Swimmers Club

30th June 2017


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Treading Water

Check which is the shallow end and note the point where you will be out of your depth.


Who: Maddison Stoff
Where: Melbourne, Australia
What: Writer

An Essay From The Future

Hancock Educational Solutions Document Delivery Service: essay.doc (student A452891) submitted: 11.57pm G.S.T. 15.02.69 © Hancock International. All rights reserved.

Numerous anti-capitalist or plagiarized statements were detected in this essay, which have been highlighted in purple. Tutor annotations are in red, with comments in italics. Hyperlinks are underlined in blue, while links to virtual network sites are underlined in green. Word count: 1024(/1000) Word count within 10%? OK!

This software has a 42.5% margin of error. For details, visit our customer service centre at handcock.vnet.au. Hancock Educational Solutions: “Power through knowledge, knowledge through strength!”

Title: CEMM2150 Consumer Education & Multimedia Meta-Marketing: Assignment 3.

Subject: “New tools for education.”

Student: James Thompson (A452891)

Key Words:

Devo, 80’s, new wave, punk rock, rebellion, socialist, education, reform, capitalism, media, marketing.


This essay analyses a track from the trending, but controversial, 1980’s new wave band Devo, a band whose historical success seems to go against the dominant econ-objectivist theory of value:, particularly the work of Quinton Xian, who argues that anti-social music undermines the meritocracy of the music industry. Instead of questioning the talent of the band, or the underlying premises of the econ-objectivist school of criticism, - This works in context, but don’t give these types of arguments much regard! I will analyse our received interpretation of the musical history of Devo. My essay will argue, through a critical analysis of the lyrics to the track Through Being Cool from the 1981 album New Traditionalists, that the band can be shown to have an understanding of the social norms of rational capitalism. –Good! and speculate on their ability to encourage consumer cohesion amongst the notoriously difficult youth and waster classes, through their presentation of market-positive messages hidden behind an aesthetic of anti-consumerism - This is an interesting hypothesis! that the band may not have actually believed. This would go a long way towards explaining both their present popularity, and their previous success within the capitalist economy. across the course of their careers.

Consumer cohesion in reactionary artforms: an econ-objectivist lyrical analysis of Devo - Through Being Cool.

Infamous anti-corporate new wave band Devo are the subject of spirited debate in the fields of consumer education and multimedia meta-marketing today. Despite their blatant anti-rationalist ideals, the band enjoyed mainstream success within their lifetimes and seem to be having undergoing a kind of popular resurgence today[1]. The high level of contemporary popularity for the band, coupled with their success in advertising and Hollywood, is unusual for musicians of their nature. Artists who challenge the status-quo are invariably led to do so because they know they lack the talent to compete with their peers in a regular free market setting. The popular success of Devo seems to question this hypothesis. As Quinton Xian writes:

“The discordant, anti-social sounds of populist rock bands like Green Day and Nirvana were passionately delivered and easy to play, building a sense of promise and participation in their audience of ignorant, apathetic teenagers. The emotional content of their songs is inseparable from the way they are interpreted, drawing the attention of the listener away from the relatively poor quality of the music, and focusing instead on its promise of utopia: a world where even the least valuable of musical performers can, with little effort from themselves, reap the highest rewards from the capitalist economy.” (Xian 86)

But the sound of Devo is upbeat and pleasant compared with many other anti-social rock bands. The lyrics, and the stated purpose of their act, a satirical criticism of what they saw as they saw as a negative trend towards corruption, blind consumerism, and the loss of human rights, related to the capitalist economy, are the only evidence we really have for our social assumption of the band as deviant figures. As corporate activist Jasmine Freemantle writes,

“…honesty doesn’t win elections, and it doesn’t sell papers. Why should we expect it from our businesses? If a buyer doesn’t look at all the facts before they make a decision, why is the seller to blame? Bad reviews are posted on the internet every day for products with misleading promotional material, at a much faster rate than the promoters can delete them. People lie, and they have a right to do so. That’s capitalism. That’s life. ” (Freemantle 22)

Could it be that the band were merely trying to expand their influence to a notoriously difficult market? Enticing the wasters, the youth, and the mainstream all at once? My essay analyses Through Being Cool, the opening track of the album New Traditionalists (1981) to decide.

