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Katie Warfield Manipulation of Media by the Manic Street Preachers

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Vivian Pencz

October 29th, 2010


Katie Warfield

Manipulation of Media by the Manic Street Preachers

“Find your truth/Face your truth/Speak your truth/Be your truth.” (Manic Street Preachers, Lipstick Traces, “Judge Yr’self”) Throughout the first five years of alternative rock band Manic Street Preachers’ career, from 1989 to 1994, they lived by this modus operandi. Consequently, the Manics ran their band like a political party, utilizing and manipulating every form of media available to them—music, print, television, film, and art—to disseminate their “truth”: their own carefully cultivated ideology.

The Manics’ collective ideology, or belief system, was a coexistence of forms of socialism (advocating the distribution of wealth and the rights of the working class versus the government), nihilism (upholding the rejection of religious principles and the status quo, and espousing the inherent meaninglessness of life), militant moralism (campaigning for human rights), and cultural intellectualism.

By promoting and debating this ideology through media, the band treated media as a discourse in defense of ideology (Augie Fleras, Mass Media Communications in Canada 48), as well as a vessel for propaganda.

As Richey Edwards, the band’s lyricist, put it, “We want to sing about all the issues other bands ignore: institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia,” (Simon Price, Everything 116) and, “a culture that says nothing, [wherein] you feel like nothing” (Everything 48). James Dean Bradfield, the Manics’ singer, guitarist, and principal songwriter once said, “We want a chance to attack the targets that people never attack anymore, because they’re too frightened to, [like] the House of Lords, the monarchy, institutionalized corruption” (48).

By doing so, the band became “a manifesto for life” (xiii), as co-lyricist and bassist Nicky Wire described it.

According to Wire, from the very beginning, “Every bit of music, every lyric, and every bit of artwork [was] controlled by us, and that’s where our integrity lies.” (YouTube, 1993 Raw Power interview) Edwards confirmed this by proclaiming that, “We had to create ourselves. Camus, our favourite writer, said, ‘If there is no God, then I am God,’ and that was our philosophy from the start.” (YouTube, 1991 Vivid TV interview)

“Creating themselves” as a fully-functioning indoctrination mouthpiece started with the Manic Street Preachers’ lyrics and music.

On their debut album Generation Terrorists, lyricists Edwards and Wire vilify capitalism in “Slash ‘N’ Burn” and “Born To End”, while in “Motorcycle Emptiness” they denounce modern consumer culture in every line. For example: “Each day living out a lie/Life sold cheaply forever,” “Everyone’s a victim/Your joys are counterfeit/This happiness corrupt,” and the title itself, being a metaphor for (particularly American) modern life that reduces it to a shiny shell.

Their obvious Marxist stance aside, the album also conveys messages linked to feminism: “All the world does not exist for me” (sung by guest vocalist Traci Lords, American adult film star, “Little Baby Nothing”); rejection of the state: “Democracy is an empty lie” (“Spectators of Suicide”); republicanism: “Repeat after me: Fuck Queen and country” (“Repeat”); anti-religion: “Christen me Fuhrer Nazarene” (“Crucifix Kiss”); and nihilism: “Our lives drift into a faceless sense of void/Everything of meaning becomes destroyed” (“Love’s Sweet Exile”).

On their second album Gold Against the Soul the Manics attack the state: “This century achieved so much, to make a voice no voice at all” (“Roses in the Hospital”); sexist media: “My idea of love comes from/A childhood glimpse of pornography” (“Life Becoming a Landslide”); political hypocrisy: “White liberal hates slavery/Needs Tai labour to clean his home” (“Gold Against the Soul”); and even society as a whole: “The weak kick like straw/Until the world means less and less” (“From Despair to Where”).

