The key won’t quite turn in the front door, my hand unsteady in its intoxicated disenchantment. My loose change has already fallen from my pocket, splashing gold and silver into the rusty wide-open drain. I fall in, switch on the fluro lights, and crash on my sofa, grasping the TV remote as I do. The smell of beer, kebab, and stale perfume rises off my wasted body; it is definitely time for a bit of Rage.
The plasma screen comes to bare life, hyper-real images dart off my eyes, as Arcade Fire’s Afterlife bursts through the domestic air. ‘I fuckin’ love this’, I mutter. My feet shuffle this way then that and in a matter of seconds I am up dancing, swaying, alive to the song. Full of the booze and the affecting personal memory that reminds me why this tune means so much to me, I punch the air again and again…
Rage is a popular Australian video music programme, broadcast through Friday and Saturday nights on the national public television network, ABC1. The format for Friday night is the playing of new and recent releases, including work by edgy, unsigned artists. By contrast, themed ‘specials’, and famous guest programmers who make the evening’s musical selections and narrate the show mark Saturday night. For example, for the month of January 2013, ‘Rage Goes Retro’.
Not only did the 60s, 70s and 80s produce important cultural artifacts including lava lamps, waterbeds and the Speak & Spell, apparently some pretty good music was born out of those decades too. Forget #flashbackfriday, for the whole month of January rage has been looking to the past and reliving classic musical moments.
We go out with a bang for the final weekend of Retro Month, playing Countdown episodes hosted by Jermaine Jackson, Limahl and Tina Turner, Rock Arena hosted by Glenn Shorrock, Hitscene hosted by the delightfully awkward Dick Williams, and more!
Over both nights Rage shows a diverse range of music videos, including those that have courted controversy and been subject to censorship. It has an interactive website where one can post messages, in response to the latest programmes, or submit music videos for playing on the programme.
The questions that drive this blog for me are, why do people watch Rage, in what type of consumption contexts, and with what forms of pleasure are in play? In this blog, then, I will briefly attempt to ‘story’ the pleasures of engaging with Rage, but will end the piece with a call for scholars to more fully draw upon auto-ethnography to make better critical and personal sense of the songs within us all.
Story One and Two: Love Struck Romeo
Rage will provide the soundtrack to new love and the images and narratives to furnish romantic intercourse. Lovers will return from a night out, or hunker down after a night in, and tune in to Rage for it to provide an enchanted and enchanting soundtrack to the intimate conversations and lovemaking that may follow. A particular song and video may then become the core symbol of their romance, triggering an affective sea of connections whenever it is played, wherever it is heard. Rage thus becomes a central conduit in the way television specifically, and popular culture generally, narrates and emotionalises human relationships and key lifetime events. One may out oneself to Rage, develop a political consciousness to Rage, recognise the fault-lines in ones own culture while tuning in to Rage.
Of course, in story two, Rage is the machine that narrates a relationship breakdown, and creates the memorial conditions for heart-ache in which it serves as a reminder of what has been lost, and of what once was.
Story Three: Pills and Booze
The story of turning on Rage will often be connected to a party atmosphere. The music will become the soundtrack to drinking, drug-taking, dancing, arguing; for letting go of the docile conditions under which one usually functions. Rage offers a version of the ‘world upside-down’, in which the carnival not only exists in the videos shown, but also heralds, welcomes and celebrates the carnival in the home space. During the carnival time that Rage elicits and supports,
Life is subject only to its laws, that is, the laws of its own freedom. It has a universal spirit; it is a special condition of the entire world, of the world’s revival and renewal, in which all take part. Such is the essence of carnival, vividly felt by all its participants (Bakhtin, 1984:10)
Such ribaldry is particularly maintained by those videos which are explicit in their lyrical content and which explicitly challenge neo-liberal ideologies. Rage serves up lashings of the taboo that is taken up, performed and embodied by the partygoers assembled before its X-rated senses. The Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up, and Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax, two videos that Rage has championed.
