“When all of your wishes are granted, many of your dreams will be destroyed”- The Man That You Fear
Marilyn Manson cucked after Columbine, although I can hardly blame him. If a kid went out and shot-up a Chuck-E-Cheese after reading “From the Arcade to the Girlfriend Experience,” I’d probably end up cucking too. It’s a heavy toll to pay for a guy who was just having a good bit of fun trolling.
Yes, that’s right- if you weren’t in on the joke, or actually took the old bastard seriously- Marilyn Manson started his career as a pre-internet, proto-troll. A tremendous practical joke, a long-con, being played on the very people paying to see him. And, yeah, two kids took it too seriously, played some Doom, and fucked the whole thing up.
Good art is sometimes hiding in plain sight; defying expectations to the point of invisibility despite nearly begging to be seen. Heavy metal is the perfect genre to commit this kind of artistic trickery– its thematics are brain dead and expectations are low. If an artist manages to slip one past the goalie, manipulating the genre’s tropes into something more than the usual cartoonish nightmare imagery, they can always shrug their shoulders and play dumb if found out.
Iron Maiden played this game wonderfully with their song “2 Minutes to Midnight,” comparing the immorality of nuclear war to abortion. If full-scale war is considered the exploitation of the powerless for the personal gain of the powerful, how is abortion considered virtuous freedom?
What really separates one from the other? Iron Maiden seems to think the line is as thin as a “madman play on words,” and if anyone seems to catch on, they can deny the rouse and sheepishly defer to being “big, dumb, loud, and stupid”- you know, heavy metal.
Manson gladly embraced the media’s label of “shock rocker,” which served as a sure sign that he’d be able to imbue his music with whatever implicit messages he’d like- after all, he’s a shock rocker.
For there, the plan was rather basic: Cover his actual, unacceptable, thought-crimes with pseudo-unacceptable degeneracy. Sure, the bible belt would be outraged over Manson’s silly antics, but make no mistake- the act was mainstream friendly. Marilyn Manson was on MTV, their records were sold at Wal-Mart, and they played in big hockey arenas; degeneracy in the waning days of the 20th century was as American as apple pie.
Nothing blurred the line between vapid shock rock and dangerous thought-crime more than Manson’s cover of Patti Smith’s “Rock and Roll Nigger.” Erring on the side of the egotistical shock rocker, it was easy to pass off Manson’s cover as spectacle- an easy excuse for Manson to shout a naughty word. And when Manson changes the last verse to reflect his own real name- “Brian Warner, what a nigger”- the effect when understood through the lens of attention seeking seems corny and overdone.
But what if there was something more to Manson’s version of the song? What if it was less about the joy of safely uttering a bit of forbidden language, and more about the song’s original intent of calling attention to those “outside of society”? And, if that were the case, is there a hidden gravitas to Manson labeling the man behind the image as part of the out-group?
After all, who is Brian Warner?
Manson was prescient in his understanding of how the mindset of the heavy metal fan had changed from the 80s to the mid-90s. No longer was it hip to be drunk and dumb- now it was hip to be a clove smoking pseudo-intellect. When Manson went after the rather boring meme of “Christian hypocrisy,” his audience ate it up. Suddenly these Gen-X, proto-Social Justice Warriors were able to satisfy their need to feel smarter and morally superior to their parents- a curse they inherited.
With “Antichrist Superstar” (1996), Manson certainly seemed to be giving them what they wanted. In the run-up to the record, Manson became ordained as a Reverend in the “Church of Satan,” and promoted the album as the “beginning of the end to Christianity.” The lead single off the record, “The Beautiful People,” seemed to take aim at the typical enemies of the Left: beautiful, strong, capitalists- and unsurprisingly received heavy rotation on MTV.
With a drum-beat mimicking a military march, “The Beautiful People” presented itself as an assault on everything the band itself, and their audience by-extension, wasn’t. Manson fans had taken up their dark and grotesque aesthetic, and “The Beautiful People” became their rallying cry, as Manson shouted the song’s lyrics as if barking orders: “There’s no time to discriminate, hate every motherfucker in your way.”
