There’s a lovely comment in the movie ‘Con Air’ in which the character Garland Greene, a psychopath played by Steve Buscemi, watches the inmates on a prison transport plane celebrate their take over of the aircraft by having a mid-flight party to the song ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd. This encourages him to define irony as:
Bunch of idiots dancing on a plane to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash.
Now, for those of you who’ve spent the last few weeks slumbering in a deep, dark cave in the Outer Hebrides (or who’re outside the UK and so don’t get exposed to this sort of rubbish) there’s a TV show called ‘The X-Factor’ – a sort of ‘talent show’ for wannabe celebs – that was this year won by a young chap called Joe Mcelderry. The tradition in recent years has been that show’s impresario Simon Cowell would take the winner under his capacious wing, get him / her a deal with his recond company (part of Sony BMG), and, usually, grab the UK Christmas Number One Chart Spot (a place in musical history usually occupied by such rock and roll phenomena as children’s choirs and Mr Blobby.
With me so far? Well, this year a bunch of radical, anti-corporate rock fans decided to set up a campaign to ensure that whoever won the X-factor wouldn’t be getting the Christmas Number One slot. The group – here – decided that the tune to do the job would be Rage Against The Machine’s 90s hit ‘Killing in the name of’.
Sounds good in principle, yes? People power overturning the desires of a Corporate Media Monster like Simon Cowell? Evil vanquished by the marvels of Facebook? The chart returned to ‘real rock for real people’?
Here’s where the ironic reality check comes in. It’s quite rich…
- The whole business has kept Mcelderry, X-Factor and Cowell being talked about. This typically equates to money, promotion and PR opportunities.
- Both Simon Cowell and RATM are part of the Sony Behemoth. Sony will get wealthier whatever happens.
- Mcelderry was given a dire song this year – the sales of the song would probably have been less had the campaign not taken place. It might be that the campaign has actually boosted Cowell’s earnings directly as well as indirectly via the Sony connection.
- It’s great that £77,000 has been raised for Shelter, and RATM have promised a proportion of the profits will also go to charity. However, another runner in the Christmas Number 1 race this year was Peter Kay’s novelty record for the BBC Children In Need, which had managed to raise £170,000 for children’s charities by December 9th without all this palaver. Maybe….the effort could have been put behind this song?
- There’s a delicious irony in the choice of a song that is probably most famous for the refrain ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’ being used in a campaign where people are….told to buy the song. And as for choosing a band who ‘rage against the machine’ whilst being on a multi-national corporate label like Sony – irony meter just hit max.
Whilst it’s been quite an achievement to get the chart manipulated in this way – and whether folks want to hear that phrase or not, that’s what it is – if the aim was to poke Cowell, X-Factor and corporate musical pap in the eye then I’m sure that Cowell, the X-factor team and Sony BMG are smarting with discomfort all the way to the bank.
I’m just going to put Sweet Home Alabama on and have a boogie around the kitchen….