It is the last night of the year and already all is quiet outside, not a sound, not even the odd lonely firework trying to kickstart a party somewhere in a remote part of the dark sky. I am, however, surrounded by blue and green LED light, so I feel fairly covered; one might even say my hairdo, currently red and black, could pass neatly for a festive New Year's party hat.
2017 was an active year for me, at times quite busy. I did a number of concerts - and once again a very humble thanks to all you people who showed up. The music I do, it would seem, is not deemed particularly fit for mainstream radio, so I am truly happy I still have an audience and still get to do all the concerts. Among the concerts I did during 2017 were five in Hans Christian Andersen's House, performing new music there made for the occasion, based on four of Andersen's darker tales; The Snow Queen, The Shadow, The Story Of A Mother and The Little Mermaid. Having grown up in Odense, like Andersen, I was very much raised on his stories, many of which I remember from my early childhood, just as I remember visiting his house and the memorial dome hall where we performed, so it was all quite special to me. We recorded and filmed the concerts - one piece, The Snow Queen, is already up on YouTube and also available for download through my website, and I hope to finish work on the rest of the recorded and filmed pieces maybe during next year if time allows me. Also, a number of people have asked me if the music will be released as an album and I guess I might try and look into that. We shall see. Last concert of the year was for a new-circus post-apocalyptic cabaret (how's that for a show?) earlier this month and it was loads of fun. I always considered our concerts to be a bit of a circus act and now, finally, some circus people seemed to agree. Lovely!
I also moved to a bigger place during 2017 which means the studio, where I am currently seated, is bigger, enabling me to set up synthesizers the way I do on stage at concerts which makes rehearsing so much better because I'm rehearsing very much with the live setup, real positions and all. And with many concerts during the year I think it's fair to say I gave the new place a few rounds of decent initiation. The year also brought new friends and even a little new niece, so on the whole I can't complain, really. Well, of course I can - America is led by Trump, Russia is led by Putin - or the other way round? Popular culture seems dumber than ever and stupidity is spreading all over the internet like rapid cancer. But I will save that for another year; just you wait and see, 2018.
It's time we started thinking again. For real, actually spending time on thoughts and not jumping to conclusions on auto pilot, going back to understanding aspects of logic, analogies, valid argumentation rather than measuring truth by number of digital thumbs. And so let's dive into the increasingly mirky river of so-called political correctness, let's ponder for a moment on what the term used to mean and what, in the day and age of social media mass stupidity, it has come to mean in the hands of people who seemingly have so little to do with their lives that feeling offended on a daily basis has become the latest drug. Are you offended yet? Do you feel the discomfort in your seat? Well, I'm sure it certainly is worse in your head.
The idea of political correctness was a good idea, a necessary idea, I would argue too, and one could also argue it was an idea relating to an intellectual tradition of deconstruction. Deconstruction, simply put, sought to deconstruct social and often hierarchical structures exactly by pointing out they were social structures, constructs, and not universal and objective truths. Deconstruction became a powerful tool especially within academia and would often address twentieth century political ideologies such as capitalism and communism as well as religious views and ideals, exposing the structures of power and control accepted as truths within these systems. Political correctness, in its original form, was related to deconstruction in that it pointed out how ideals of control or hierarchy was sometimes woven deeply into structures of society, culture and language. America, with its racist past rich on slavery and genocide, became the primary battleground of political correctness and necessary progress was made. Long overdue, one might add.
Fast forward and here we are today, life is shared on screens, somewhere between one and zero, just like our childhood science fiction authors foretold it. And one of the science fiction authors, George Orwell, is of particular use in relation to what has in recent years been termed hyper political correctness. 1984 is widely considered to be Orwell's masterpiece and many a highschool student throughout the years has written late night essays on the dangers of mass surveillance as an instrument of totalitarian control. And yet, Big Brother watching you is not the real scary aspect of Orwell's dystopian take on 1984. What if Big Brother found a way to sneak inside your head? That's exactly what Big Brother did, and the trick is right there in the book as well; it's called NewSpeak. Big Brother gets you through language. A Wittgensteinian nightmare for academics, is it? You wish. In Orwell's book NewSpeak is a propaganda tool that preaches war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, a tool to render language as an instrument of change completely immobile. If war is peace and you want to advocate for actual peace, what do you do? Action may speak louder than words but without the words we find it rather difficult to communicate. And if you think NewSpeak is dated sci fi-lingo, well, think again. Much of what is today called fake news is close to being NewSpeak by nature, not necessarily as a totalitarion tool for control - although also that, I would argue - but in the on-going and ever-present background noise of commercials, clickbait headlines, social media updates. It surrounds us, it's all around us, in the air and everywhere.
