January 20th, 2011
As Roy Edrose has shown time and again, to analyse and judge any artwork soley on its political merits is a fool’s game, as he dissects yet another hapless rightwing culture warrior failing to understand why the latest Hollywood blockbuster is not best viewed as a potential liberal propaganda vehicle. You find such naive appraisals of art on the left as well, but its heyday has long passed and most leftist culture critics are more subtle than that, able to both see the political dimension in art and still appreciate it on artistic merits as well.
Not always though.
On the Australian Socialist Alternative website, one Tom O’Lincoln is struggling to determine whether or not Rammstein is a leftist band or just plain fascist:
People call them far-right wing, and you can see where this impression comes from. With the extreme costumes and pyrotechnics, their concerts do have moments that look like some kind of post-modern Nuremberg rally. Till Lindemann’s bunker-busting voice sounds menacing and his long trilled r’s are reminiscent of Hitler.
So one critic called their work “music to invade Poland to”, and the New York Times thought Lindemann exuded such macho aggression that “it seemed he could have reached into the crowd, snatched up a fan, and bitten off his head”. Rammstein once got a lot of flak for featuring Leni Riefenstahl propaganda clips, and neo-Nazis have used their material – without permission. But they responded to accusations of being right wing or neo-Nazi with a 2001 number called Links (Left) 2,3,4 which declared:
Sie wollen mein Herz am rechten Fleck
Doch seh ich dann nach unten weg
Da schlägt es links.
They want my heartbeat on the right
But whenever I look down
It’s beating on the left.
Does that settle the question? No it doesn’t, as we’ll see. Neither can you settle it by reading all their lyrics. Firstly the English translations are seriously unreliable (I’ve done my own). But secondly, that’s nobody’s fault, because even German speakers will wrestle with the deliberate ambiguity of just about everything these guys write.
A glimmering of understanding in that last paragraph, but unfortunately O’Lincoln spents the rest of the article just doing that which he himself just said is pointless: analysing Rammstein’s lyrics to see if any clues to their political orientation can be found there. He concludes:
To be on the left means a responsibility to make a clear statement on the issues you raise. This Rammstein often fail to do.
Which is about the worst kind of pronouncement you can make about art, to call for an end to all ambiguity and to want rigidly defined areas of doubt.
Propaganda needs clear, simple statements. Art doesn’t. What Rammstein is doing with their music is much more complex by that and any attempt to find an explicit political message in it, whether fascist or socialist, is doomed to failure, as that’s not what they are interested in. Which doesn’t mean there isn’t anything interesting to be found in looking at Rammstein in a political context, but it does mean more than just a cursory scan of their song texts and actually analysing them, contextualising them and engaging with them. Not just showing that the lyrics in Wollt Ihr Das Bett in Flammen Sehen are misogynistic, not just explaining how they are, but why they are, how the song fits in with the rest of their work.
But that’s much harder than what Tom O’Lincoln did.