However, their third album, and the final one of this period, The Holy Bible, was their most extreme instrument of expression, criticism, and indoctrination yet. It was “the sound of intolerance [and] an intelligent, sustained attack on the liberal consensus” (Everything 42), being a “harrowing tour of the most shameful corners of the dying twentieth century (dictatorship, prostitution, anorexia, suicide, genocide).” (143)

In “Of Walking Abortion”, Edwards blames the listener for the rise of despots: “Hitler reprised in the worm of your soul”; in “Yes”, he encapsulates the perversion of a profit-obsessed, self-prostituting society: “Someone will always say yes”; in “4st. 7lb.”, he highlights feminist issues: “I want to be so skinny that I rot from view/I want to walk in the snow and not leave a footprint”; and in “Archives of Pain” he calls for capital punishment and a kind of militant moralism, writing, “Sterilize rapists/All I preach is extinction.”

Anti-American messages are also conveyed in “Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart”: “Images of perfection, suntan and napalm/Grenada–Haiti–Poland–Nicaragua/Who shall we choose for our morality?/I’m thinking right now of Hollywood tragedy”, while “Die in the Summertime” rails against apathy—“If you really care, wash the feet of a beggar”—and “Faster” celebrates their nihilistic views: “I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing.”

The album title alone crystallized the Manics’ desire to have their ideas and beliefs read as the truth. According to Edwards, “If the Holy Bible is true, then it should be about the way the world is. And I think that’s what my lyrics are about, they speak about how the world actually is.” (YouTube, 1994 Artist Special, the last interview before his disappearance).

The band’s music itself also contributed to the way they wanted themselves and their ideas to be perceived. For instance, while Generation Terrorists and Gold Against the Soul “carried uncomfortable messages via melodic, commercial rock”, “in The Holy Bible message and medium were inseparable: the music, discordant and irregular, is onomatopoeic for the content.” (Everything 143)

The Manic’ unique use of sound bites and clips of movie dialogue in their songs, a meshing of media that they employed on all three early albums, also helped communicate their thoughts and values through their music. For instance, in the middle of the track “Mausoleum” (The Holy Bible), controversial author J.G. Ballard can be heard to say, “I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit, and then force it to look in the mirror.” This sheds illumination on the Manics’ own political motives.

Even Bradfield’s dissonant vocals and bizarre pronunciation served a higher purpose: “I wanted our message to be powerful but quite unintelligible, in such a way that people would want to find out more, find out what would drive us to create music that sounded like that.” (78-79)

Unsurprisingly, people, namely the press, did want to find out more; but before they even had a chance to come knocking, the Manic Street Preachers were already learning to manipulate the news media and harness its power for themselves.

According to Manics biographer Simon Price, as well as the band themselves, “From day one, the Manics had written their own reviews, dictated their own agenda, knew exactly which buttons to push. ‘We were quite clinical. We were like magpies, collecting information, keeping dossiers on journalists, and learning how to manipulate them’.” (65)

In fact, the young upstarts were so clinical that now, “[Wire] has an unnerving habit of quoting reviews back to journalists, verbatim” (13), having done his research well.

When the band first formed, explained Edwards, “We spent maybe a year writing letters, phoning journalists up—Any address or phone number we got, we would write to or phone.” (Youtube, 1994 NME interview)

They even penned their own eloquent press releases: “We are young, beautiful scum, pissed off with the world. […] We are the musical sculptures of post-modernism.” (Edwards, Everything 17)

In their early days, they even mendaciously claimed that they used drugs, “heralding their ‘heroin-tainted rock ‘n’ roll’,” (112), but the band was not concerned with factuality. They were concerned with joining the rock ‘n’ roll mythology: “We’re prepared to prostitute ourselves completely just so we get heard.” (Edwards, 49) Said Edwards in a 1991 interview with Spiral Scratch magazine, “We’d never turn down an interview.”

As Price put it in the band’s biography: “This appropriation of tabloid techniques was a classic example of the situationist notion of détournement: seizing the products of capitalism and using them as weapons against it.” (78)

Indeed, “every interview was an abattoir of sacred cows” (65), in part due to Wire’s “desire to be hated” (Youtube, 1994 Naked City interview), and the Manics’ constant controversy-brewing and political rampaging.

