Ready to blossom and overgrow the past
Text by Adam Harper
Robocop tells the story of a promising classical composer who is brutally murdered by a gang of cackling, dystopian rock ‘n’ rollers. However, the music industry, in collaboration with the fashion police, steal his body and encase it head to toe in the latest electronic pop music, leaving only his mouth and booming voice remaining. The composer, whose initials are AJM, is then forced into public service as a promoter and defender of community, justice and love. But his overseers are corrupt cokeheads, and his mind and ability to communicate has been reduced to basic mantras and single sentences. One night, he dreams he has written his own funeral mass and sees himself stretched out on the Crucifix, but hears a voice telling him to ‘keep pushing on’, and that ‘we can break through this’. The composer subsequently manages to transcend his techno-industrial programming and, in a magnificent display of over-the-top violence and hysteria, proceeds to clean up pop music from within, while other musicians carelessly drive into huge containers of toxic waste to become mutants, or are blown up by improbably massive cannons.
As you watch these events unfold, consider the teachings of John Maus. As you see the opening images and learn of the disarray in the world, recall Maus’s mantras, ‘This is the Night of the World’, ‘The Whole World’s Coming Apart’, ‘The Rain Came Down’ and ‘Times is Weird’. In his song, ‘Head for the Country’, Maus suggests, ‘this is where the human being finds itself, in the locker’. It is when the police commissioner symbolically clears out his locker that we learn that AJM’s predecessor Frank Frederickson has died, and shortly afterwards AJM moves into and locks his own locker. Later of course, AJM is a human being ‘locked in’ a metal container, a sarcophagus far more serious in nature. In the same song, John Maus warns us, like Robocop does after his afterlife-changing dream, that ‘somewhere there is a crime happening’. Robocop’s resurrection as such a powerful militaristic structure recalls the song ‘Castles in the Grave’, and on the same collection of rarities Maus assures us that ‘he doesn’t eat human beings’, putting him squarely against the techno-industrial adversary that is the OCP corporation, which swallowed AJM and made him part of its own body. As you see Robocop contorting and writhing in his attempts to break through and dream beyond his programming and physical limitations, recall Maus’s ‘hysterical’ performance style.
Note that the ‘two-much-money’ capitalists who take over the police department have the name ‘OCP’, an anagram of ‘cop’. When Robocop delivers Boddicker, his murderer, to the same police department, he announces that Boddicker is a ‘cop killer’. This is the name of another John Maus song. Its message rings true when Robocop comes to be fired on by the cops themselves, in far greater numbers and with more guns than those who killed him in the first place, as the long, brutal arms of a system that is attempting to ‘erase its mistake’. In Robocop 2, we learn that subsequent attempts to replicate the Robocop project and AJM’s success failed, with the human subjects committing suicide, like previously over-commercialised musicians had. AJM didn’t succumb to this darkness because he is such a dedicated policeman and Catholic – like the song that concludes Maus’s album We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, he is a ‘Believer’. And as you see the moronic advertisements and news programmes of Robocop’s world, echoed in Robocop’s point-of-view camera vision, remember hypnagogic pop and especially vaporwave.
Robocop’s tale is one of gaining huge technological and social power, but at the cost of one’s personal life, dignity and freedom, and of being owned and controlled by the most ruthlessly acquisitive elements of the capitalist state. “He’s not a guy, he’s a machine”, they say coldly. Yet despite his lobotomised and compromised expressive faculties, being directly in the grip of the enemy and the armpit of despair, Robocop is able to retain the tiniest, most precious element of humanity, and the change it makes in him allows him to rise above his wretched limitations and the wretched situation of his society and its top-down empty culture of ‘I’ll buy that for a dollar’, eliminate the bad guys with some help from his friends, and make the world a better place. Robocop is an excessive affirmation of cop-hood – he is too much cop for the cops, and brings down their system from within.
This is what John Maus does with pop music, amplified by electricity and electronics, by screaming and writhing in the night from the heart of the police station, ‘somewhere there’s a crime being committed’ and ‘you gotta do what’s right’. It is a story of heroic simplicity, simple heroism, extraordinary struggle and extraordinary faith, of life in death. This is why the film Robocop is based on the Truth. Sure, at the end of the film, you are informed that “The story, all names, characters and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with or similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is intended or should be inferred”, but don’t you believe it! This is what OCP wish you to think – that it’s just a film, it’s just music, just entertainment, just a maniac, just dead, just a machine. Never! It is the Truth, it is the Truth of Pop and it is the Truth of John Maus.
But most of all, as you witness this poor cybernetic creature, witness yourselves. For who amongst us hasn’t staggered away from a gang of gun-toting maniacs with their hand shot off? Who amongst us hasn’t been forced to eat a ‘rudimentary paste’ for sustenance, a paste that comes from a dispenser? Who amongst us hasn’t been engulfed in flames while saving a geometry student forced to work in a gas station? Who amongst us has not had a dream that causes our police handlers to threaten to take us offline? Who amongst us hasn’t been parent to a Satanic child that expects us to match the skills of a fictional superhero on television? Who amongst us hasn’t confronted our superiors about their wrong-doing, only to discover that we can’t, owing to a ‘product violation’, because we have become a product ourselves? And who amongst us hasn’t had a tonne of iron building materials dropped on them from a crane driven by Leland Palmer from Twin Peaks?
So next time you face extraordinary adversary, and find yourself in the Night of the World, recall John Maus’s famous challenge – ‘YOUR MOVE, CREEP’.
Check out Adam Harper’s personal blog at rougesfoam.blogspot.com