period doesn’t reiterate the lessons of the time or the film — that you can’t hide from evil, that the machinery of conservative societies will always find a way to crush the Too Much Fun Club — but it does produce other, perhaps graver signifiers.

Popular artists generate two forms of address. They produce a sense of collusion with those who already agree with them — through this CD, this book, this graphic novel, I’m telling you that it’s you and me against the world, I am your friend/ally/leader in this, I understand you — and they also, unavoidably, tell the receptive mind what to think and what to identify with. Through this work, I am telling you that this is an apolitical time, that voting doesn’t matter, and we may as well go to the Kitty Kat Keller while we can.

Post-millennium relaxation. Nothing’s happened, nothing’s changed, and you and me, we can’t change anything.

Now, I have a lot of time for Marilyn Manson these days. Much of his music doesn’t do a lot for me, but I enjoy his persona, himself as art. He’s a clever man, and I suspect his apolitics are not all artifice. He’s thirty-four years old now, an experienced artist and an experienced media operator, and he must know his audience. And America, and Britain, currently exist in a political dead zone. George W Bush does not have credible opposition, and whoever’s put up against him in 2004 will likely be crippled by the nomination process in any case. In Britain, the same holds — the leader of the opposition, Michael Howard, is a leering, unelectable monster with criminal tendencies who was until recently shunned and vilified by his own party as a moral mutant.

In the face of all that, it’s an understandable message to broadcast: find a place away from politics, because this is a time in which voting genuinely doesn’t matter. We’re all fucked. Apathy is nothing to be ashamed of. Anger is pointless.

And certainly we’re in a time where anger in art has largely gone away. This isn’t the cool detachment of post-modernism, so much as just a turning inward. The kind of stuttery lurching rise of emo over the last couple of years is a case in point: a total defanging of pretty much any working definition of punk in service of whining about how you’ve got no fucking girlfriend. “Emotional punk” = Crying Ugly Kid Music. There should be a sign in guitar shops: “We reserve the right to refuse sale to people who want to write songs about wearing glasses and being dumped by girls who didn’t know your name anyway.”

It’s understandable, and certainly it doesn’t hurt for Manson to bolster the “outsider” self-perception of his audience.

But it bugs me nonetheless. Is it a creative reaction, to answer “nothing’s happened” with “nothing’s going to happen and you can’t do shit about it”? Is that doing anything more than prepping an alienated audience for a doomed life of dying your hair back to brown and getting a job in insurance? Is that where we’ve ended up? That all popular culture has to say is, “well, fuck it”? Even as a transient pose?

The lesson of the 1930s is that, in a time of encroaching conservatism and creeping repression, the correct response is not to flush your fucking spine down the toilet.

— Warren

(Written in 2004: re-reading it today, I find that some of it seems to me to still kind of apply, so I thought I’d give it another airing. Previously published on artbomb.)

Published in brainjuice


  1. Early rumblings
    My man, Warren Ellis: But it bugs me nonetheless. Is it a creative reaction, to answer “nothing’s happened” with “nothing’s going to happen and you can’t do shit about it”? Is that doing anything more than prepping an alienated audience…

  2. Sid Sid

    > The lesson of the 1930s is that, in a time of encroaching conservatism and creeping repression, the correct response is not to flush your fucking spine down the toilet.

    Sure, whatever.

    Fuck lessons from the 1930s. This is 00s, man. You keep playing the what-ifs, the parallel lines and the history merry-go-round. Keep portraying every political struggle in the shadow of the Civil Rights Movement. Keep replaying the Spanish Civil War. Shit, why don’t you do some Bagism whilst you’re at.

    Hey General, you think replaying the last battle will prepare you for what’s coming? You think the other side hasn’t fucking learned some pretty good lessons too? You think they brought those Nazi fucks over and didn’t pick up a thing or two? Shit, they built themselves a feudal fucking dynasty in the post-feudal world and you think you have lessons learned that will let you triumph over them? Preach on, my brother. Preach fucking on.

