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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Philosophy of the Worm: The Ideology of Marilyn Manson (H02: First Installment)

The Philosophy of the Worm: Marilyn Manson and Nihilism

Marilyn Manson can be equated to a historical figure. We've been in a new millennium for 16 years now, and it's the first time in over a thousand years, so it's difficult to recognize that the 90's are now a party of modern history to be analyzed and evaluated. If an artist was to create a film, a book, or a television series which was a period piece that occurred in the 90's, then, contingent with what aspect of 90's culture he or she aspired to provide commentary on, could be subject to the necessity for a portrayal of Marilyn Manson to truly depict the essence of the 90's. An example would be the tumultuous nature of security in schools after the Columbine incident in 1997, which was almost exclusively pinned on Manson. You see, because of the philosophies and messages that Manson incorporated into his lyrics, society despised Marilyn Manson, and when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold found it necessary to wreak havoc on the very school that they attended, Manson was society's scapegoat. During my early years, I was subjected to metal on a daily basis, so when I grew older, I found myself leaning more towards lighter music that I found intelligent, such as The Beatles, Joy Division, The Flaming Lips, and Tom Waits, however, I could not deny that Marilyn Manson as an artist was much more than just a placater of a head-banging culture. He was subversive. He was intelligently and stringently unique. His lyrics, which was/is sometimes accompanied by heavy metal music (although more often that not, it is anything but metal, I will link to a couple of tracks that are philosophical in nature and not metal), is very visually metaphorical. For these reasons, Marilyn Manson has ascended to the throne of musicians in my mental kingdom of music. Basically, he is my favorite artist, and the lifestyle, messages, and philosophy that he projects has immensely inspired me. The philosophy in particular that he projects that I will be concentrating on in this evaluation of the Manson Philosophy is his optimistic, humanist version of nihilism, which is predominantly associated with anything but humanism and optimism. In his words, "It’s very admirable to be idealistic. I want people to think, but I’m not trying to think I can save the world. Maybe the world doesn’t deserve saving. Maybe they only deserve to be entertained before they’re all destroyed.”

Friedrich Manson: Marilyn Manson’s Affinity for Friedrich Nietzsche and Aleister Crowley

Marilyn Manson’s work is heavily inspired by nihilism, and in particular, he developed a fascination for Friedrich Nietzsche and Aleister Crowley. In his autobiography written with Neil Strauss, Manson frequents the phrase, “"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” This is uniquely important in that it encompasses the framework of which Marilyn Manson’s early work, particularly the triptych, in which absolute freedom is necessary in an idealistically sovereign state. The triptych, encompassing Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals, and Holy Wood all measure up to this concept of absolute freedom in a single man. It’s almost as if Manson isn’t purporting the importance of a sovereign state, but rather a sovereign man or woman. Equally as important, however, is Manson’s incorporation of nihilism from Friedrich Nietzsche. It may not appear to be seldom that a “metal” artist (the quotations are in reference to the fact that Manson has dabbled in all forms of music, with metal not being any more prevalent than other genres) incorporates themes of nihilism into their music, but it’s rarely done as intellectually and deliberately as Marilyn Manson does with his music. His entire discography is not encapsulated by nihilism, with his later efforts exploring 20th century dadaism, vampirism, and inherent villainy. 

Antichrist Superstar: The Birth of the Worm

His nihilism in Antichrist Superstar is ostensible, but as I stated earlier, it incorporates optimism. Being a concept album, the album tells the story of a worm who grows and evolves into the Antichrist, a powerful figure of resolve and confidence. “His art rock track, “Cryptorchid,” contains the lyrics, “Prick your finger. It is done. The moon has now eclipsed the sun. The angel has spread its wings. The time has come for bitter things.” This is pessimistic and darkly illuminant, but later in the same album, on the track, “Minute of Decay,” Manson cultivates toward a moment of absolute despair in his knowledge of a broken and hopeless world, which is reflective of the conservative ideologies of near uniformly Christian America, however, a single lyric in the heartless track is a glimpse of optimism that speaks for all philosophers across history and modernity that aspired to overcome their peculiar perception and join the collective, living life in happiness and ignorance. “The minute that it’s born. It begins to die.” This lyric is the epitome of pessimism, of course. The prospect that each human being has always been a mortal, dying creature. Immediately following the lyric, however, he croaks, “I’d love to just give in. I’d love to live this lie.” While this implies that he is suffering over his extenuated perception in his nihilist philosophy, it is still preferable to ignorant America, blindly believing in falsehoods that give them unfounded hope when a solution could be sought after, Manson refuses to surrender and insists on persistence, as the strive for knowledge and philosophy may be damaged, but it is beautiful.

Mechanical Animals: The Arrival of Omega and Alpha

Mechanical Animals steers away from the industrial sound and incorporates pop sensibilities and the general tone and audible atmosphere of dystopian science fiction. The story tells of Omega, an alien who was captured by authorities and placed with a band called The Mechanical Animals. The philosophy that echoes throughout this album is still nihilism, especially in contrast with the secondary character, Alpha, who represents Manson himself. Omega represents the version of himself that the general public interpreted him as. A gimmick. Omega’s tracks are lyrically and melodically superficial from the perspective of nihilism, highlighting what is subliminally nihilistic about the average rock star, including the hit track, “The Dope Show,” which contain the lyrics, “The drugs they say are made in California. We love your face. We’d really like to sell you. The cops and queers make good-looking models. I hate today. Who will I wake up with tomorrow? We’re all stars, now, in the dope show.” Alpha, however, personifies the person that Manson actually was, who may be nihilistic, but to a degree that allows him to channel it positively. With lyrics such as, “Because it's a great big white world. And we are drained of our colors. We used to love ourselves. We used to love one another,” appearing in the track, “Great Big White World,” which is told from the perspective of Alpha rather than Omega. Alpha, although seemingly darker and more depressing, seems to harbor some fashion of hope or faith for humanity simply by harkening back to when mankind, which he deems to be “mechanical animals,” devoid of emotion, were lively, vibrant, and honest. Alpha wishes to return to a different time. Whereas nihilism is represented by the drugs and substances that numb Omega to the harsh nature of the world, nihilism is channeled by Alpha to attempt to improve on the world, even if he has lost hope for directly saving it.

