The Sad Self-Importance of Rage Against the Machine

Conservatives like myself have long understood that people in the entertainment industry tend to subscribe to a different political view than we do. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. It shouldn’t really matter whether or not we identify with the personal beliefs of those who entertain us. We go to their movies, watch their television shows, and buy their music because we appreciate their talents and enjoy their work. We don’t do it to be in compliance with their world views. It’s a consumer relationship.

Unfortunately, there are many in the entertainment industry who don’t view us that way.

There seems to be a nearly endless supply of artists and entertainers who use the soapbox their careers have afforded them to sanctimoniously denounce conservatives. And while it may irritate and annoy us that our entertainment-driven society places greater value on the thoughts of celebrities than it does the common man, we still champion their freedom of speech to admonish us.

I’ve never quite understood what it is about the celebrity culture that makes these people think they’re uniquely qualified to represent our country’s moral compass and pass judgement on those who disagree with them. After all, the only real difference between us and them is the profession they’ve excelled at. It’s an absurd notion that their opinions are somehow more deliberated and profound than those of us who have chosen to pursue a career outside of the performing arts.

Still, we often find ourselves bearing the vocal and sometimes vile condemnation of these people. They casually accuse us of intolerance and claim we don’t care about the poor because we believe in individualism. Some even go as far as to label us as bigots and racists because we embrace personal responsibility and don’t share their vision of social victimization.

The sad reality is that celebrity rhetoric does indeed have an influence on public opinion. Why? Well, to put it in simple terms: A lot of Americans want to be celebrities themselves. That sort of notoriety is seen as the ultimate achievement these days, thus celebrities are held up on an unearned pedestal. It’s that form of hero-worship that encourages a sense of celebrity self-importance. The result is the Sean Penns, Matt Damons, and Eva Langorias of the world spouting out their political censures of conservatism whenever they’re given the platform.

Last week, we saw a bit of an evolution in the realm of celebrity self-importance. And boy, was it one sad step for mankind. We saw a celebrity actually take offense to someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum admitting to being a fan of his. I’m talking about Rage Against the Machine guitarist, Tom Morello, who didn’t at all like the fact that Vice Presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, is a fan of his band. In fact, he seemed outright furious.

In a venomous blog entry he wrote for Rolling Stone, Morello called Ryan “clueless” for not understanding what his band was about and chastised him for not listening to their message. He wrote that the political activism behind Rage Against the Machine went against everything that Paul Ryan stood for. He called Ryan the embodiment of the metaphorical Machine of American imperialism itself, and offered an exhaustive list of things that he believes Paul Ryan represents. The list, of course, included every standard charge that knee-jerk left-wingers regularly accuse conservatives of: Greed, racism, bigotry, hating poor people, hating women, hating the environment, hating, hating, hating, blah, blah, blah.

Morello went on to explain that his band’s music has changed the minds and lives of their fans, and has guided them to “work tirelessly for a more humane and just planet.” And poor Paul Ryan… He just didn’t get it.

I referred to this reaction as an evolution of celebrity self-importance because it really is groundbreaking. It marks the first time (that I can remember anyway) when a celebrity has held himself up to the level of an organized religion. Apparently, if you let Rage Against the Machine into your life, but don’t accept their teachings as gospel, you are publicly excommunicated and shamed as a non-believer and a hypocrite.

I must admit that I laughed out loud as I was reading Morello’s rant. Even coming from the entertainment industry, the sanctimony behind it was absolutely hysterical.

You see, like Paul Ryan, I too am a fan of Rage Against the Machine. I think they are creative, brilliant musicians with a great sound, great energy, and imaginative lyrics. However, their politics are no more profound and thought-provoking than the slogans written on t-shirts on the clearance rack at your local Hot Topic mall shop. Whining about social injustices inspired from collective guilt isn’t a platform worthy of a spiritual connection. It’s just overly simplistic, run-of-the-mill, dime-store liberalism.

It’s impossible to take someone like Morello serious when he finds irony in the fact that a fan of his did not become a disciple of his band. His logic seems to be that if you like his music, but don’t subscribe to his shallow political ideology, you’re a hypocrite – or perhaps just too stupid to get it.

