Monday, 21 December 2009

Bringing good cheer to the cold, dark winter solstice

'Fairytale of New York' remains my favourite Christmas song. I'm aware this is hardly an original view - particularly amongst lefties and radicals - but it's just the way it is. It's one of the sublime examples of romanticism, of a song that makes something poetic and beautiful and lyrical from the muckiness of real life. The Pogues' version of 'Dirty Old Town' is another example, though I regard Jarvis Cocker as the master of the form (he was my favourite lyricist when I was a teenager, during Pulp's heyday).

The song is so well-loved at least partly because it presents an alternative depiction of Christmas: far from negative, but simultaneously dark and yet strangely affectionate. It is much richer and deeper than the bland predictability of a safely commercialised Christmas. Which leads me, somewhat inevitably, to...

The triumphant rise of Rage Against the Machine to the top of the XMAS charts, with 'Killing in the Name' championed - through an inspired grassroots Facebook campaign - as an antidote to the corporate stitch-up of the great British tradition that is the Christmas number one. It feels to many like a collective backlash against much of What's Wrong, even if that is defined quite differently by different people. Despite there being a few tenuous arguments for why people should get behind the single, I'm chuffed that the campaign happened - and that it actually worked.

It's a symbolic blow against the narrowing of the musical mainstream and the way hugely powerful individuals (Simon Cowell) and big corporations can seemingly exert such control. It demonstrates the potential of the Net to mobilise people in a campaign - though we should also keep this in perspective! - and it's simply a source of pleasure to think of an anti-capitalist classic being at number one for Christmas.

The band, when interviewed by 5 Live this week, commented on how the track reflects the 'tensions' in people's lives. The strength of the online mobilisation to launch it to the top is surely an expression - and, in a peculiarly modern way, a collective expression - of those tensions.


  1. I can take the point people are making about RATM's chart victory. reflective of "proxy consciousness" - our lives and communities are dominated by capital, but hey we can buy something as a form of protest, etc. Rather like Zizek's obscene demand for clearly marked unfair trade - "with this cup of coffe, a Guatemalan child will die".

    Insofar as a chart battle makes a nice "and finally" moment, and slips into "entertainment" related chatter we have each day, it was bound to make people sit up and take notice.

    But there's something nice about the track as a christmas number 1 - "fuck you, I won't do what you tell me" mirroring in some way Matthew's depiction of Christ saying "i bring not peace but a sword".

    All of these social media groupings might ammount to nothing more but a changing political praxis - a kind of pick and mix politics, for which there is no outlet. Hence the need for organisation around specific actions. And some of these "i support ..." groups can work in that way. Or at least raise the awareness that ordinary people could if nothing else, express their opinions as part of a deliberative process of decision-making.

    Some people have pointed out the irony of both McElderry and RATM being signed to Sony, but I think there's something to be said for the open recognition of "in and against" position which we are all in. To belittle RATM's politics in this way is like saying to the anti-capitalist worker, "a-ha! but is it not true that you sell your labour power, have investments in the form of savings in a bank account, etc." In this way, it's possible to ignore the inherent class struggle that is at all times going on over the use of the social surplus.

  2. If getting RATM to No1 wasn't activist enough - how about signing up to spring COP15 activist mum from jail for xmas?