Holy Wood: The Destruction of Adam Kadmon, The Perfect Man

Holy Wood is easily Manson’s darkest work in the triptych, with its lyrics that explore violence and sex as philosophies. Ironically, although Antichrist Superstar is titularly the most correlational with religion, Holy Wood addresses the issue the most directly, with the religion, “celebritarianism,” paralleling Christianity as Holy Wood mirrors America. Adam Kadmon is a character directly derived from Sufi and Alevi philosophies, in which he is a "perfect" or “complete” man. Adam Kadmon is the least nihilistic of the three and harbors a philosophy that rather mirrors the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, which is relevant in that it mirrors modern philosophy and the naiveness thereof. Particularly, the Kant philosophy mirrored by the character is the concept that morality derives from human reason and logic. Naively, Kadmon visits Holy Wood to initialize a revolution through the advent of music, spreading the important tools of reason, logic, and hope. Although Kadmon is aware of Holy Wood’s mesmerization with celebritarianism (or rather, America’s obsession with Christianity), he is disenfranchised by this society’s primitive nature in being obsessed with death, violence, and their practice of scapegoating and martyrdom. He becomes enraged in the track, “Guns, God, and Government,” in which he states, “I’ve got a crush on a pretty pistol. Should I tell her that I feel this way? Father told us to be faithful…I have love songs in my head that are killing us away. Do you love your guns, God, and government?” Adam Kadmon reverts from an icon to nothing but another worm living in this disastrous society.

The Triptych: A Story Told In Reverse


When narrowing in on how Manson directly applies nihilism to his music, it is important to recognize what Manson stated about the trilogy of concept albums after they had each been released. It was a story told in reverse. How does this relate to nihilism? Because, although each album functions as a self-contained work, there is a hidden story to be told that tells of an actual human being, Marilyn Manson. If Holy Wood is the first entry in the story and Antichrist Superstar is the last, then the story tells of a person who comes to begin a revolution through music, becomes disenfranchised by the horrific and hateful nature of the people (the story of Holy Wood.) Then, he roots himself and rises to star power by adapting to his surroundings and conforming to the life of a rock star that utilizes drugs, alcohol, and other substances that numb him to the pain of his conformity. Then, in Antichrist Superstar, he finally ascends to the Antichrist, what he sought to become all along, and then nihilistically realizes that he despises what he has become and is struck with the truth that he has become the essence of what is wrong with his society, so he destroys himself, tearing down everything that he built over the course of his career as a rock star. From the perspective of a nihilistic philosopher, it is truly haunting.

Thus ends my philosophical analysis of Marilyn Manson's triptych of albums. Most likely the most nihilistic artist of the past few generations, Marilyn Manson is an important figure in modern nihilism.

3 comments:

  1. The Devil Beneath My Feet:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoVWHFee9Wk

    Cryptorchid:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jj_vCNevsfY

    Third Day On A Seven Day Binge:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiKJOfr-Bqw

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  2. This was a pretty interesting post, though I don’t quite agree with you. I guess I fail to see how Marilyn Manson can be both optimistic and nihilistic all in one because the very definition of nihilism is to believe that life is pointless. I don’t understand how that can be his message, but still be optimistic. I understand he’s all be yourself and do what makes you happy kind of thing, but what does that matter if you don’t matter. I’m not sure how anyone can have a high self-esteem and self-worth while believing that they are pointless and without purpose. I don’t know maybe that’s just me, but I just don’t understand that, it seems like a huge contradiction.

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  3. Very interesting. Nihilism, optimism, and humanism are indeed a strange trio. Add idealism and you get an even more remarkable quartet. Maybe we should define our terms.

    My definitions, which I invite you to counter with yours if they differ:

    Nihilists think nothing matters, nothing's meaningful, there are no values or standards a free spirit is obliged to honor. Anything goes. (NOTE: by this definition Nietzsche was no nihilist. He accused traditionalists and religionists of nihilism, for devaluing the world in favor of heaven.)

    Optimists think things matter more and life's meaning is enriched as time goes by, and that we can measure life's progress by reliable standards and values we generally share.

    Humanists think life, human life in particular, is of inestimable value. They think nothing matters more than our collective commitment to improving the quality of life for as many of us, and of our descendants, as we possibly can. Of course the world deserves saving, we think, and that will only happen if we roll up our sleeves and fight for good, against evil. We're all "dying creatures," regarded in isolation, but we've lucked into the gift of life, and we have an opportunity to contribute to the evolution of a vibrant species and civilization.


    I have a hard time relating to Marilyn/Brian. But thanks for educating me about him and his music (which I'll not be listening to, I'll stick with the Beatles and Prine and Waits...), he's clearly a thoughtful guy who found life in middle America both restrictive and artistically instigating.

    Here's what I think about nihilism in general:

    "A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humor, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called 'meaningless' except if the person living it is also an existentialist and elects to call it so. It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one's everyday life as if this were so." Christopher Hitchens

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