After years of middling critical reviews and poor responses from the popular music press, the band moved away from new wave into synth pop with their third album, Freedom of Choice (1980), catapulting the band into economic and creative success. As music critic Joe Frizell writes,

“Questions about the validity of music criticism, pioneered by visionary artists in the middle 2010’s, cleared the way for a deeper analysis of the often cavernous rift between popular and critical notions of artistic success. If a work can be financially successful, but critically poor, is that a judgment on the value of the product? Instead, I propose it is a problem with the way we look at critical analysis. I propose a new system, where value is quality… and the quality of a work can be judged, wholly and solely, by reference to its popular success…” (Frizell, 93)

Ostentatiously written as an attack on the newer, more mainstream fan-base attracted to the band after breakout single Whip It from Freedom of Choice (1980), Through Being Cool is the opening track on Devo’s less successful follow-up album, New Traditionalists (1981). The album is cynical and political: much darker than Freedom of Choice, and is commonly considered as the band’s return to form, exploring similar themes to their earlier albums Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! (1978) and Duty Now For The Future (1979). Unpopular, satirical, amateurish new wave, the earlier work attracted a dedicated following of aspirant wasters and teenagers; fans who might have otherwise been alienated by the band’s switch towards a mature, more accessible synth pop. The song appears to pander to this audience, all the while maintaining all the musical features that allowed later Devo to achieve their enviable mainstream success. Consider the opening lyrics of the track:

“We’re through being cool. We’re through being cool. Eliminate the ninnies and the twits.” (0.05 – 0.15)

The ‘ninnies and the twits’ are commonly identified as the new fans attracted to the music after 1980. Devo are ‘through being cool’ with them. They are not going to tolerate them anymore. This is the received interpretation of the song. But these fans continued to be welcome at their shows. Devo continued to produce new content in a musical style which would be agreeable to them. They later lent their talents to computer games, advertising, and even movie soundtracks.

This is all a far cry from their humble, rebellious origins, advertising themselves as a cover band to play small shows of original material in venues that didn’t want them, to audiences that were largely angry or apathetic towards their work. (Reynolds 78) - Try to avoid using non econ-objectivist sources. Anything before 2020 is considered to be non-academic, even in popular music criticism. This change couldn’t have occurred without the band deciding to change their sound to a more marketable commodity: the popular synth pop sound of Freedom of Choice, continued in New Traditionalists. This success seems to be at odds with the militaristic lyrics heard in the song:

“If you live in a small town. You might meet a dozen or two. Young alien types who step out and dare to declare… we’re through being cool, we’re through being cool… spank the pank who tried to drive you nuts.” (0.31 – 0.52)

Econ-objectivist Thomas Byrne describes cool as:

“…the accumulation of cultural capital. Obviously, this capital doesn’t hold a value in-and-of itself. Rather, it is valuable as a symbol of the holder’s access: to the education to appreciate the capital, to the free time to enjoy it, to the wealth available to the holder that allows them to possess the capital, to place it on display…” (Byrne 122)

This is why the rich are always ‘cooler’ than the poor. The rich have the highest ability to consume the products of our culture, and to put them on display for us to see. This the leads to the value we describe as “coolness” - Nice angle! a state defined by participation in the market economy: something, a state that Devo seems to celebrate rejecting in the track. But Devo were and remain very ‘cool’ according to our understanding of the word today. Devo became popular by producing high quality, marketable music, in a style which was mainstream at the time of its release.