Wire described their unique relationship to media best when he said that their interviews “usually turn into discourses on modern life. And most [other bands] are much more interested in talking about their wah wah peddle”. (Youtube, 1993 Raw Power interview)

During a 1992 televised interview for MuchMusic, when the journalist asked Edwards about the crucifix rosary he wears, he launched into a lengthy, cerebral diatribe against religious iconography, outright eschewing the notion of political correctness:

“[Jesus is] the ultimate useless, fake symbol of all time. Biggest waste of space that’s ever been. I went to church for thirteen years, and it never taught me anything, apart from messing my brain up. The more you dehumanize Jesus Christ the better; the more he becomes like a Campbell Soup tray the better. I just find it really sad that he’s held up in such high regard. […] The more he gets turned into a Coca-Cola tin, the happier I’ll be.” (YouTube, 1992 MuchMusic interview)
In another interview, Nicky once stated in radical feminist fashion that, “All males should be castrated,” (Everything 83), while Edwards offended everyone with his ultra-nihilistic message to adolescent readers of youth magazine Smash Hits in 1992: “Don’t do it, kids. Never get past the age of thirteen.”

Earlier that year, Edwards had asserted that “Smash Hits is more effective at polluting minds than [Nazi Party propagandist] Goebbels ever was.” As the Manics biography clarifies, “This was meant as a compliment: Smash Hits was a propaganda tool, and the Manics knew how to use it.” (81)

The Manic Street Preachers did not only use their pens and mouths as “propaganda tools”. They were also artful wielders of visual media, including fashion, live shows, music videos, promotional artwork, and even their own skin.

On May 15th, 1991 the Manics conducted an interview with NME journalist Steve Lamacq, who opined that they were insincere about the ideology behind the band. Afterwards, Edwards, a chronic self-abuser, carved the phrase “4REAL” into his arm with a razorblade, carving himself into rock ‘n’ roll mythology forever. (Reference Photo 1)

The band used skin as visual media on several other occasions: scrawling phrases such as “Culture Slut” in lipstick on their chests (Reference Photo 2); and stamping their skin with the face of Marilyn Monroe, de-valuing iconography as pop artist Andy Warhol had done with his screen prints (Reference Photo 3).

Live, in person, and on camera, the band always ensured that they were saying something incendiary with their look, whether it be attacking machoism by wearing make-up and cross-dressing (Reference Photo 4 and 5); screaming revolutionary slogans via fabric and spray paint, from “BOMB THE PAST” to “THERE IS NO CHOICE” (This Is, archive); or celebrating their socialistic working-class roots—hailing from the poverty-stricken mining town of Blackwood, Wales (5-6)—by dressing up in workman’s clothes (150) and Soviet military uniforms (127) (Reference Photo 6).

At the same time, it was always done in a punk, DIY style, a gesture that held much political significance as well:

[The Manics uniform] is a highly democratic form of glamour. Can’t afford diamonds? Buy plastic jewels from Toys ‘R’ Us. Can’t afford designer t-shirts? Get an army surplus top and a spray can, and make your own. The Manics have catalyzed an aesthetic which can be loosely termed Glam Anarchism. (Everything 58)

Onstage, the band communicated their values through their dress, set design, and performance, often transforming a simple concert into a combative, subversive statement. For example, on a now infamous performance on cheesy television show Top of the Pops in 1994, the band all donning paramilitary clothes and playing against a backdrop of military netting, Bradfield wore a “black, IRA-style balaclava” (Link 1), prompting 25,000 viewers to call or write in to complain (126).

In a 1991 interview for NME, Wire proclaimed, “Every 14-year-old who sees us doesn’t care that we sound awful. He goes home, sells his record collection, and wants to burn down Barclays Bank.”

On film too, the Manic Street Preachers were as inflammatory and glamorous as ever, by design. In their music video for “You Love Us”, as giant images of civil rights activist Malcolm X, communist dictator Mao Xedong, and nihilistic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche flash by on a screen, the Manics convey themselves as androgynous, homoerotic poster boys for decadent but intelligent rock (Link 2).

