Frank Zappa is Wrong

This video from 1986 is wildly popular among Frank Zappa fans:

It has by now more than 1.6 million views on YouTube. But quite regardless of the question of censorship in this discussion, almost all of Zappa’s arguments are dead wrong.

Most obviously, his main argument about ”words”, which he keeps repeating (at one point he tries to strengthen it by saying instead ”syllables put together”), is dead wrong. He fails to answer Robert Novak’s first question and simply avoids it. Forced to admit that words have meaning, what he says about meaning is sophistic and evasive.

His statement that there are no songs that advocate incest is probably simply disingenuous.

Asked about the intentions of the founding fathers, Zappa first dismisses them in the usual liberal fashion by saying they owned slaves, but then goes on suddenly to say they intended to defend the rock pornography and incest that he is defending.

Zappa makes the following ”statement on national defence”: ”The biggest threat to America today is not communism, it’s moving America towards a fascist theocracy, and everything that’s happened in the Reagan administration is steering us right down that [path?].” He gives the following ”example of fascist theocracy”: ”When you have a government that prefers a certain moral code derived from a certain religion, and that moral code turns into legislation, to suit one certain religious point of view, and if that code happens to be very very right wing…”. He agrees that every society must be based on some kind of morality, but says it should be ”morality in terms of behaviour not in terms of theology”.

But all of this is of course plainly beside the point in a discussion about videos advocating incest, which is condemned not only in all major religions, but also in almost all secular systems of ”morality in terms of behaviour” – there is nothing specifically Christian or theological about the discussed moral concerns. Like the general liberal positions Zappa defends in substance, his words about ”right wing” morality contradict his own profession of conservatism.

In response to the criticism that his statement that there is a tendency to hide sex in America is ridiculous (it is truly ridiculous), Zappa says it is just a matter of titillation, not sex. He probably regards it as a form of “repressive desublimation”. But what he seems to say is that there should be not just titillation in advertisement etc., but more.

When asked what is going to give kids hope and keep them from suicide etc., Zappa replies that they should ”register to vote” and then ”run for something”. Lofton, who intended to point to the need for something other than rock lyrics and videos with explicit sex, of course finds merely registering to vote and running for “something” insufficient. Since he asked what according to Zappa should give kids hope, it is clear that he had something positive in mind, probably religion, or perhaps things like high culture, social service, humanitarian work.

But Zappa responds with dishonest sophistry to the dismissal of his suggestion: ”Are you trying to dissuade them from registering to vote? Are you trying to dissuade those kids from running for office, is that what you’re doing?”

Zappa is right about some of the criticism of rock music (18:54-19:08). And I too think that some rock stars who are wrong, and often fools, make good music, although good rock music is extremely rare. The phenomenon of the intentionally or naïvely immoral or amoral artist – often, to a certain point, great artist – is a very well-known phenomenon, at least since Romanticism (and rock musicians are romantics, in the specific and precise sense elegantly defined by Robert Pattison in the best book by far on rock, The Triumph of Vulgarity: Rock Music in the Mirror of Romanticism from 1987). It is not at all difficult to account for from the perspective of an adequate philosophy of aesthetics.

Some rock musicians are even right, or at least right on some issues. A few of them make music that is rather an expression of what has been called the higher romanticism, distinct from the lower.

It is also true that Lofton’s personal attacks seem unnecessary. Lofton may indeed not be personally sympathetic. But neither is Zappa. He oozes a supercilious, pseudo-moralizing self-righteousness from beginning to end, something which becomes pathetic when accompanied by his weak reasoning and contradictions. Lofton may be narrowminded, but Zappa is wrongheaded.

Novak was an important figure, but this was hardly one of his most brilliant moments as host of Crossfire. The fact is that it is the liberal radicalism that Zappa in reality represents that has by now long sought to criminalize its critics as bigoted “haters” and to abolish the first amendment. Almost the whole of the global-capitalist entertainment industry portrays them as “haters”. Idols like Zappa are key tools; their presence trumps all arguments. As plentifully evidenced in the 8 000+ comments on the video, the critical faculties of the fans are suspended whenever their idols speak, whatever they say.

The politicians think they cannot afford to be seen to disagree. And of course, most don’t. They are fans too. The stars are invited in droves to the White House and Downing Street, awarded prizes, knighted.

It is not least in the mass rock concerts etc. of today that true hate can really be drummed up. The leaders of today’s proto-totalitarian and globally controlled liberal socialism know the power in this, and some even seek to imitate the stars themselves.

Only with regard to censorship of the internet are the critics’ arguments still widely heard. But this is no longer due mainly to a concern for children and families. It is because they are used as a pretext for the introduction of a more general censorship which will primarily target so-called “hate speech” – including criticism of today’s proto-totalitarian ideology. That is the only real concern of today’s extremists who are said to be ”mainstream”.

5 Responses to “Frank Zappa is Wrong”

  1. 1 Kevin Price June 25, 2012 at 2:58 am

    Are you really this dense??

  2. 3 Den Väldige June 25, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    This is a most interesting observation: “It is not least in the mass rock concerts etc. of today that true hate can really be drummed up. The leaders of today’s proto-totalitarian liberal socialism know the power in this, and some even seek to imitate the stars themselves.”

    Isn’t there also a strong and obvious sense of fake religion in the rock arena? I mean, isn’t the liberals’ strong denial of any valid religious sentiment heartbreakingly contradicted by their own often hysterical cult attitude to their rock “heroes”? I feel a connection between that phenomenon and the problem you describe in the quote above.

    Incidentally: is there anywhere on this site, or somewhere else, to be found something like “An idiot’s short guide to the crucial differences between higher and lower romanticism”?

    • 4 Jan Olof Bengtsson September 22, 2012 at 8:40 am

      Yes, the cult of rock stars – and other stars – certainly has something of Ersatz religion about it, just like some of the fervour of faith in radical, secular political ideologies, as analysed by Voegelin and others.

      Have you seen my series of posts (in Swedish) entitled ‘Högre och lägre romantik’, in the Value-Centered Historicism category?

  3. 5 Jan Olof Bengtsson August 2, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    In fairness, Zappa seems also to have said that “politics is the entertainment division of the military-industrial complex”.

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Ramana Maharshi