So it was recently revealed in the media that Marilyn Manson is something of a scoundrel and everyone seems to be acting like this is some kind of scandal.
The etymology of the word scandal means the reprehensible behaviour of a religious person, which is ironic enough in this case, but we still use the word to mean the shocking behaviour of someone who we, otherwise, suspected of being a morally good person.
But what I find myself wondering is: why is this shocking to anyone. What right do we have to be scandalized by the fact that Marilyn Manson isn’t a very nice person?
What would you think of a person who makes a habit of saying disparaging things about people with a different skin color than him. Like he routinely compares people from other groups to people from his own group identity and positions his group as superior.
You’d probably assume he was a racist. You’d probably assume that the content of his words reflect the content of his thoughts – which is to say, our thoughts precede our words. You can’t create a dichotomy between what you say and what you think. You can’t say, oh that doesn’t reflect what I actually think, I just like to say things like that.
And there’s a very old principle in that which many of you will recognize which is that, “From the heart, the mouth speaks.”
What you say is a reflection of what is in your heart. Your words produce and incarnate expression of what’s in your heart and your mind. This is also true of our actions and decisions. So we could amend it to say that the things we say and do, reflect the content of our character, our thoughts, and our hearts.
This is exactly what culture is for a group of people. Culture is the incarnate expression of the ideas and the way of life of a people. So when you look at those expressions in their ritual, their literature, their art, you should get a pretty good indication of the mind of those people.
The thing that we seem to have very little appreciation of as a society is that culture is downstream from ideas and beliefs just like your words are downstream from your ideas. Words are the material expression of your thoughts. Culture is the cultic material expression of the character of a society.
And every society of people needs a culture. They need a way to encounter what it is that they are as a group. They need to celebrate it, they need to ritualize it and in so doing they come to a deeper understanding of who and what they are.
And sadly, in the age of multi culture, we don’t really have that. We have a kind of cultural relativism which is self defeating because culture is supposed to bring us together and reinforce our sense of community and identity but when everyone is asserting their own subjective preferences, that has the opposite effect.
And in the absence of a strong sense of ourselves, virtually anyone can insert themselves into that void and that’s how we find ourselves saddled with a Marilyn Manson as a significant contributor to our culture.
Because the only approximation contemporary society has of culture is pop culture of which Marilyn Manson was, up until now, a familiar fixture – which is to say, everyone knows who Marilyn Manson is.
We embraced him, we celebrated him, we showered him with honor and wealth for his contribution to the incarnation of our beliefs, ideas, and way of life.
But what was it that Marilyn Manson has been incarnating through his body of work for the past nearly 30 years? It was the portraiture of a fiend, a villain, or a monster. Manson portrayed himself as the embodiment of evil and as far as anyone can tell, he didn’t take the costume off when he got home.
And we celebrated him for it. When he sang, “Virgins sold in quantity …Who said date rape isn't kind?”, we said, “This is fine.”
And when people objected to it saying, “I don’t think we should be celebrating this as a component of our shared culture”, we said, “if you don’t like it, you don’t have to listen to it” – which is to say, culture is relative – which is to say, we have no shared culture so anything goes.
So when it turns out that the guy who said he wanted to flip all our morals around really meant it and didn’t behave according to conventional morals, what right do we have to act shocked 30 years later?
What right do we have to act like we’re scandalized by someone who seems to have been very upfront with who he was and what he was about from the beginning. He wasn’t hiding himself. When the content of a person’s words and work is meant to portray a monster, what right do we have to be surprised when it turns out he’s a monster.
The lesson to be learned from the Marilyn Manson scandal isn’t, “I’m shocked, he should be cancelled.”
It should be, “What have we become, what have we endorsed and participated in, and what have we created?”
Marilyn Manson, for his contribution to society, is just an expression of what we already are as a society. Which either that we’re more than willing to invite monsters into our midst or that we have so little understanding of ourselves that we are incapable of expressing that as a culture so that we can’t compare whatever is proposed as as substitute… and we just allow it in our weakness until we can’t stomach it anymore.
We don’t get to disavow that and then congratulate ourselves for being morally upstanding. We should be looking into the mirror which he is holding up and ask ourselves how we managed to simultaneously object to monstrous behaviour while celebrating monsters.