    You think a Million Man March means shit today? Remember the protests prior to the war in London and the rest of the world? Big fucking deal.

    It’s hippy candy-ass, “we can change the world”, shit, this “every voice counts” crap that gives them the root of their power. They don’t have to win “hearts and minds” when they can co-opt your sorry ass. Keep talking. Meanwhile, they got the guns and they got the money.

    You talk a good game like all over-fed Western liberals but what you prepared to give up? Who you prepared to lose? Who you prepared to kill?*

    Nah, sing them a fucking song why don’t you.

    Some of us gave up our country and it don’t mean shit. Many gave up their lives and they don’t mean shit no more. In the end you know what matters? You know what lesson you should fucking learn from the 1930s, “brother”?

    Get the fuck out of dodge as soon as you can. It’s a rich white man’s world and until every motherfucking last one of them is dead* it will be. If you’re Arabic, Middle Eastern, Black, Woman, Gay, Intellectual, Pacifist, Poor, Socialist, Secular or whatever the fuck that doesn’t fit the right profile: Get The Fuck Out, Now!

    This world ain’t your world. Never has been. Never will be. Not in your lifetime.

    * Not an endorsement to murder anybody.

  3. kin0pravda kin0pravda

    Before, say… 1999, MTV had to pretend to be on the kids’ side… Rage Against The Machine had to bring up Che Guevara in order to sell all those million t-shirts… Smashing Pumpkins videos managed to muster a little excrement in order to keep the fans from feeling completely vulgar as they behaved like good little consumers. Same went for politicians really… Even though they are all silver-spoon pampered little freaks, they used to have to kiss the ass of us little-people to get somewhere. But now they don’t need to bother with hiding the over-priviledged fucks that they are, or how much they despise the “little-people”, how unworthy of their wise rule they find us, because apparently the public has a hard-on for swarthy old men in suits that brag on camera how they Jag is built on the bones of fags and pinkos and bums…. And MTV can just come out and explain to entire generation that the bosses over at Viacom Corporation find them so weak, ineffectual and unoriginal that they want them to BEG to have Britney treat them like retards…

    There is no more shame… People are no longer ashamed of being permissive towards this sort of thing… And the non-little-people don’t need to make an effort anymore… they can just come up to people and tell them right away they want to opress them… no tact, PR is used to reinforce established conservative tendencies in the public rather than assuage the wrath of the left… the left has become inconsequential because, like Sid pointed out, we need more guns… all the miserable little blonde manicured right-wing pro-life housewives trying to act as 1950’s as possible in the 00’s (except for the bukkake after church on Sundays) no longer fear us… the Brigate Rosse, the FP25, etc, all gone… Bank CEO’s no longer fear for their lives and can actually go about steering government policies out in the open (like most recently in that poisonous little country called Portugal)…

    While it is very seemly for right-wingers to beat on their chest and grunt and say they are going to massacre all us fags and ragheads and pinkos – evem when they are in reality nutless freaks this seems to win the hearts of old ladies and young fat ignorant things with a degree in management who figure themselves brainy for reading Mein Kampf… the left these days, on the other hand, seems a bit shy about seriously cracking some heads… What would those workers over at Barricade that picked up iron bars from the factory floor to fend off stormtroopers with automatic weapons in 1941 have to say of the fey lefties of today? Or that coed that got shot by a National Guardsman in 1968? Truth be said… in the old days it was pretty clear which skull you had to split open and spread brains all over the dirty snow… Or where the scared little freak in a uniform was coming from when he pulled the trigger. Nowadays, the enemy is between the lines, and is often your favorite band….

