The Military Wives Choir is concentrated evil. It is vicious, stupid and banal. It is the worst form of sentimentality. Their husbands murder Afghans for queen and country, and they murder music for the same righteous cause. Wherever you are, soldier boy, know that the love of your counterpart is so strong, so thoroughly adequate, that it is apt to suddenly materialise into a substance able to "keep you safe" from the foreigners you are busy subduing in the rough hinterlands. Yet at the very same time, this love is so elevated, so ethereal, so much above the humdrum and quotidian, that it is almost as if her heart will, as it were, "build a bridge of light across both time and space". Oh, but there is more, cherished mercenary, much more to say on this love. For its cosmic ordering is capable of reducing the distance between Nottingham and Helmand by various simple expedients. Your hearts will "beat as one", for one. This while your amour holds you in her dreams each night "until your task is done", O "prince of peace".
Comrades and friends, you will forgive me if I end the assay there. There is only so much a man can wear his spleen on his sleeve. But lest I seem to fall into a crusty disdain for the cheesier tropes of the pop-tastic, and particularly the romantic ballad, allow me just to say that I have exactly the same weaknesses in this regard as every single one of you. For example, I cried when watching some piece of shit film whose name I forget. (Fuck you, that's what it was called.) And I emoted in a similar fashion over that song that everyone bought one Christmas, and I wasn't tipsy on mulled wine when I did. These cultural technologies produce many of the same reactions in all of us because they are intended to do just that, because they operate on basically identical raw material. But this imperial doggerel is a sick, chauvinist parody of love. If you like this song, you don't have love; you don't even have taste: what you have is a military-industrial infestation.
To illustrate. Jonathan Freedland's tribute notably fails to mention except obliquely the motivating context for this song, the "task" - of bombing, strafing, torturing, disappearing, poisoning, assassinating, subjugating - that is responsible for its sole element of genuine pathos. As such, he can't acknowledge the ethnocentric bases for his appreciation of the song, the mixture of patriotic and narcissistic affect that is mobilised within its construction of a community of harmonious vocalists. He is perhaps unwitting in his cliche when he describes the solidarity achieved through common struggle without the expense of losers, or of the sadism that usually comes with television pop spectaculars. But the idea that a national community forged in war suddenly discovers its manners, its civic virtues, its solidarity and mutualism, is a shopworn antique. And were Freedland aware of the pedigree of this old cynosure of reaction, he would also be aware that the cruelty and malice whose absence he celebrates is, in such cases, merely displaced. That is, the usual (class, racial, sexual) antagonisms that suppurate resentment and cruelty in the culture - which are so expertly manipulated by Endemol, Zodiak, RTL, the BBC and the producers of all that property porn and eugenic fetishism - have simply been externalised. They are still there, in the form of an absence. Behind the woefully lyricised sentiments of the gals in the 'queen and country' t-shirts, something is occluded. That is the emotional, intellectual, religious and social life of those designated by the euphemism, 'task'. Naturally, their love, their pathos, is a matter of indifference and barely submerged contempt, which one delicately builds bridges around and over.
I do not know what motivated BBC2 and Gareth Malone to turn The Choir into a special on 'Military Wives'. Possibly, it's an opaque satire intended to illustrate the Frankfurt school's analysis of popular culture, which in this day and age looks blithely over-optimistic. More plausibly, I suspect that the Ministry of Defence may have had a hand in this monster. Even if they did not, the aptitude of this sort of format for such appropriation and re-territorialisation is a reminder of an important aspect of our conjuncture. Ideologically, the ruling class is weak. Its legitimacy is fragile. Politically, it is disunited (though it doesn't do to underestimate what a cohering factor class struggle can be). Yet, its technologies of ideological rule are vastly more sophisticated than they have been in the past. The surprising 'visibility' of the military-industrial-entertainment complex during the 'war on terror' merely allowed us to see the tip of a cultural iceberg, one formed by the concentration and centralisation of cultural capital and its fusion with the state. The 'Military Wives' song that is presently #1 in the UK charts is a small tribute to its power, its ability to infantilise and temporarily stupefy audiences with artistic cliche and spectacle.
Far be it from me to suggest that a few more hit songs like this will have us marching cheerfully into Tehran - no such thing - but this does have long range effects, even if these aren't computable according to any simple calculus of stimulus-response. We cannot afford to be complacent about such ordure. We have to destroy it, instantly, utterly. It won't do to simply buy a few Nirvana singles to get them to the top of the charts instead of Military Wives. That won't even work at this point. We have to start confronting this military fetishism wherever it insinuates itself in daily life. The 'help for heroes' boondoggle should be noisily boycotted; anyone collecting money for military causes in a bear outfit should be mercilessly ridiculed; young air, navy and army cadets sent out to pack bags at Marks and Spencer should be told exactly how and where to get a life; the poppies should be burned - not just a few, in a symbolic Islam4UK-style action, but all of them in a mass cremation of postcolonial bunting; and any family members who actually sign up to wear a uniform of the armed forces in Afghanistan or anywhere else should be shunned, not loved. That's a map of our kulturkampf for 2012.