It’s hard to get bothered by ad music on TV but bugger me what’s the Gang of Four doing soundtracking the Microsoft Xbox Kinetic ad with “Natural’s Not In It”.

Gang of Four – Natural’s Not In It

Is it a masterpiece of post-modern irony and cynicism on their part allowing the capitalists to use a song that decries the over-consumerisation of the world? “The problem of leisure, what to do for pleasure?” Or did they just need the money? I took a look at their Facebook wall and did a Twitter search and it looks like the prole-punks are divided on this one. “Is it a joke? It’s ok, it’s only the guitar riff, no words were changed. No way, it’s a sell-out.” Just some of the reactions.

The Gang have been experimenting with commercialism for the past while. They have a new CD out in January 2011 and they’ve raised the money to produce in advance – the listeners become investors in the product rather than just the consumers. Some of the things you could buy included a glass phial of the band’s blood. We invest ourselves in our art, in our product.

William Morris was interested in the conflict / reconciliation of Art and Socialism. In 1891 he wrote that “under the present state of society happiness is only possible to artists and thieves.” What did he mean? He was bothered by the division of work into objects of Art and objects of Commerce.

“The Commercialist, on the other hand, divides “manufactured articles” into those which are prepensely works of art, and are offered for sale in the market as such, and those which have no pretence and could have no pretence to artistic qualities.”

Commerce steals the pleasure from our work, which should be about the “expression of pleasure in the labour of production”. So either keep the enjoyment (the artist) or be devoid of happiness (all honest men, working). Therefore be an artist or a thief.

So the Marketing folks at Microsoft – what are they? Should they strive to produce art and derive pleasure from their artefacts? Or are they thieves? William Morris was concerned about the production of objects – steam engines, cups, curtains and the like. Would he have an arts and crafts category for a computer game? William Morris was concerned about the rape of the natural world to make wealth – turning “the fields of Kent into another collection of cinder heaps”. What would he then make of a banking “financial instrument” targeted at a sub-prime market?  Capital, it fails us now – indeed.

Maybe it was easy to define all this in 1891. But does 2011 not now feel like 1979, when the song was first written? The enemies of meritocracy are again rampant.

The exigencies of this modern age – are they so very different from 1891? To protect the environment. To promote beauty. To democratise the enjoyment of beauty. To make things that are important to enjoyment. To give to those who make the benefits of making. To make tools for harvesting from swords intended for killing.

William Morris says

“Thus the market of neighbours, the interchange of mutual good services, will be established, and will take the place of the present gambling-market, and its bond-slave the modern factory system. But the working in this fashion, with the unforced and instinctive reciprocity of service, clearly implies the existence of something more than a mere gregarious collection of workmen. It implies a consciousness of the existence of a society of neighbours, that is of equals; of men who do indeed expect to be made use of by others, but only so far as the services they give are pleasing to themselves; so far as they are services the performance of which is necessary to their own well-being and happiness.”

Doesn’t sound so wrong does it?

So are the Gang of Four right or wrong to allow their music as the aesthetic for a computer games console, which subliminates the desire for radical change better than the opium of any religion? Or is it silly to put all the weight of argument on one point alone, when any two steps forward really needs to be across a broad front?

For my part, it’s more the latter. At the very least, it gives us the chance to think again about the shadowplay between Art and Commerce.

A postscript:
Gang of Four can do no wrong, but I recall sitting in a pub on the Charing Cross Road around 1982 or 1983 having just learned they’d cancelled their gig that evening at the London Dominion. A pint of pissy lager instead of the leery post-punk deconstuctionists was a poor exchange. My un-reconstructed resentment still rankles 🙂