It is no surprise, really, that an idea such as political correctness has fallen victim to what could be termed the NewSpeak nonsense vocabulary of mass social media. What started out as a genuinely good idea, a necessary vehicle for change, has become pastime half-thinking for the digitally bored and fuel for the fanatic few, lost in their own labyrinths of failing logics. And the real problem is this so-called hyper political correctness is in the proces of doing in actual political correctness for what it was - once - worth. And why is that so? Let's have a look, shall we? Consider Bob. He is, let's say, nine years old. He does boxing in his spare time, both his parents were always big fans of the sport. His big hero is Muhammad Ali. It's Halloween and all of Bob's friends are dressing up as witches and vampires but Bob wants to come as his big hero, he wants to be Ali. He is white, though, pale as a potato. He gets the shorts and the gloves, he gets black hair dye and - oh yes - he rubs brown colour on his skin. Little Bob is serious about his outfit. But is he a racist? Let's face it; I don't know, you don't know, because we don't know Bob. We know there is a racist tradition of blackfacing but we do not know if Bob is aware of this, we do not know if his parents are. Let's say Bob's best friend is Miranda, a black girl, who, for the same Halloween party, chose to come as Vampira, whitening her face because she too is serious about her outfit. Is that racist? Is Miranda paling her skin because she does not like being black? Or is she being offensive to white people? To goths? To mentally deranged people who think they're vampires? To Maila Nurmi who played the original Vampira character? Once again, we do not know. Not knowing, however, never stopped anyone on the big internet, so we may jump the bandwagon and add our offended comments to the terrible, terrible pictures of these two kids in black- and paleface, we and a zillion other users who, just like us, don't know shit about neither Bob nor Miranda. Or maybe someone adds a comment, the cousin of Miranda, who tries to explain how Bob and Miranda were always the best of childhood friends, never racist at all. But there is every bit of chance this tiny voice of reason will be lost in a crowd of people who get off on getting offended, possibly because they already made it through all of the porn on the internet and back again and for some reason dwarves and balloons are just not doing it for them anymore. No wonder, really, some of us are opting out, huh?
And this is the problem. Because of the stupidity of I'm-offended-culture real and serious cases of political correctness battles are losing focus, often debates are sidetracked and what may have started out as an intelligent proposition addressing real problems needing to be dealt with may go viral and end up as nothing but the next offended of the week. In this sense hyper political correctness is the boy who cried wolf. And also let's not forget hyper political correctness has its very real victims. Outing and exposing people has become the latest trend and such strategies can indeed be useful as well as powerful. But always remember there's also a dark side to the force, Luke. It is entirely possible to out and expose people who didn't do it, so to speak. Either intentionally or because somehow people got the facts wrong along the way or - as seems very often to be the case - there are very few known facts to go by, just a lot of insinuations and claims. Laws may be broken and corrupt but there is still something good to be said about the notion of you, me, every one else being innocent until proven guilty. We all share this responsibility. We all need to think, even on the internet. Especially on the internet. Again, let's take a look at a couple of examples. You have a friend you've known for years. She has an utterly dark and sarcastic sense of humour. She just made a really dark joke about Jews online. What do you do? Time to out and expose her as a terrible racist? Come on, don't be stupid now. You know her, you know she's not a racist, you know she has Jewish friends. And you know her sense of humour. Don't be offended; she was clearly making a joke, perhaps even implying a meta laugh on people who are are genuinely racist. And in case you didn't get the joke maybe write her in private first. Let's say you do, let's say her replies leave you more in doubt, let's say you ask her and she turns out to have changed. She actually is racist now. Ok, you can go and out her now, be my guest. But otherwise; don't be an idiot. If she made a joke, just accept that, have a laugh if you share her sense of humour. Should other people be offended tell them you've known this girl for years, tell them she's not racist, that this is her sense of humour. Having a dark sense of humour does not in itself make you a racist. Let's try another example. Your friend is studying music and writing an essay on the history of techno. He's got Stockhausen in there, Kraftwerk, Detroit, the usual stuff. But somehow there is very little about the new romantic and hi-nrg scenes in Britain and how they influenced primarily black gay clubs and DJs in America in the eighties. Hmm! Your friend clearly has a homophobic agenda - how could he not mention DAF, Bronski Beat and Pet Shop Boys? Hold your horses. Your friend never actually listened particularly much to those types of proto techno. Maybe he was a nineties kid, so his focus is more on Aphex Twin, Orbital and Bj�rk. You could accuse his essay of missing some points in music history but that doesn't make your friend a homophobe. And just because I didn't happen to mention Herbie Hancock, Afrika Bambaataa or Juan Atkins in my quick examples doesn't mean I'm a racist. Just because I didn't happen to mention Wendy Carlos doesn't make me transphobic. Just because I didn't happen to mention Yellow Magic Orchestra doesn't mean I hate the Japanese. I think you get my point by now. But the point I really want to make is about intention.