It saddens me to see a band, whose creativity and edginess led them to such great success, now come across so empty and egotistical.

Tom, we get it. We’ve just chosen not to live it. Growing up out of our adolescent years and entering the real world made that pretty easy.

It would be nice of Morello took a minute to step back and recognize the real irony here. Rage Against the Machine’s political message has largely been about challenging conformity, yet he is the ultimate conformist. Only a conformist interprets an opposing viewpoint as disloyalty.

Likewise, in parroting the tired One percent versus the 99 percent mantra (as he did in his blog entry), Morello is conceding that he is a mere disciple himself – a disciple of the Democratic National Committee. You see, that mantra didn’t stem up from some organic, social uprising. It came from some stuffed shirt, political hack at the DNC who wrote speeches for President Obama. The leader of American Imperialism, after all, is the President of the United States, aka The Machine. Who would have thought that someone of Morello’s proclaimed philosophy would end up as an informal press secretary for an administration that escalated the war in Afghanistan, started a war in Libya, placed tough sanctions on Iran, kept the Guantanamo Bay detention camp open, continued the use of rendition, and presided over the highest U.S. poverty rate in several decades?

Of course, there’s also that inconvenient matter of all the evil money that Rage Against the Machine has sewn into the pockets of the “super rich” or “privileged elite”, as Morello referred to them. I’m not just talking about the corporate music industry, but also the band themselves. Unless they’ve all chosen to live modest lifestyles to funnel all of their excess wealth into feeding, as Morello put it, “the millions of children in the U.S.” who “go to bed hungry every night”, you’ve got to draw the conclusion that the man’s a hypocrite.

It sure makes you wonder how much of the band’s message is a philosophical commitment and how much is merely a marketing brand. Personally, I’d rather not think about all of those inconsistencies because I like Rage Against the Machine for their music, even if the profound wisdom of Tom Morello won’t allow for it.

Author Bio:

John Daly couldn't have cared less about world events and politics until the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks changed his perspective. Since then, he's been deeply engaged in the news of the day with a particular interest in how that news is presented. Realizing the importance of the media in a free, democratic society, John has long felt compelled to identify media injustices when he sees them. With a B.S. in Business Administration (Computer Information Systems), and a 16 year background in software and web development, John has found that his real passion is for writing. He is the author of the Sean Coleman Thriller series, which is available through all major retailers. John lives in Northern Colorado with his wife and two children. Like John on Facebook. Follow John on Twitter.
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  • Thomas Gerard

    Bernard Goldberg referring to anybody as “self-important”. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

  • Jules

    I completely agree with everything that John Daly states here. just because Tom Morello is talented musician with alot of past fame, he really believes he represents the ideology of a a bunch of once-teenage headbangers in a mosh pit at a ’90s concert. You know, many fans would rather just listen to music just for the hell of it instead of also having to go along with some crazy liberal political message and agendas. Who are these men really anyway and why do we hold musicians like them up on pedestals when they are just us with microphones? We don’t even truly know them, but we know their image and stage persona. This band was and is still very contradictory as well because they claim to be for the “every man” when in all reality they are the same rich, multi-millionaires they claim to hate so much. Conservatives, livrals, or those in between should be allowed to enjoy any music they please..i mean isn’t that the whole point of music: to experience new things and just have a kick ass time? The thing about liberal people is that they always claim that their rights are being restricted while they are actually condemning and hating other people who have other views. Everyone, no matter what their views should be allowed to express what they please without bullshit in return. Honestly, I used to like Rage against the Machine’s music until i learned of their political agenda and it was a huge turn off.

  • Vignesh

    While I agree in principle with what you’re saying, the band itself was FORMED, to voice social injustice and their political ideology, this is what makes them different from most other bands and this is why they don’t like it when people with opposite views come out in public to tell how much they love this band!
    Just fyi, this is why they also play in a different band( Audioslave ),
    while you might like an actor, you cannot possibly like his/her movie if it’s completely against your opinions/views!
    I hope you get it!


  • Demetris Voudouris

    I think the greatest compliment you can pay to an artist is to interpret his art in a manner that affects you personally. I hear “Wake Up” by RAM and I feel the passions of the Tea Party … a movement that is fed up with a Machine that has violated its mandate. Too bad Morello cannot understand the passions he has generated in me with his music.