 Their popularity was rewarded with a high degree of monetary success: able to be used in the accumulation of cultural capital. Both the popularity and wealth of the band influence their cultural perception as a band which could be seen as “cool” – a state requiring engagement with the capitalist economy. It seems irrational to imagine they would criticize the system, when the “coolness” the band is perceived to possess wouldn’t be available without it

I will conclude my essay after a brief word from my academic sponsors, offering an alternate interpretation for the troubling lyrics and suggesting a reading more in line with contemporary econ-objectivist theory: that the work represents a cautionary tale about the dangers of leaving the consumer-driven capitalist society, aimed to educate their wayward, traditional fanbase. The ramifications this has on our current markets will also be described.- Very good!

Refusal to participate in the capitalist economy is the defining feature of the wasters. As social theorist Malcolm Harwood writes,

 “Everyone is privileged, but it doesn’t change the truth. If you work hard, work smart, and won’t take no for an answer – you will find a job in the capitalist economy. We can’t afford to subsidize the lazy, and we won’t. The wasters, and that’s really what they are, should be left to fend for themselves.” (Harwood 98

Devo seemed to agree. If being ‘cool’ requires participation in the capitalist economy, then leaving the pursuit of it behind is equivalent to joining with the wasters. As a result of this decision, you will be forced to:

“Bang some heads… Beat some butts.” (0.20 – 0.22)

Or, to put it another way: to resort to criminal violence. A decision which Devo crucially never made: choosing instead to participate in the capitalist economy, becoming rich and famous cultural producers.

There is a disturbing trend towards liberalism in the younger generation that many commentators have argued might lead to an unsustainable swelling in the waster class. The popularity of Devo is usually associated with this trend. Instead of classing them as ‘noise’ alongside other more explicit anti-capitalist musicians, which may lead to further instability amongst the notoriously volatile teenage demographic, educators need to get their students to examine the contradictions presented by the message of the band. Is a mainstream pop act really going to argue for non-participation in the system that supports them? Can a popular band, that clearly has the talent to compete with their peers in an unrestricted free market setting, really be promoting anti-social messages, traditionally linked to under-talented musicians?

This new approach to Devo may lead to wider criticisms on the failure of progressive ideology, undermining the popularity of their music and saving our youth from a lifetime of violence and poverty, living in the shadows of productive society. As for the wasters, the themes behind the music: anti-market nonsense – That’s exactly what it is! contradicted by their widely-recognized success, might encourage some of them to come back to our cities. In either case, questioning the received interpretation of Devo can only lead to positive effects. I hope to have proved this possible with the arguments in my essay. – 89/100: Excellent work! Controversial, but thought-provoking & engaging. I will put it on the list for publication right away. Please ensure that you correct all problematic sources and flagged statements before you put it on our website. I have also made some changes to your formatting. If you have any questions, come and see me after class. Otherwise, this is amazing essay. Nice work James!

[1] Australian Media Review 11.12.68 – “Time out for fun? Why your kids are going mad for Devo.

Works Cited:

Byrne, Thomas “We are what we buy: lessons in value from the nouvelle riche.” Economics 21.5 (2031): 118-156

Devo “Through Being Cool” New Traditionalists. (1981)

Freemantle, Jasmine Nietzsche, Bernays & The Ethics of Marketing: Lying Your Way to the Top. Oxford: Blackwell Publications, 2032.

Frizell, Joe. “The customer is always right: the death of criticism, or, market value as a symptom of creative success.” Economics 19.2 (2042): 57-95

Harwood, Malcolm. Mere Capitalism: In defence of free markets. New York: Google Press, 2039

Reynolds, Simon “Rip it up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978 – 1984” Westminster: Penguin Books, 2006. Could you replace this one with something newer?

Xian, Quinton The day the music died: punk rock, DIY, and the cult of the untalented. New York: Google Press, 2045

[1] Australian Media Review 11.12.68 – “Time out for fun? Why your kids are going mad for Devo.

This story is a 'Bonus Track' from the collection entitled For We Are Young and Free by Maddison Stoff published Summer 2017 by Dostoyevsky Wannabe