Saturday, May 28, 2005

STOKING FIRES, MOVING UNITS

Let’s see if we can’t unpack the layers of dumbness in this story.

First, you’ve got MTV demanding that Nine Inch Nails not perform in front of a big picture of President Bush during the Movie Awards show next week. Because such a gesture would – what? Cause the band, and the network, to be arrested and charged with treason? Get their broadcast license yanked? Probably not.

You wanna know what would happen?

1. Brent Bozell would go on Hannity & Colmes or Scarborough Country (or maybe both) and complain about MTV’s anti-Bush bias.
2. Atrios and Tom Tomorrow and Kos would talk about how great it was to see Trent Reznor “standing up to” the President.
3. Bill O’Reilly would complain about MTV’s anti-Bush bias.
4. Eric Alterman would complain about O’Reilly’s and Hannity’s and Scarborough’s attempts to “censor” Reznor and MTV.

So Nine Inch Nails backs out of the show. And the following will happen:

1. Atrios and Kos will complain about MTV’s “cowardice.”
2. O’Reilly and Hannity will complain about Reznor’s anti-Bush bias.
3. Nine Inch Nails fans will clog music message boards with poorly-spelled and even more poorly typed tirades about MTV, Bush, and the greatness of Trent Reznor.

But here’s the thing: why?

Why did Reznor think it was a good idea to perform in front of a big picture of Bush? I don’t mean “good idea” in the sense of “important political gesture,” though we can get to that in a second. I mean “good idea” in the sense of “adds something to the song.” As near as I can tell, “The Hand That Feeds” (the latest NIN song, the one they were going to perform) has no political meaning, explicit or implicit. It’s just a typically Trent-y rant about dominance and submission. Could be about creeping fascism, could be about unrequited love, could be about dog ownership. He grabbed a cliché – biting the hand that feeds – and built himself a nice little industrial-disco-metal track. Good for him. But attaching it to George W. Bush, or attaching George W. Bush to it, seems wholly dubious. Pointless. Goading, in fact.

I don’t think Trent Reznor’s a very bright guy.

I like his music quite a bit; I think the new album is much better than The Fragile. (It’s about as good as The Fragile would have been if he’d kept just the good songs for that one, instead of putting out a bloated double disc.) But his lyrics are clichéd bullshit, overwrought and emotionally stunted at the same time. So it doesn’t surprise me that the idea of performing “The Hand That Feeds” in front of a big picture of George W. Bush seemed like a good one to him. But it isn’t a good idea. It’s a dumb idea, because I’d be willing to bet that lots of people, like me, never heard a political subtext in the song. They would have gone right on imagining the song to be apolitical until the moment Trent and the boys came out, and George flashed up there. And then they’d all have shut down their brains. Half of them would have begun mindlessly cheering this “radical” gesture, and half of them would have begun baying for Trent’s blood because of this “traitorous” gesture.

So from that moment on, you’ve got half your audience loving you for the wrong reason, and half your audience hating you for the wrong reason. And the actual song (which, again, is pretty good, if a little too indebted to The Rapture) might as well not be coming through the speakers at all. And before anybody starts telling me that polarizing the crowd that way is some kind of Stanley Milgram-esque psych-out that proves Reznor’s brilliance as a provocateur, I say bullshit. Because, again, I’ve read the guy’s lyrics. He’s a bonehead who’s a genius in the recording studio.

So the layers of dumbness at work here are:

1. Trent Reznor is dumb for a) wanting to perform a non-political song in front of a picture of the President on MTV, b) stomping away in a huff when MTV wouldn’t let him, and c) thinking this is any kind of meaningful gesture.
2. MTV is dumb for telling him not to use their airtime to make an ass of himself.
3. The lefty blogs are dumb for bitching out MTV over this.

That's all. Next idiot, step up.