    Bottomline is, we are failing to turn the tide because the audiences for mainstream have agreed, by default, to just revert back into the 1950’s… Since the 1960’s it became increasingly harder for people to be conservative assholes…. Yes, at the end of the day it was still knowing consumerism… yes, it was all an excuse… But at least people HAD to make excuses… and all the politicans and movie and music producers had to make an effort; today they don’t even need to break a sweat…

    We are not ever going to erradicate this shameless nazi scum that controls the money and the guns… but we can make sure that their continuing yoke over the world is somewhere between extremely uncomfortable and absolutely unbearable… If we can’t have a say on whether or not they are in charge, at least we should determine which are the means through which they opress us… Let’s make them sweat, and let’s take this fight to our own ground…

    THEY pulled a memory-wipe on people to make sure all they have ever known is the shallow excuse for politics and music and video and any form of human expression THEY’ve set as the absolute limit of decorum: any expression of the human mind with a pulse, some balls and a brain is to be perceived as “pretentious”…

    Well, if THEY made sure Britney and bank insurance commercials is all people have ever known then we need to show people there is a little more to culture… like a baby’s head becoming separated form her body without any use of bladed implements… or members of royalty being drowned in their own filth or whatever it is that is THE OPPOSITE of what all the air-freshner ads show us…

    The only way is to make fascism un-fashionable, because it is coming pretty close to being considered “hot” these days…

    Or we could just resort to good old fashioned GULAGS and just cram all the white blonde tanned sane well-adjusted heterosexual things in there… Reeducation through forced labor, etc… the whole deal… complete with bullet-to-the-back-of-the-head executions….

  4. Edward Bach Edward Bach

    Sure, I would like to overturn modern civilization, but it ain’t gonna happen. We’ve got people who worship Invisible Granpa on one side…and the other side is, like, “We want everything exactly how it is now only with gay marriage and no smoking!”

    Enough of this talk about conservatives. The country is more united now than it ever has been. The oft-mentioned “return to the 1950s” is not about conservatism–it’s about conformity and an American inability to think outside his/her own groupthink bullshit of choice. The rhetoric from either side is like a letter from Charles Manson, but what are they really doing? Bush is not gassing Jews. Johnny Liberal is not joining Al Qaeda.

    If America were a party, everyone would wake up ashamed. “God, I got so drunk and said some really crazy shit!” That’s when the realization would set in: the “return to the 1950s” is a return to the establishment, and the establishment is neither left nor right. Politicians know this. And you know what the sad thing is? When that realization hits most liberals–that’s when they join the establishment.

  5. zerofoks zerofoks

    When asked in an interview by Peter Bagge whether he perceived the world was suffering from an illness, a feeling of apathy and powerlessness, Max Andersson replied: “Probably. But people have always believed that, through all times, in different times.”

    So this is nothing new. We all have been through this shit before, but we decide – no, are forced under the curse of our own awareness of history and our present political context – to take those into consideration who shake the gigantic stick of power and force, once more, once more.

    That has been something “new” for some decades now. World War II is over, the nazis are gone (“mostly”, most would say, “not really”, others would claim) but the wars, the humiliation of mankind, the ugly bussinesses of – I shall call them – the Devil Worshippers, all of these things keep on going on, and even though the scale they are playing on isn’t as significant or intense for the most of us as it has been some decades ago, we still react to them, whether by playing the political game or by crawling inwards our own monads – or both.

    My point is: If the shit has been going down for all the time we know now (with considerable lows and peaks throughout the histories), why should we care? Why should artists, those who are in need of creating something new because the world as it is just isn’t acceptable enough, why should these people care about the old, unchangeable digestion process that leaves this familiar heap of shit on top of humanity, including (to more or less degrees) themselves?

    Maybe an answer to this can be found in the (personal or global) armageddon which many artists have been portraying in their works, and maybe even that isn’t so much a real new stance when compared to the religious works that were created during the Thirty Years’ War, for example.

    I concur, though, that it is quite pitiful that the mainstream of today’s art has been nothing but mental masturbation or undignified laments lately. I wish that, if not the artists then at least their audience which pays in both cash and attention, would realize that these stances in art are not radical, not demanding or honest enough. In other words: that they are worthless and a waste of time, in general. It’s a little spark of unfounded optimism within me that insists on the hypothesis that if less people would demand the shallow, fickle or faint, less of it would get produced in the end.