“Capitalism has made it this way, Old-fashioned fascism will take it away”- The Beautiful People
What a second, what did he say? If I read that right, and I think I did, Manson suggests capitalism- or the free market- unfairly created a high-value on what’s beautiful, and his answer to that is fascism? Forcing the world to embrace the hideous; he can’t be serious!
Nope, only trolling! Don’t tell me you fell for it?! Manson baits the audience into thinking he’s on their side while skillfully casting them as “the horrible people.” It’s easy to interpret the title with a mocking, sarcastic connotation of the term “beautiful”- a kind of demonized beauty. Pretentious starlets come to mind; the cheerleader you couldn’t fuck in high school. But Manson uses the term quite earnestly in the song’s chorus: “Hey, you, what do you see? Something beautiful or something free?”
Coupling “beautiful” with “free” clues the listener in to his sincerity- the Left is not one to demonize freedom. Manson isn’t criticizing beauty with the song- he’s addressing anyone who takes the song literally, at face-value, as those who “can’t smell [their] own shit on [their] knees.”
“Antichrist Superstar” has two distinct musical styles; one with a cleaner, less distorted guitar sound and much tighter production (like in “The Beautiful People”), and one with heavily distorted, live sounding guitars and looser production. There’s a reason for this- when Manson is telling you a lie that you want to hear, the production is tight and the guitars are less distorted- when Manson is telling you the hard truth, the sound is chaotic and ugly.
Remember how good art is sometimes hiding in plain site? Manson believed so strongly in his shock rock suit of armor, protecting him from any probing insight into his real, and far darker message, that he tells the listener outright, at the very start of the record, “when you are suffering, know that I have betrayed you,” in the opening moments of the song, “Irresponsible Hate Anthem,” as a live crowd of Manson fans chant the words: “we hate love, we love hate.”
Yes, he was that gleefully blatant- begging to be caught, yet confident in his elusiveness.
Say what you will about the Christian Right’s pro-life campaign, but it has a sincere sense of morality at its center. Comparatively, the Left’s obsession with abortion isn’t about morality; at best it’s a petty dodging of responsibility, and certainly against the tide of nature. The Left can gussy it up with their “madman play on words,” swearing its really about choice, and a woman having autonomy over her own body- anything but dead babies, of course- and still, at its heart, it’s a rather twisted obsession.
Like Iron Maiden, Manson called attention to the self-defined heroes of the story having an obsession with cannibalization. On the band’s debut, Manson promises it’s “the pro-life [he] will kill,” adding “I hate therefore I am, Godamn your righteous hand”- so, who’s the real monster? The morally stubborn, however potentially misguided, or the person thinking that killing them is justifiable?
And Manson is sure to remind them that this is the world they wanted, asking “are all your infants in abortion cribs?” This is what they wanted- abortions on the front end, with fertility clinics and regret later.
The album’s climax, the title track “Antichrist Superstar” represents the ascension of the new, progressive, leftist God- the Antichrist Superstar. Again, Manson is clever and blatant in the horror of this new reality:
“You built me up with your wishing hell
I didn’t have to sell you
You threw your money in the pissing well
You do just what they tell you”
The world they want- ugly, fascist, and sterile- will be their own hell, as Manson is quick to add, “the time has come for bitter things.” At the end of the track, Manson again reminds the listener: “when you are suffering, know that I have betrayed you…”
What follows, “1996,” details a progressive hellscape- what the world would look like if the horrible people were able to shape it, as they “light a candle for the sinners, [and] set the world on fire.” Even those with the sincerest of intentions shouldn’t tear down every traditional social institution in their disgust- its consequence, setting the world on fire.
The Left only knows how to destroy what they hate and reject, as Manson screeches:
“Anti-white and anti-man
I got the anti-future plan.”- 1996
Didn’t see that coming, huh? Manson shouts with venom in the song’s chorus, “I can’t believe in the things that don’t believe in me… ”
So, who is Brian Warner? Without the costume, and make-up, Brian Warner is a white man who can understand he’s become the progressive’s new nigger- the new outsider. When he closes “Antichrist Superstar” with “The Man that You Fear,” it’s worth asking if he’s referring to the artificially ghoulish Marilyn Manson or the very real, white male, Brian Warner- both equally hated and feared in modern America.
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