    • John Daly

      You make a good point.

  • Jeffreydan

      Reminds me of Linda Rondstat. She has expressed displeasure at the idea of conservatives/Republicans being in the audience while she’s performing. She also made headlines in San Diego a few years back, when her act included dedicating a song to that great “patriot” Michael Moore. Some people left the venue right then and there.

      No matter how talented, I wouldn’t even attend a free performance by anyone with her attitude, not to mention her complete misunderstanding of the word ‘patriot’.   

  • Jonny J


    By way of your own bio, you admit your early inclination to be a dolt. Your motive for changing was not curiosity but fear.  As long as you remain fearful, you will continue to be a dolt.

    May your fears be washed away and may your heart be truly healed. 

    Peace be with you John.



    • John Daly

      It wasn’t fear, my friend. It was shame over not having a clue what was going on in the world until I was compelled by 9/11 to open my eyes and actually pay attention.

      Once something like that happens, you realize that politics and the decisions made by our leaders are more than just bumper-sticker nonsense.

      • Jonny J

        Ok, you’re right, shame is a lot better motivator than fear for discovering the truth.

        Seems like you are the one with the ego, Sir.

        • John Daly

           You realize how little sense you’re making, right?

          • Jonny J

            Why yes I do, the first sentence of my last post was ‘sarcasm’.

          • John Daly

            Sarcasm works better when it makes sense.

  • casavalerie

    Morello IS NOT a hypocrite. RATM is a well-known band that made an honest living by selling their music to their fans. People like Morello and rage should be praised in society today. Their music has substance and sends a message, unlike the majority of music today. While you may not agree with the political views of the band, they make you THINK and open your eyes and ears  to current events. You are making it sound like Morello was the CEO of lehman brothers before it collapsed. HE IS A MUSICIAN. he is just voicing his opinions through art and because of that, he should be respected. Rage turned me into a believer that NO MATTER WHO IS IN POWER, you should always question authority and demand answers.  This way of aristotle thinking helps further advance society through people’s intellectual curiosity. A wise man once said….if you’re not turned onto politics, politics will turn on you.

    • John Daly

      Oh brother.

      I have no beef with their music or their careers. I’m a fan, remember?
      I’m glad they’ve been successful. There’s nothing more American than
      working hard, using your talents to achieve greatness, and reaping the
      benefits of your success.

      Three cheers for Rage!

      What I’m saying (and I think I made this pretty clear) is that it is
      absolutely ridiculous for Tom Morello to take offense to fans of his
      music not signing on to his political ideology.

      He basically likened himself to some sort of religious idol where only
      the “true believers” in his preachings are worthy of being his fans.

      His comments were asinine, and the sanctimony behind them was juvenile and embarrassing.

      I couldn’t care less if he doesn’t like Paul Ryan’s political views. But
      crying foul because Ryan liked their music, but didn’t assimilate into their way of thinking, is pathetic.

      Oh, and he absolutely IS a hypocrite. What else would you call someone who carries on about the ‘evils’ of corporate America while working for corporate America? What do you call someone who ‘questions authority’, as you put it, by parroting DNC talking points?

    • johnny

      It is true… to me rage against the machine sends more of an individualistic new wave of beliefs in politics and breaking the mold…if that makes sense….while a conservative myself…I take their lyrics as to be questioning of power period…not just taking them as a liberal group…to be a liberal means to be conforming to the liberal belief…therefore, conforming none the less…

    • Colin P. Müller

      Question Tom Morello then, you fuckingidiot because he’s got AT LEAST 30 mill in the bank and anybody with 30 mill in the bank is in power.

  • Jonny J

    Rage Against the Machine is my favorite band. I don’t really care for the lyrics, but I love the sound.
    Jesus is my favorite prophet. I don’t really care about justice or sacrifice, but I love the bread and wine.

    Moral of the story: 
    Just because you might like bread and wine, it doesn’t mean you’re a true Christian and just because you might like the sound it doesn’t mean you’re a true fan.

    • John Daly

      So… You’re comparing Rage Against the Machine to a religious faith? Maybe a religious cult?