We don't always know other people's intentions, but still intention is a good compass to go by. Is someone being sexist intentionally? Then this person is most probably a sexist. It is possible, however, to be sexist without intending it, but already here we're entering a grey area. If somebody is saying something sexist without intending to be sexist this person might not be sexist at all. There may be certain sexist traits or we may simply be talking a case of divided opinions - some people might find this sexist, others not. A classic example in this category is porn. Is porn sexist? Is porn liberating? There you go. Which leads us to the next needle of our compass: context. Let's think of a joke. Here we go. Question: How did Freddie Mercury die, was it suicide? Answer: Well, he had certain aids. Ha. Ha. Ha. Now let's imagine a context. A couple of bald white guys with swastika tattoos and a big confederate flag in the background are telling the joke to each other. Ok, there is a good chance there's an element of intentional homophobia at play. Now let's imagine a gay couple in their fifties who originally met at a Queen concert in their early twenties sharing the exact same joke. Now it's certainly not homophobic any longer, they just have a dark sense of humour and one could even argue they're keeping the spirit and memory of Freddie Mercury alive, a man known to have had quite the sense of humour himself back in the day. Search and you shall find - however, remember you have a responsibility. If you go looking for hints of racism, sexism, homophobia and so on everywhere chances are you will find it. This has to do with the way our brain works - we like to see connections, some biologists would claim we are programmed, for lack of a better word, to do so. A few examples again. Let's go back to our previous Halloween party. You see, a friend of Bob and Miranda decided to dress up in white robes with cross symbols. A fucking clansman! How could he? What kind of parents and so on. Take a closer look. Is that a plastic sword he is carrying? Could it be he's not meant to look like a clansman but a templar knight? Of course, if you want to be hyper politically correct it's worth pointing out templars have a bad history too, but just remember so do vikings, Apaches, even vampires, I'm sorry to say. Maybe we should just let the kids be kids and have their Halloween party without too much boring adult intervention. Let's instead proceed to another example. Lyrics from a little song: 'When I'm talkin' rhyme time to blow your mind time, some say it's nothing worse than a verse to hear some nigger curse.' Ok, racist stuff, the n-word and this seems to be about having a problem with black music culture, perhaps particularly rap. The title of the song is even Anti-Nigger Machine. Time to do some outing of this horrible band, let's head to Facebook right this instant. Go ahead and make a fool of yourself. The song of course appears on Public Enemy's Fear Of A Black Planet, widely considered a classic not only in rap and hiphop but of modern music as such. The problem of racism is a major theme of the album. Let's have a final example, another song: 'I'm down on my knees, I want to take you there. In the midnight hour I can feel your power.' Yeah, yeah, standard sexist stuff. Girl is down on her knees, feeling the power of the man, patriarchal bullshit, is she blowjobbing him or what? All through the midnight hour, she has to satify him without getting any pleasure herself; how gross, how sexist! Oh wait, it's Madonna. And by the way, the video that accompanies the song makes a strong anti-racist statement. Still, judging by those actual lyrics you could certainly argue a sexist reading is possible - but do you really think that's what Madonna intended? Come on. For those not fluent in pop culture lore Madonna, throughout her career, played with ideas of the sexually charged woman as poweful and liberating; she even did this before Spice Girls and Beyonce. So, yes, if you want to interpret Like A Prayer as a sexist song you can do so, but please spare the rest of us and don't blame your stupidity on Madonna.