In their video for “Love’s Sweet Exile”, they achieve largely the same effect, quoting existentialist philosopher Camus, painting targets on their chests, and dabbling in more homoerotic imagery (Link 3).

In their “Little Baby Nothing” music video, Bradfield performs with an all-female band, himself “guitarless and symbolically castrated” (Everything 87), while the screen vomits image after image of highly charged feminist symbolism, albeit in an overworked manner (Link 4).

Finally, the Manic Street Preachers used their promotional artwork to espouse their political and philosophical beliefs as well. Their photo shoots were extensions of their glam-anarchist look, while their album art referenced and quoted every one of their ideological heroes, from SCUM Manifesto author Valerie Solanos: “The male is a walking abortion […] to be male is to be deficient” (Generation Terrorists CD booklet), to avante-garde writer Octave Mirbeau:

You’re obliged to pretend respect for people and institutions you think absurd. You live attached in a cowardly fashion to moral and social conventions you despise, condemn, and know lack all foundation. It is that permanent contradiction between your ideas and desires and all the dead formalities and vain pretences of your civilization which makes you sad, troubled, and unbalanced. (The Holy Bible back cover)

The artwork’s imagery was just as politically vocal. For example, their Generation Terrorists CD booklet featured a photo of the European Union flag collapsed in flames: “A skeptical statement on the naïve triumphalism which greeted the fall of the Berlin Wall.” (Everything 69)

The Manics’ subversive mentality even affected the production of the physical recording of their debut album. The band had had the idea to “encase the record in a sandpaper sleeve, so that it would both develop scratches itself every time you played it, and also gradually erode the rest of your collection: a record which would literally destroy rock ‘n’ roll.” (68)

Although the Manic Street Preachers did not destroy rock ‘n’ roll, they did leave an indelible mark on its history. Through their unique manipulation of media and their ability to adapt it to their own means, the band transformed themselves into an influential ideological vessel for their millions of fans and achieved their ultimate aim: “We just want to be a band that mattered.” (Youtube, 1992 MuchMusic interview)

Reference Photos:

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1. “You Love Us” music video
2. “Love’s Sweet Exile” music video
3. “Little Baby Nothing” music video
4. 1994 Top of the Pops performance of “Faster”
Works Cited:

Fleras, Augie. Mass Media Communications In Canada. Scarborough: Nelson Ltd., 2003. Print.

Hatfield, Tom. T-shirt Slogans archive. This Is Yesterday. Web. Accessed Nov. 20, 2010:
M & T., The Annotated Manic Street Preachers. 2003-2007. Web. Accessed Nov. 21, 2010:
Manic Street Preachers. Generation Terrorists. Columbia Records, 1992. CD.
Manic Street Preachers. Gold Against The Soul. Columbia Records, 1993. CD.
Manic Street Preachers. The Holy Bible. Epic Records, 1994. CD.
Manic Street Preachers. Lipstick Traces (A Secret History of Manic Street Preachers). Recorded 1989 through 2002. Sony Music Entertainment, 2003. CD.
Parker, Alan. “Boys From the Blackwood”. Spiral Scratch Jul. 1991. Print.
Price, Simon. Everything (A Book About Manic Street Preachers). London: Virgin Books, 1999. Print.
Wells, Steven. “Manic on the Streets of London”. NME 1991. Print.
YouTube. Artist Special TV interview. 1994. Posted May 6, 2009. Web. Accessed Nov. 18, 2010:
YouTube. MuchMusic TV interview. 1992. Posted July 14, 2007. Web. Accessed Nov. 19, 2010:
YouTube. Naked City TV interview. 1994. Posted Oct. 28, 2009. Web. Accessed Nov. 19, 2010:
YouTube. NME Brat Awards interview. 1994. Posted Sept. 17, 2009. Web. Accessed Nov. 18, 2010:
YouTube. Raw Power TV interview. 1993. Posted Oct. 9, 2008. Web. Accessed Nov. 19, 2010:
YouTube. Vivid TV interview. 1991. Posted Aug. 17, 2006. Web. Accessed Nov. 19, 2010:

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