The World Is Topsy-Turvy: The Staggered Legacy of Marilyn Manson
The world is topsy-turvy.
…said Howard Zinn in an address in 1972. But it takes little effort to see that now, more than ever, this holds true. A mercurial and corrupt reality show star with the processing power of an infant is in charge of supposedly the most powerful country on earth, a surprisingly forward thinking and good theocratic ruler (after a VERY long line of bad ones) is being accused of covering up his religious structure’s sexual abuses, a nobel laureate who finally saw some progress after being released from house arrest is helping cover up the ruthless slaughter of Rohingya muslims, our heroes and politicians are being exposed for bought-out liars, predators, and hypocrites, and the most devout among the American people seem to be arguing for a return to the “good old days” of the KKK and Nazism.
Since the greatest generation and before, the thin veneer of a story we have forced upon ourselves and on the world is of America, the upright and strong, striding forward with integrity and the good old American way. What many of have slowly been growing aware of, and which the current political climate thrusts into stark relief, is that that American belief is shiny plastic face hiding the horror beneath, a hollow, rotten, and corrupted center that goes continuously unacknowledged. Movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo are showing our beliefs—in the American Ideals of intergrety and honesty and uprightness to be tantamountly false. We are just as horrible and culpable as every other country on this planet. And perhaps even worse for all our boasting.
So…our institutions are greedy and weak, our religions are violent and hateful, our justice is fickle and easily corrupted, and our way of life is needlessly wasteful and ignorant. And certainly there have been intellectuals telling us this for years—Howard Zinn among them, has made a career of it trying to humble our American Arrogance—and all out of love because despite our paucity of moral rightness, there are those who do try to live up to this fantasy we have concocted. But not many in the mainstream have given such dangerous notions a voice, save one.
Since 1989 Marilyn Manson has been wailing about the corrupt woes of the system and the falsehood of the American Dream while simultaneously making use of some of the country’s best ideas.
This last week was the 20th anniversary of his most successful, and easily best to date, record, Mechanical Animals, a Ziggy Stardust-inspired rampage through America’s obsession with celebrity, the downfalls of fame, drugs, money, sex, and the horrors at the heart of the American dream. It remains his most piquant offering, though Holy Wood and Antichrist Superstar follow closely behind.
More interesting to me, though, has always been the evolution, or lack thereof, of the artist himself. Antichrist Superstar was his statement of purpose and a rallying cry to the forgotten, rejected, and alienated. His goal was to become a true prophet and false pariah—simultaneously adored by some and utterly rejected by others. Through the 90’s it is tough to imagine a more “dangerous” figure to the status quo. He even had the DEMOCRATIC government coming down on him, attempting to restrict his first amendment rights and cage him while SIMULTANEOUSLY fending off attacks from the religious right every night at his shows.
He was the scapegoat that united us. A common enemy for people to point to and say “there…there is all the evils of the world.” Which was both his object and his ultimate bane in pop culture, because twenty years down the line I wonder if he has lost sight of what made him dangerous to begin with.
While he has never stopped churning out quality music, efforts like Born Villain, Heaven Upside Down, and The High End of Low have felt forced. Like Manson is playing a role that he didnt quite intend at the outset or like he has been lost in the character Brian Warner created. While the songs remain as deliciously dark as ever to those of us that the music speaks to, gone are the days where his music feels actively dangerous or subverting.
Some of that is due to new pop stars copping his style. After all, what can you do when Lady Gaga steals your style and goes off to become the temporary queen of pop music? What can you do against the Miley Cyruses and the Nicki Minajs of the world? (more so: what do you do with the XXXTentacions, the Tekashi69s, and the R. Kelleys?) What can you do when outrage is a daily, if not hourly occurrence?
As we have seen over the last several years, what you do when you are a perceptive creative with the burdens of the world who has gotten slightly lost, is dive into ones vices. Manson’s performances over the last couple years have been…erratic at best. Seemingly plagued by drugs and drink, he’s still managing to churn out excellent songs, but I yearn for a return of the dangerousness of yesteryear and I believe it is easily within his grasp.
Because honestly what made Manson so dangerous, so upsetting to the status quo, was his incredible foresight and ability to pinpoint the values in ourselves we believed we held most dear…
…and then hold up a mirror.
His is a dark mirror. He is the gritty reflection of the American Dream—a nobody artist turned worldwide icon. Simultaneously a critic and a flagrant abuser of American Exceptionalism, showing the best and worst of us with a stylish gusto. He turnde every assumption we made about ourselves and our culture and turned it deliberately on its head to make us question, to make us think. Some of his best material like the underappreciated Eat Me Drink Me, did this in subtler, more internal, ways, but a mirror it was nonetheless.
Hell, he even went so far as to cover some of our most-loved songs and turned them into dark industrial masterpieces that were better than the originals.
10 records in Manson is still working and creating great music, but the incisiveness has waned as the limelight has faded. I’m not sure what lies next for him but I can pray that he continues being America’s dark mirror—the reflection we daren’t believe is our own.