Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Noughties By Nature #66: XX Teens - How To Reduce The Chances Of Being A Terror Victim

You'd have thought - given that much of the decade has been spent waging a global war on terror - that there'd have been more of a song and dance made about it. Or at least a few more songs. If this had been the 1980s, by now every medium-sized urban centre in America would boast a shouty punk act called Raised To Orange and Billy Bragg would have knocked out a couple of b-sides rhyming "little bottles through the x-ray" with "wars far away". Perhaps a phoney war excites less interest.

In this gap strode XX Teens (a cruel irony that, having changed their name to avoid upsetting Xerox, they're now lumbered with sounding like the S Club Juniors to The XX). They managed to sum up pretty much the tenor of the last ten years amongst those for whom the fear of something dreadful, and possibly foreign, lurked around every corner. The lyric is a direct lift from a 2003 Fox News webpage advising how you can best avoid becoming part of a front-page mosaic of out-of-focus photos of the dead - and, yes, it is a genuine Fox feature.

Ripped from the headlines, and declaimed over a military-light-industrial beat, Fox's panicky over-compensation guide turns, surprisingly, into an classic of that much-loved genre, the list song. The absurdity of this fit of the vapours crumbles in a mix of the bleeding obvious ("when in a foreign country, don't advertise that you're American by speaking loudly, holding up maps, exchanging currency at airports, showing American flags, etc…"), the contradictory (American flags make you a target, but staying at overseas branches of American chains will protect you) and the downright nuts ("Do not live or work in a highly urban area that most likely would be a terrorist's target, such as New York City, Washington, D.C., or San Francisco" sounds impossibly fine until you discover you're living next door to the Unabomber.) It's angry and sarcastic without the need for any editorialising - sometimes, simply reflecting back is all that's needed. You could almost imagine Richard Stilgoe having done the same thing with, say, Gas Board regulations back in the Nationwide era - perhaps his eyebrow more artfully arched, and with a piano instead of a thumping beat. And reducing the War On Terror to the scale of a petty bureaucracy with a death wish is exactly the sort of downsizing we needed. This is what the background noise of the decade sounded like.
Simon HB


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