So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen and everything in between - intention and context. Of course this does not solve all our problems - did Lars von Trier sexually harass Bj�rk? Did Ethan Kath rape Alice Glass? Did Genesis P-Orridge beat Cosey Fanni Tutti? I do not know, I don't have enough context, so to speak. I have spoken to two of these people but I don't know either of them on a personal level, so how could I know what happened? Of course I worry but fact is I do not know and sometimes we have to admit this is the case and let those who do know try to work things out. This most certainly goes for the hyper politically correct as well. Sometimes we simply do not know but in many cases it is entirely possible to take a step back or two, think for a moment and work things out in your head. And at the end of the day just remember if you call someone a racist and they're not it's every bit as bad as if you call someone a nigger. And really, take a look at the world around you. There's enough of very evident racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, intolerance and injustice around to go at. It's not like you need to dig out some far-fetched interpretation of old Madonna hits to score a few extra likes from people who always hated the material girl anyway. Instead of arguing with your friends on Facebook over whether or not they're extra privileged because they're white, male and don't like it up the ass why don't you agree on acting against political parties who clearly have a racist agenda? Instead of arguing this or that person is not a real feminist because they like - or dislike - Beyonce why don't you go out Saturday night and support your female childhood friend who's struggling to make her band work? Shaming and calling out are weapons that can be used, but use your lightsaber with care, Luke, make your strike lethal if you must. But otherwise rely on your Jedi mind tricks.
In exactly a month, starting August 24, then also August 25 and 26, I will be doing five concerts in Hans Christian Andersen's House here in Odense, as part of the Hans Christian Andersen Festivals, bringing with me my team of Miss Black and Miss White aka L�rke L�mmel on bass and synth, and Mie M�gunge on synth, guitar and extra vocals. Free entry, so I hope to see as many of you as possible.
The concerts will consist of new music composed for the occasion, based on four of Hans Christian Andersen's darker tales; The Snow Queen, The Shadow, The Story Of A Mother and The Little Mermaid, music which I have been working on and recording since December last year. Andersen is of course known around the globe first and foremost for his fairy tales and rightly so, however, some of these fairy tales were not all rosy affairs, in fact one of his most famous and beloved tales, The Little Mermaid is, in Andersen's original version, far closer to the realm of tragedy than to the happy end forcefed to all of us from all of The Disney Corporation. TM. Did you know that Andersen's little mermaid, who, by the way, was never called Ariel, loses her voice quite literally because the Sea Witch cuts out her tongue? Or that when she walks on the legs that replace her fish tail it feels forever like walking on sharp knives? Did you also know that the prince never did love her and that she ends up choosing death and certainly doesn't live with the handsome fellow happily ever after? What I'm trying to say is Andersen's original tale featured elements right out of gothic literature - Andersen himself was inspired, like Edgar Allan Poe, by E. T. A. Hoffmann, and while I recognise the technical efforts of Disney's work I do find it rather ironic that a company which so zealously protects its own copyrighted material - we're talking the company which sued DeadMau5 for a logo basically consisting of three circles, believing it would damage their Mickey Mouse brand (!) - at the same time, so obviously for commercial reasons - violates world literature. This may come as a shock to some of you, but Quasimodo ends up dying in Hugo's original story, embracing Esmeralda's corpse, and Peter Pan, in Barrie's version, does return to Wendy years later, only to find that she grew up and married someone else.
Why is this important? Let me try to explain. I was born and raised in Odense, as Hans Christian Andersen was a few hundred years before me, and my parents would read his fairy tales to me when I was a child and I remember how some of the sad parts made a profound impact - the image of Kay trapped in the Snow Queen's huge and completely empty palace, trying in vain to put together shards of ice, like a broken mirror, to spell the word 'eternity', served as a powerful symbol of isolation and loneliness, even before I consciously knew how to truly address these matters in language. Now, around the same time, like so many other children, I would play cowboys with friends, all fake guns and fake stetson hats, fuelled, of course, by old westerns rerun on TV lazy sunday afternoons. One day my parents gave a book to me about native American tribes and for a while I became quite obsessed with the topic. Around the same time I stumbled upon Charlier and Giraud's Blueberry comics - a few years later I would learn that Giraud was also Moebius, but that is another story - and for a while a friend and I would play the native American tribes rather than the cowboys. Now and then we would still go for the cowboys - the fake hats did look fancy after all - but then we'd be the Blueberry types and gone for good were the ideas of native Americans as some homogenous band of villains only present to get shot off their wild horses. You see, what you read does matter, so do movies and music and so on. Ideally speaking. For the very same reason it does make a difference when you take a story about being different and the loneliness that it brings, about forever longing and forever being unable to embrace what you miss and turn it into what's basically a standard Hollywood romance, the way Disney handled The Little Mermaid, because you're actually missing the very point, and unless you're very stupid you're doing it on purpose, a purpose which, at the end of the day, boils down to making a buck. And Disney made quite a buck from violating Andersen's story. In fact, the movie was so successful, and this is an important point, that to many children around the world, Disney's make-over is The Little Mermaid which they know. Which of course means that unless they happen to read Andersen's own story, or some academic or strange-haired musician's rant, they will most probably never know what they're missing. And they will obviously never get the story because the story they have come to know is essentially a different story, presenting a sweet romance like so many Hollywood movies. Yet, they may be lonely people or the parents of a suicidal teen who would have benefitted from reading Andersen's original tale.