Story Four: Yesterdays
People will be drawn to Rage for nostalgic reasons, for the chance to hear old songs and see seminal videos. The threads of nostalgia are long, however, and so the call back in time can be one season gone or forty years of living. Nonetheless, the power of music to be first felt and deeply embedded occurs or sediments most strongly in the teenage years (Greenfield, Patricia M., et al. 1987). Nostalgia for this period is steeped in both melancholy and yearning, with the present somehow lacking in its liquid modern materialism.
There is joy in having the past rematerialized, populated with memories and stories from one’s youth, but there is also something or sometimes a cruel optimism at work, with ‘the blow of discovering that the world can no longer sustain one’s organizing fantasies of the good life’ (Berlant, 2012). Rage creates an auto-ethnographic timeline for each and every one of us who tunes in, periodising our memories, activating our senses borne long ago, in some distant past we are attempting to recapture and re-story. Rage, of course, commodifies its nostalgia, creates its own ‘yesterday’ soundtrack through CD releases such as the four-disc CD and DVD celebrating its 20th birthday in 2007.
Story Five: Hipsters
Rage is also dissected for its aesthetics, for how, when and why it advances music. The programme becomes a litmus test for innovation and experimentation, as well as for foregrounding Australian talent. At a cultural and sub-cultural level, Rage is ‘cool’; it is hipster-like in its textures and resonances. The show begins with a strangulated shriek of the word Rage and its theme song samples Iggy Pop’s Real Wild Child, signifying its edgy place in the music market place. Its message board invites watchers of the programme to comment on particular songs, music videos, and guest presenters, opening up a dialogue with its fan base to criticise and to respond. indy 33 ® remarks on Spiderbait’s playlist -Sat 1st Feb:
A really good playlist this weekend.
Some great choices in there, especially Fischer-Z’s So Long. Have requested this clip quite a few times over the years but it has never been played till now. Such a great song. Great to see it again after all these years.
This is a public service for all but perhaps engineered by the young digital elite.
Story Six: Generating Music
Of course, Rage offers new musicians the opportunity to upload their work and have it broadcast in the early hours of the morning. Rage is a testing ground for new talent, for creativity, and for the conversations that emerge between those making music, and consuming music. Rage is decidedly democratic too. The show itself has creative impulses and registers, and its ‘star’ guest presenters often bring with them their own stories of musical legacy and development. The giddy excitement that a new band will greet the airing of their first video, perhaps after a devilish night of booze and pills, is one of enchanted creativity in a world so heavily, readily corporatized. Rage owns the night circus but also migrates into the day.
Story Seven: Dawn Dwellers
Rage is a programme that starts at the witching hour and finishes mid-morning, like an overlong party has run its full course. At dawn, early risers, children, and workers are drawn to Rage to allow them to rise from their slumber and to let the song into their world. In one sense, it serves to inoculate the many and yet through its anti-narrative dramas, dreamscapes, and melodies, Rage provides an affecting way to feel and see the world differently each day. It is the embodied phenomenology of Rage that excites and moves the dawn riser, as it does all of its viewers who let the music in. Let the music in.
It is not that these stories are always separate and discrete; rather they intersect and converse. And while each of these stories will have a familiar ring to them, that is, they exist as recognisable cultural and entertainment practices, each particular viewer will have their own micro-narrative to express and reveal. In this process of ‘storying the self’ (Finnegan, 1998) we will hear new voices, deeper and richer inflections, and we will witness the birth of complexities and nuances lost in creating overarching structures for understanding such viewing rituals and pleasures. There is much work to be done to access everyday voices and to hear the songs they sing.
I close my eyes, letting the lyrics to Lana Del Rey’s Video Games penetrate me,
I say, “You the bestest.”
Lean in for a big kiss
Put his favorite perfume on
And I dance for the one that has gone away.
Sean Redmond is an Associate Professor of Media and Communication at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia. He writes on stardom and celebrity, science fiction, screen aesthetics, and authorship. His latest book is on The cinema of Takeshi Kitano with Columbia University Press (2013).
Sean Redmond, Deakin University, Melbourne: email@example.com