    No answers from me, though, definitely none. Only a wish in the directions of all true, hard-working and truly-seeking artists: If you rock, please keep on rocking. This ocean needs some more or stronger waves.

  6. kin0pravda kin0pravda

    Right… that settles it then… aesthetic dissent it is… phew… we’ve finally gotten at it, haven’t we?… All those parallel tendencies in human life, each “batch” of human thought the negation of the one before… But there always had to be something more… We could never just take it for what it was… The aesthetics of dissent was just a means to an end… “Sure, what has brought all of you here was how this looks, but now I, the artist, swear alleagence to this literary/political/academic/phylosophical tendency and I say that you have no right to enjoy my work unless you learn the contents of my manifesto by heart”… Well, guess what? Cultural dissent and political dissent and describing how opression worms its way into acts of mass-communication just doesn’t hack it… why? Because it’s on paper… it can be theoreticized, it can be described, stored, simplified and ultimately pimped out to the conformist masses… The ultra-radical artistic manifestos of today WILL be turned into a kind of vaccine for the PR’s of tomorrow: they’ll stick it in their quaint little manuals on how to trick people and analyze it and see what makes it tick so that they can rally the young and the angry under their flag… Having somekind of greater artistic tendency as a business card is ultimate doom for us all… The brains of all these Public Relations reptiles and the rabidly conformist nubile 1970’s-sucking cattle operate through charts, grids and spreadsheets… So, if Warren Ellis on one occasion on DPH made it more or less understood that he is a Trans-realist science-fiction writer, that means that the colective thought process vastly unaware of itself we like to call Global Fucking Conservatism will stick a giant label on Warren’s bum, and promptly drag him off to be stored on some shelf, ready to get picked up, detroyed, and what remains of him hurled at the gestating Revolution…

    What can be done? Stick to the sensitivities, the aesthetics: all that which cannot possibly be reduced to academics, to categories… all that cannot be understood, cannot be touched by robots in suits…. Before the internet, aesthetics “happened” in one place, and to get to another place it had to be dumbed down for lectures and the media… had to get compressed into a pretty conceptual package to be transmited… it had to be stored… Nowadays, it just happens… no need for processing… Why was DPH ravaged by thousands upon thousands of people daily… “oooh! I wanna see Warren Ellis synapses crackling!”… and they did… and to see what Warren saw was enough… we didn’t need to read the abstract on a paper on Trans-realist science-fiction… So Golden-Boy has a list of friends on his website, right? Perfect! People who are moved by the same pictures, and the same writings, and the same aesthetics he is…. Don’t ask him what is in detail the exact political program sponsored by these people in the own countries or the planet at large… it doesn’t matter… what does matter is the Bat-Cock… and the Japanese baby that got its head torn off and its body left in a dumpster…. Noam Chomsky will not succeed in turning back the tide… Why? Because he is a polite mild-mannered academist and knows no such thing as the aesthetic consequences of a foxbat’s erection… Yet we… this bunch of ravenous little people tearing at the belly o the internet and world media… we leave in our wake the sensation of Revolution…. the essence of what ticks off Catholics and Neo-Cons and the Military and Talk-show hosts and PR’s and Nazis and Fascists and Pro-lifers and Big Business and whoever you feel you should label as evil….

    No more Cultural Discent… because you can track and label and sell culture… and no more Political Dissent, because over a period of time all revolutionaries sell-out…. Let’s just immerse ourselves in Aesthetic Dissent and let political solutions and a more sincere kind of culture and art with a little spine flow naturally form our madness….

    Bat-Cock for Presindent!

  7. Spine
    Warren Ellis:”The lesson of the 1930s is that, in a time of encroaching conservatism and creeping repression, the correct response is not to flush your fucking spine down the toilet.”…

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