Fear In The Western World

Your picture of yourself is a media myth
Underneath this floor we’re on the edge of a cliff
Someone told me Jesus was the Devil’s lover
While we masturbated on a magazine cover

Dead in the streets
Who’s that girl?
Ireland screams
Africa burns
Suburbia stumbles
The tides are turned
I can feel the fear in the Western world…

Mama’s still on Valium, daddy puts the news on
TV orphans laugh at the confusion
The audience finds itself on the stage
Fifty million people in a state of decay

Dead in the streets
Who’s that girl?
Ireland screams
Africa burns
Suburbia stumbles
The tides are turned
I can feel the fear in the Western world…

I can feel the fear in the Western world
I can feel the fear in the Western world
I can feel the fear in the Western
The Western world

The party goes on behind elevator doors
While the elevator plummets from the 69th floor
All the cars lost in the scrapyards of paradise
The newspaper photographs have all come alive

Dead in the streets
Who’s that girl?
Ireland screams
Africa burns
Suburbia stumbles
The tides are turned
I can feel the fear in the Western world…

Lyrics © John Foxx.

Thoughts on the text © Martin Smith and translated from birdsong.
Link to the post by all means, but please don’t reproduce the content without permission.

 

A rare thing this. John Foxx ‘getting political’? John Foxx writing a chorus? Neither have featured with any degree of frequency in his catalogue over the past 35 years.

It’s also a lyric that is distinctly more ‘connected’ than some of others. More relational than observational. He is examining the way in which fact and fiction are connected, the relationship between our perceptions of truth and our imagination. And in a style that has become a characteristic of all his artistic output, he places himself somewhere in the space between the two so that it becomes impossible, irrelevant and counter-productive trying to establish which he is describing.

And the agent that presents these images, theses perceived truths and fictions, is media. Not ‘the’ media (a term generally relating to the press), but ‘media’ as channels of communication. Any means by which information is transferred from one individual to another. A photograph, a story, a film. Software, songs, news. As Foxx recently described when describing his entire career in one paragraph to students at Edgehill University in Liverpool, media is everything, everywhere:

“[My career has been] about media really, and how completely enveloped in it we are, without realising. Like fish don’t see water, we are in this sea of media and we don’t really know that we are. It holds all our beliefs, or we take all our beliefs and views of the world from it, without actually realising that we don’t experience any of that stuff ourselves. We don’t experience wars directly… we didn’t walk on the moon. It’s always through media. It’s the biggest belief system we have, apart from religions. It’s extremely powerful. And it’s even more powerful because it’s pretty well invisible. People aren’t aware of it. People take facts from media without even questioning them.

He warns us with an uncomfortable reminder that even the image we have of ourselves is not the truth, but in fact a myth generated, circulated and re-enforced by the media that surrounds us and by which we communicate. We ourselves are no more ‘real’ than a story in a newspaper, or a photograph. The way we dress, the things we do, the image we present to others is all manufactured, with intent and subconsciously – crafted to communicate a particular message.

But it’s not necessarily a lie. It’s a “myth”. All cultures have myths. Legends, stories with great symbolic power that have existed and evolved for generations until they have become accepted as a kind of reality.

And that reality can be very immediate, very temporary and very, very small. Take the room you are sitting in now. If I were there beside you, talking perhaps, maybe at a party, we could engender a reality that isolated us from everyone else’s and certainly from what was really happening outside the room.
For all we know (and less we care), the room could be moving, or in danger imminent collapse. It may not be a room at all, but could be so insular that it becomes no bigger than a lift car – the metaphor extends to a point that it is perilously stretched and so thin that our ‘reality’ becomes fragile and unsafe.

People could tell us anything, and we would believe them. Stories that we read in the newspaper will feed our truth and our opinions, but may not necessarily be  a factual representation of the truth. At worse, they could present an altogether different message, persuading us to accept a radically opposite, uncomfortable and dangerous other version of what is ‘true’…

Through the song, Foxx references ‘media’ in tangible product like newspapers, magazines and television. His blasphemy is considered and deliberate in that opening verse. For many, the Bible holds fundamental truths. The ‘gospel truth’, if you will. Foxx sets this against the ‘fantasy’ world presented in a pornographic magazine – no less real and affecting. Or possibly more so, set in the context of how moral values, judgements and behaviour can be shaped by the textual and visual images presented in these diametric sources of reference…

From the television news, Foxx selects stories of the violent civil war in Angola, where South African, Cuban, American and Soviet troops and politicians fought violently for supremacy; and the ongoing political ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland. All this broadcast into the homes of children sat in front of television sets, either oblivious to or escaping from the instability of their domestic environment. He re-introduces thoughts on the invasive, destabilising influence of television on fundamental values and truths – breeding a generation of TV Orphans that he first wrote of in 1975

In making this observation, Foxx alludes to his fascination with the ideas of philosopher and intellectual Marshall McLuhan. In his best known book “Understanding Media :  The Extensions Of Man”, (1964) Marshall suggests that it is the medium itself that shapes and controls “the scale and form of human association and action”, not necessarily the message it carries.

The message of a newscast about a heinous crime, for example, [such as a Belfast bombing] may be less about the individual news story itself — the content — and more about the change in public attitude towards crime that the newscast engenders by the fact that such crimes are in effect being brought into the home to watch over dinner.

Underlying this song is the fundamental message that media has effects which may be more significant than its content. These effects organise us as individuals and as a society. The effects are perceptual, environmental, political, social, and experiential responses. Media changes our understanding of reality, and distorts our perception of it.

Life cools down when the truth gets hot
If you get too hot in there feel the pressure drop
Even when you’re dead
You’ll be buried in the box…

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