      I think you’re making the point of my column.

      You don’t have subscribe to a band’s philosophical views in order to be a “real fan”, no more than you have to live your life by a poet’s work in order to be drawn in by his or her words.

      If an artist expects otherwise, it’s more about their personal ego than it is the art.

      • Jonny J

        I think you might literally not know what the word “fan” means so here is the definition: 

        Fanatic: marked by excessive enthusiasm and intense uncritical devotion.

        I think the word that would more accurately describe your relationship is “Devotee”. Devotee is milder term suggesting enthusiasm but not to the exclusion of other interests or possible points of view.

        That is all.  

        • John Daly

          You do know that “fan” and “fanatic” are two different words with two different meanings, right?

          I’m a fan. Paul Ryan’s a fan. Most people outgrow being a “fanatic” of anything by the time they reach adulthood.

          If Tom Morello expects fanaticism from everyone who likes his music, he’s even more egotistical that I thought.

          • Jonny J

            “Most people outgrow being a “fanatic” of anything by the time they reach adulthood.”
            What world are you living in?

          • Jonny J

            Oh and ”
            Merriam-Webster, the Oxford dictionary and other sources define it as a shortened version of the word fanatic.”

          • John Daly

            No, “fan” isn’t a ‘shortened version’ of “fanatic”.  One is extreme and unquestioning. The other is not.

          • sjangers

            While the word “fan” may originally have derived from “fanatic”- the etymology isn’t perfectly clear, with some sources suggesting that “fan” derived from the English slang “fancy” or “fance”- the two words have distinctly different meanings today, Jonny. (Check your Webster’s.)  That’s why, in the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, we don’t hear Indy reassure Willie, “Nothing to worry about, princess, it’s just a bunch of rowdy Kali fans”.  Cuz they weren’t.  Those boys weren’t planning to rip off their shirts so we could see the “K”, “A”, “L”, “I” grease-painted on their chests.  They had something a little more serious in mind; and that made them more than run-of-the-mill fans.

            Whatever the origins of the word “fan”, it has acquired its own distinct meaning since it was separated from its root (probably late nineteenth century if from “fanatic”, or as much as a hundred years earlier if derived from “fancy”).  And that’s the critical point.  Because the meaning of a word isn’t what it once meant but what it’s commonly accepted to mean today.  And that’s why we don’t have too many “fans” strapping bombs to their chest and “showing their support” in a public way; although I’m considering something along that line if my Red Sox continue their current tragic trajectory for too much longer. 

            Through an accumulation of years of usage, and general agreement about the evolving meaning of the respective words, “fan” and “fanatic” have come to mean two very different things.  John Daly know that.  Check your Oxford Dictionary for the definition of both words and you’ll see that he’s correct.  Check your Webster’s and you might even note that “devotee” is offered as a synonym for the word “fan”.

        • John Daly

          I hate to embarrass you but…  You do know that “fan” and “fanatic” are two different words with two different meanings, right?

  • Bob

     Great article.  Brings to mind another recent incident where the Silversun Pickups berated the Romney campaign for playing one of their songs during a rally in spite of the fact that the campaigns blanket licensing contract with BMI and ASCAP allowed them to.  If these entertainers want to fight the machine so bad, why don’t they release their work to the public domain instead of making ongoing profits from the legal protections of copyright law??  Convenient how they like the government actions that directly line their pocketbooks.

    • John Daly

      Thanks. Yeah, I’ve heard of a few examples over the years of singers getting worked up over political opponents using their music when they campaign. In a way, I can kind of understand their irritation.

      However, the Rage example brings this to a whole new level. Ryan’s not using his music. He just mentioned that he likes their music. And from that, Tom Morello feels betrayed.

      That’s pretty said.

  • GlenFS

    Always been a “progressive” rock fan myself and decided early that lifestyle and philosophy were not among the attributes I admired.  It was the music.

    Thanks for saying it better than I could, John.

  • sjangers

    Very well put, John.  This kind of celebrity self-importance and arrogance really annoys me, especially since it does seem to attract a lot of hot chicks.  In fact, if I had even a little bit of musical talent I’d consider forming a band of my own.  I might even call it Rage Against Rage Against the Machine.