Are Rammstein Fascist or Postmodern?

In Slavoj Žižek’s latest film, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, he raises the connection between Rammstein and Fascism which has been a familiar talking point since the band formed in 1994. The band’s repeated use of Nazi-like militarism and, more directly, their references to material such as Leni Riefenstahl’s film Olympia, which was screened at the 1938 Berlin Olympics, has led to numerous accusations that the band has various kinds of fascist sympathies.

Žižek’s argument, as usual, is that this general position needs to be completely reversed. For Žižek, far from being sympathetic to Nazi ideas, Rammstein show us the ridiculousness of Nazism by allowing us to experience its emotional structure and the way it works by stirring us up into a violent frenzy, whilst attaching this to something divorced from Nazism completely. This shows us how Nazism works, and undermines its claim that our emotions are stirred by its greater cause or anything like that; they can be stirred up this way for anything, even for a New German Hard band like Rammstein. For Žižek then, ‘the way to fight Nazism is to enjoy these elements […] suspending the Nazi horizon of meaning and undermining Nazism from within.’

Yet, this reading frames Rammstein as something strangely ‘postmodern.’ The band use and mock a style, showing that there is nothing unique about it. Frederic Jameson describes postmodernism as the style which undermines the previous belief in a ‘unique, private style, as unmistakable as your fingertips.’ In mimicking other styles, postmodernism aims to show that all there is is mimicry, repetition and quotation, and nothing individual, original or unique. Rammstein, in these terms, mimic Nazism, showing that there is nothing unique or essential about it.

The most famous definition of postmodernism is that given by Jean-François Lyotard, who writes that the postmodern condition is ‘an incredulity to metanarratives.’ Fascism, perhaps along with religion, is the ultimate example of a metanarrative, and has been discussed as such by many sociologists. A metanarrative is something which makes truth-claims, tries to explain things, to fix itself and appear ‘right’ or ‘natural,’ and this is what postmodernism mocks.

So – would this be the opposition between Rammstein and Fascism, that it is Rammstein’s postmodernism that makes it a criticism of Fascism, undermining the Nazi metanarrative by showing how there is really nothing behind its claims to stir up our emotions for its cause?

Perhaps. In asserting that there is nothing behind these emotional process that are happening to us, by showing that one’s emotions can be stirred up and directed at anything, used for any purpose, yes, one may exhibit incredulity to matanarratives such as Fascism and Religion, which claim that there is something essentially right or true evidenced in their ability to ‘move us’ emotionally. But, one also risks something else in this assertion. That is, promoting a view of the world in which there is little or nothing behind that to which we attach ourselves. If this is so, then we must also ask: is this not the very world – in which it seems we have nothing to anchor our beliefs – out of which fascism itself arises?

Ultimately what we might see is that there is something fascist about postmodernism, the two categories often opposed to one another. Jameson’s work expresses the danger of promoting a culture in which one cannot ‘believe’ in anything, in which we assert that ‘meaning’ was only ever an appearance. Whilst metanarratives are obviously a problem, what Jameson could perhaps see that Lyotard could not was that ‘incredulity to metanarratives’ does not only come after fascism (as a response to it) but also before it (as a cause of it). The very world that asserts a fragmented life in which there is nothing to believe in is the same world that is allowed to believe in anything, even if that which we choose is a metal band like Rammstein. We buy 35 million copies of their albums, attend gigs, and cover ourselves in tattoos for them, defining ourselves by them. In this way at least, Rammstein are a symptom of our culture rather than a critque of it. This is the world in which we live, a ‘postmodern’ one not only passionately incredulous towards fascism but in danger of falling back into it.

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