In this day and age of political correctness debates we have started questioning the portrayal of native Americans in old westerns, of African tribes in old Tarzan movies and looking back on some of the teen flicks of my generation I certainly see elements of a rather questionable sense of humour based on racist and sexist assumptions in movies like Revenge Of The Nerds and Sixteen Candles. Although I think political correctness is something best handled with due care - No, Astrid Lindgren wasn't a racist, no Lou Reed wasn't transphobic - I think maybe it was time to start talking about artistic correctness and maybe what I'm doing in my own modest way with these musical renditions of Andersen stories is some kind of attempt at that. Andersen is of course part of the world literature canon but he is regarded first and foremost a childrens author which is pretty much fine by me - so is J. M. Barrie, Astrid Lindgren, Lewis Caroll, Michael Ende, C. S. Lewis, to a lesser degree also Tolkien and Hoffmann. And let's not forget how J. K. Rowling managed to reach millions of readers in recent times. Yet I can't help wondering if Disney would dare give the same kind of treatment to Shakespeare, the pinnacle of English literature, as they did to non-English fairy tale writers such as Andersen and the Grimm Brothers (who themselves weren't exactly neutral obervers in relation to the stories they collected - and edited). Imagine Romeo and Juliet settling on a nice dish of spaghetti instead of poison and dagger or Hamlet winning the duel and finding Ophelia had just been swimming all this time. Somehow I don't think even Disney would have gotten away with that.
However, it is interesting to note that Tolkien actually expressed concerns that movie rights to his books would end up in Disney's hands and he was not at all keen on Disney's portrayal of dwarves in Snow White which he found to be silly, bordering on derogative and vulgar. Tolkien himself has been accused of rather black and white stories and stereotypes - accusations which, I must say, often tend to ignore certain pretty obvious points - if Gandalf and Galadriel are really pure good why then do they absolutely not want The Ring and fear its power of personal corruption? - however, I actually understand, to some degree, his reaction to Disney's use of fairy tale material. The thing is Tolkien was a complete and utter nerd. He was into languages and mythology and you could say this was very much his life. So he writes books, builds an elaborate world, a mythology, grand and detailed. And what happens? Some American smartass shows up and makes movies and millions based on silly Germanic dwarves playing jazz music. To Tolkien - and C. S. Lewis - this didn't make sense at all, and both were very aware of the commercial aspects of Disney's work. Now, personally I have no problem at all with dwarves and jazz music (although I think David Lynch handled those ingredients better) and I may even laugh a little about the idea of Tolkien and Lewis leaving the cinema in the English rain, all sour and agreeing this is so not what dwarves are like. But I also recognise this reaction from roleplay and computer game nerds reacting the very same way to bad American movie versions of their favourite games or comic books. You can fool the world but you can't fool the nerds. However, there is more world than there are nerds and this is the problem because most of the world may not know the little mermaid ends up basically killing herself, Quasimodo too, and I'm not talking about holy respect for original work, no, what I'm talking about is all that is lost in translation when stories which were addressing difficult issues, struggling with aspects of life a little more complex than living happily ever after or at least till the sweet musical song and end credits are over, are turned into something they are truly not, often for commercial reasons. Like when you hear some boring house remix of a Queen classic and all you get is that pleasing-to-drunk-discos-beat and a few snippets of a chorus but never the elements that made a good song. Of course reworking can be successfully done, as in the case of Laibach famously reworking Queen's One Vision, but with an artistic agenda rather than a blatant commercial goal, and the point in question is that reworking in itself is not necessarily a problem, point in question is there is certainly good and bad reworking.
So, was Hans Christian Andersen a goth? Well, he was thin and pale, fond of black clothes and he was in many ways considered an oddball, an outsider. Whetever the case I think he might have felt more at home in a goth club than in a Disney movie.
Copyright: Ras Bolding 2017